May 8, 2017 2:10 pm
Updated: May 8, 2017 8:56 pm

Human remains found in France solve 100 year mystery for Manitoba family

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A Manitoba family is finally one step closer to finding answers in a 100 year old mystery that has lingered over their family through generations.

In November 2016, Lorraine Leniuk, who lives in Petersfield, Man., received a phone call from the Department of National Defence. They asked if she’d be willing to supply her DNA to see if she was related to some remains of a First World War soldier that was found near the village of Vendin-le-Vieil, France.

“Actually I was dumbfounded you know. Like how could my DNA possibly be helpful after 100 years,” Leniuk said.

But her DNA helped solve a 100 year old mystery her family had sat with and been passed down through the generations.

WATCH: Lorraine Leniuk explains how the Department of National Defence asked her to help solve a 100-year-old mystery

“When I got a call just before Christmas….asking me if I could participate in this casualty recovery program, and would I like to submit my DNA because they had found some remains… and they thought possibly it might be a relative, my great uncle,” Leniuk said.

READ MORE: DNA evidence unravels mystery of missing Manitoba soldier from WW1

Just before Christmas, Leniuk and her extended family were given the Christmas gift they hadn’t been expecting. They discovered where her great uncle, Private Reginald Joseph Winfield Johnston from Fairford, Man., had vanished to.

More than 100 years ago, Private Johnson went missing after leaving his Manitoba town to go serve in the First World War. He never returned and his family said he went missing in action and was presumed dead.

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Leniuk said she remembered the photo that hung on her grandmother’s wall. It was a black and white photo of  Reginald in his uniform, but she knew nothing about him other than he was missing in action on Hill 70 and was a member of the 16th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.

WATCH: A long lost Canadian soldier has been identified a century after he was killed in a French battlefield. Mike Drolet reports on the story of Pte. Reginald Johnston

RELATED: The Battle of Hill 70: Canada’s forgotten Vimy Ridge

He went to war and is presumed to have died at 22-years-old in August 1917 at the Battle of Hill 70. Ethel Cottrell was equally stunned when she heard about the discovery that was made.

Johnston was her father’s brother. He was the uncle she knew about but had never met. Cottrell said she always felt there hole for the lack of closure after losing her uncle in the way — with no remains or knowledge of where he actually was.


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“I thought why couldn’t this happen when at least some of them [Johnston’s siblings] were alive. Like my dad would be 119 now if he was still living,” Cottrell said.

Cottrell said her grandmother, her father, and his siblings all died only knowing that their brother was missing in action and presumed dead.

RELATED: Long lost diary of Edmonton soldier sheds light on Battle of Vimy Ridge

“Now we know where he is. He’s going to have a decent burial, which he never had. So I think in that sense it’s going to mean a lot to the family,” Cottrell said.

The family said the last step to finding closure on the 100-year-old mystery is to attend a proper memorial that is set to take place in France in August.

WATCH: Ethel Cottrell said it was mind boggling to hear the news about her uncle

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