5 Johnstone brothers

JOHNSTONE BROTHERS

This post was written by Victoria Doran.

Benjamin and Johanna Johnstone lost 5 of their 7 sons in the War. They were asked to lay the first wreath at Grange Hill War Memorial when it was unveiled and dedicated on 16 December 1922.

War Memorial unveiling jpg.jpg

from Birkenhead News of 20 December 1922

The 5 Johnstone brothers who died as a result of the First World War were the sons of Benjamin Johnstone (1853 – 1930) and Johanna Davies (1860 – 1928).

They were from a family of 11 children (3 girls, 8 boys), 2 of whom died in infancy. The siblings comprised :

Edith Alice Anne (1882 – ); Elizabeth (1884 – ); Joseph (1886 – 1917); William George (1888 – 1964); William Walter (1890 – 1917); Robert (1894 – 1896); William Benjamin (1895 – 1919);                 Ernest (1898 – 1918); Sidney (1900 – 1921); Alexander (1901 – 1979); Dorothy (1904 – 1905)

Benjamin Johnstone was born in Manchester, but nothing is known for certain about his parentage or movements before he married Johanna Davies in October 1881 in the Birkenhead Registration District. He held various jobs as a labourer, a gardener, and finally settled down looking after the steam engine in a steam laundry in West Kirby.

Johanna was a middle child of the 9 children (6 girls, 3 boys) of William and Alice Davies. They were a well established West Kirby family. William Davies was born in West Kirby and had an assortment of labouring jobs, in agriculture, gardens and as a general labourer. Alice owned a laundry at Fleck Lane on Column Road, and Johanna worked there before her marriage.

The brothers had a first cousin William Henry Davies who also died during the War. He was the son of Johanna Davies’ brother William.

JOSEPH JOHNSTONE

Joseph Johnstone photo.jpg

Joseph Johnstone

Joseph was the eldest son and third child of Benjamin Johnstone and Johanna Davies. He was baptised as Joseph Johnstone in the Church of England at St John, Frankby on 9th May 1886, his birth being registered in the same quarter. He lived with his parents, firstly at 15 Birkett Road, later at 11 Grove Road, off Banks Road. By the age of 15, at the 1901 census, he was working as a house painter.

Sometimes he is referred to as Joseph William Johnstone or as William Joseph Johnstone.

In about April 1913 he married Eleanor Connor, but they had no children.

As Joseph’s military record has not survived, we know little of his army service. At some stage, probably 1915, he joined the 12th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment as a Private. From his Medal Card we know that he received the British War and Victory medals, but not the 14 or 15 Star, so he cannot have served overseas until 1916.

Manchester cap badge.jpg

Manchester Regiment cap badge

He was killed in action on 30 Jun 1917, 2 days after the death of his brother Walter. The Deeside Advertiser of 20 Jul 1917 quotes a letter from his Platoon officer to his parents:

‘Whilst performing his duty as a stretcher bearer at an advanced dressing station he was struck by a shell and killed instantly. He died nobly and bravely doing his duty He was always ready and willing to give any service required’.

He is buried in grave A 17 in section IV of Brown’s Copse Cemetery at Roeux. He probably took part in the capture of Roeux in May 1917, after which the village remained on the front line until 1918.

Brown's Copse cemetery jpg.jpg

Brown’s Copse Cemetery, Rouex

He is also commemorated on Grange Hill War Memorial and the Rolls of Honour in St Bridget , St Andrew and the United Reform churches in West Kirby, as well as in the area Book of Remembrance. 

Notes:
Birth: Q2 1886 at Frankby
Death: 30 Jun 1917 near Roeux, Pas de Calais, France
Addresses: 15 Birkett Road, West Kirby (91); 11 Grove Road (now Groveside), West Kirby (01,11)
Occupation: house painter
Unit: 12th (Service) battalion Manchester Regiment
Number and Rank: 48883, Private
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: France : Brown’s Copse Cemetery, Roeux, pas de Calais
Sources: GH, WK, CWGC, MC, DA, Census: 91, 01, 11, PR, BR, family

WALTER JOHNSTONE

Walter Johnstone photo.jpg

Walter Johnstone

This photograph was incorrectly designated H Johnstone by the Deeside Advertiser.

Walter was the third son and the fifth child of Benjamin Johnstone and Johanna Davies. He was born on 31st March 1890 at Lang Cottages, West Kirby. This was probably what is now called Birkett Road. On 8th June 1890 he was baptised at the Presbyterian Church that is now called the United Reform Church, West Kirby.

In 1891 he was living with the family at 15 Birkett Road, and by 1901 they had moved to 11 Grove Road (now Groveside), where he lived until he enlisted on 16 Nov 1915. At that time he was a boatman, just over 5ft 9 inches tall and weighed 8st 13 lb.

The army did not need him in November 1915, so he was placed on the Reserve until 21 February 1916, when he became Private 35505 in the 14th (Reserve) battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. He probably did his training at Prees Heath, Shropshire. He will have done his training with William Waring (another West Kirby casualty, who was called into service on the same day and given the number 35504).

Cheshire cap badge.jpg

Cheshire Regiment cap badge

On 15th June 1916 he was transferred to the 10th Battalion and embarked at Folkestone, Kent for France. William Waring transferred to the 11th Battalion a week later.

He joined his new battalion on 26th June in the field just in time to take part in the Battle of Albert, part of the Somme, which started on 1st July.

On the 10th July he is recorded as ‘wounded – shell shock’ and then spent the next month in various field medical facilities. On 10th August he was transferred to the 13th Battalion and sent to the Depot. From the 26th August he was in and out of various hospital facilities suffering from diarrhoea and debility, until finally, he was sent back to England on Hospital Ship St David from Boulogne.

A photograph of the St David can be seen here.

He spent 31 days in St Mary’s Royal Naval Hospital at Southend on Sea, Essex, before being discharged as fit.

He then seems to have gone to Knowsley Park, as he is recorded as having gone AWOL from there for 4 days over Christmas. The Army seems to have been lenient as his punishment was 7 days confined to barracks.

By 18th January 1917, he must have been considered to have ‘recovered’ from shell shock as he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion. On 13th March he returned to France, bring transferred yet again 3 days later, this time to the 11th Battalion. He was only with them for a couple of weeks, being finally transferred to the 1st Battalion.

He arrived back at the front in time for the Battle of Arras. He presumably saw action on 23rd April in the Action of La Coulotte, before taking part in the 3rd Battle of the Scarpe.

He was killed in action on 28th June 1917 when his battalion was undertaking the Capture of Oppy Wood. He was 27 years old.

He is commemorated on Bays 5 and 6 of the Arras Memorial, so presumably his body was never identified.

Arras Memorial jpg.jpg

Arras Memorial

He is also commemorated on the Grange Hill War Memorial, the Rolls of Honour in St Bridget, St Andrew and the United Reform churches in West Kirby, as well as in the area Book of Remembrance.

Notes:
Birth: 31 Mar 1890 at West Kirby
Death: 28 Jun 1917, near Arras, Somme, France
Addresses:  15 Birkett Road (91); 11 Grove Road (now Groveside), West Kirby (01,11)
Occupation: boatman
Units: 1st, 3rd, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th battalions Cheshire Regiment
Number and Rank: 35505, Private
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated: Arras Memorial, Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, Pas de Calais, France
Sources: GH, WK, CWGC, MC, SR, DA, Census: 91, 01, 11, BR, family

WILLIAM BENJAMIN JOHNSTONE

Ben Johnstone photo.jpg

William Benjamin Johnstone

William Benjamin was the fourth son to survive infancy and the seventh child of Benjamin Johnstone and Johanna Davies. He was born on 25th September 1895 at Birkett Road, West Kirby. On 27th October 1895 he was baptised at the Presbyterian Church that is now called the United Reform Church, West Kirby, where his father was by then a Church Official.

In 1901 he was living with his family at 11 Grove Road (now Groveside). He enlisted on 9th Dec 1915 at Chester. As his military record has been somewhat damaged by fire, we do not know where he was living then, but he was a farm labourer, just over 5ft 9 inches tall and weighed 8st 13 lb. It is also not known why he enlisted at Chester. Family legend relates that he had always had poorer health than his siblings, so it is possible he had failed the medical for, say, the Cheshire Regiment, and decided to try elsewhere, so that he could join his brothers in ‘doing his bit’.

The army did not need him in December 1915, so he was placed on the Reserve until 16th May 1916, when he became Private 46132 in the 12th (Reserve) battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He will have done his training at Kinmel Camp near Abergele, Denbighshire.

kinmel park re Benjamin Johnstone.JPG

from Wikipedia

On 1st September 1916 he embarked on HMS Franconia at Devonport and arrived in Salonika 10 days later. He was transferred to the 11th Battalion and joined his unit 2 days later.

RWF cap badge.jpg

Royal Welch Fusiliers cap badge

The 11th battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers spent 4 years in Salonika, where their task was to deter Bulgaria from joining Germany and Austro-Hungary from attacking Serbia.

In winter they faced blizzards and dense fog. There was a lack of roads so the state of the ground meant terrain was impassable in parts with army vehicles sinking into the mud. When summer arrived, they were faced with soaring temperatures. Consequently disease set in and spread like wildfire. In Salonika, for every casualty in battle, three died of malaria, influenza or other diseases.

Adapted from a story on the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum website

William Benjamin Johnstone was one of the many who succumbed. From 30th April 1917, he spent most of his time in one medical facility after another, with brief periods when he returned to his unit.

Eventually on 18th June 1918 he was sent by ship to Malta, where he remained until 10th January 1919. He then journeyed to Edinburgh by sea and from the 11th January he was a patient at Edinburgh War Hospital at Bangour, West Lothian. Built in 1906 as a mental hospital, it was requisitioned in 1915 (its patients dispersed to other mental hospitals) and by late 1918 was treating over 3000 patients, mainly in temporary wards in the grounds.

At least one relative made the journey from West Kirby, and was with him when he died on 31st January 1919 of influenza and broncho-pneumonia. No doubt he had been weakened by his various illnesses in Salonika.

His body was brought back to West Kirby, and he is buried in St Bridget’s churchyard. His father requested the words

HIS DUTY NOBLY DONE

be included, which can just be seen at the bottom of the grave stone in the picture below.

Benjamin Johnstone - StB grave stone.jpg 

St Bridget, West Kirby churchyard

He is also commemorated on the Grange Hill War Memorial, the Rolls of Honour in St Bridget, St Andrew and the United Reform churches in West Kirby, as well as in the area Book of Remembrance.

Notes:
Birth: 25 September 1895 at West Kirby
Death: 31 January 1919 at Edinburgh War Hospital, Bangour, West Lothian
Address: 11 Grove Road (now Groveside), West Kirby (01,11)
Occupation: 2nd horseman on farm
Units: 12th then 11th battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers
Number and Rank: 46132, Private
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: West Kirby, St Bridget Churchyard
Sources: GH, WK, CWGC, MC, DA, Census: 01, 11, Scottish Registered Deaths, BR, family

ERNEST JOHNSTONE

Ernest Johnstone photo.jpg

Ernest Johnstone

Ernest was the fifth son to survive infancy and the eighth child of Benjamin Johnstone and Johanna Davies. His birth was registered in the first quarter of 1898, but, surprisingly, no record of a baptism has been found. He lived with his parents, and by the time he was born they had probably already moved to 11 Grove Road.

In 1911 he was still at school, and his military record has not survived, so we do not know what occupation he took up when he left school.

As conscription for those aged 18 was introduced on 1st January 1916, it is most likely that he was amongst the first to be conscripted. He served as a Private in the Cheshire Regiment. For some unknown reason, his medal card shows 2 service numbers, 3551 then 201202. Usually this means that the man had changed regiments, but there is no indication of that on Ernest’s card.

Cheshire cap badge 2.jpg

Cheshire Regiment cap badge

At the age of 20, he was killed in action on 25 Oct 1918 near Outrijve village near Avelgem in Flanders, Belgium. Unofficial brief news of his death was reported in the Deeside Advertiser of 8th November 1918, but no later article has been found.

At his death he was serving with the 1st/4th Cheshire during the Final Advance in Flanders. On the 24th October 1918 his battalion cleared the village of Autryve (now Ootryve), and presumably Ernest lost his life due to this action.

He is one of only 14 servicemen buried in Outrijve Churchyard. 12 of them were brought from the battlefield after the Armistice. His father requested that his headstone bear the additional line

             WITH CHRIST     WHICH IS FAR BETTER

No photograph of Outrijve Churchyard is available.

He is commemorated on the Rolls of Honour in St Bridget, St Andrew and the United Reform churches in West Kirby, as well as in the area Book of Remembrance, but, for an unknown reason, his name was omitted from the Grange Hill War Memorial.

Notes:
Birth: Q1 1898 at West Kirby
Death: 25 Oct 1918 at Outrijve, West Flanders, Belgium
Address:  11 Grove Road (now Groveside), West Kirby (01,11)
Occupation: not known
Units: 4th battalion Cheshire Regiment
Numbers and Rank: 3551, 201202, Private
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: Belgium : Outrijve Churchyard, West Flanders, Belgium
Sources: WK, CWGC, MC, DA, Census: 01, 11, BR

SIDNEY JOHNSTONE

SydneyJohnstone on left photo.jpg

                                     Sydney is on the left in this photo provided by his family

Sydney was the sixth son who survived infancy and the ninth child of Benjamin Johnstone and Johanna Davies. He was born on 21st May 1900 at 11 Grove Road, West Kirby. He was baptised on 9th September 1900 at the Presbyterian Church that is now called the United Reform Church in West Kirby, where his father was a Church Officer. At both 1901 and 1901 censuses he was living with his family at 11 Grove Road (now called Groveside).

At some stage he joined the Merchant Navy as an assistant steward. The first record we have of him after that is from the Deeside Advertiser report of his death in 1921 (see later). From this we know that he was working on SS Justicia when she was torpedoed on 19 July 1918 23 miles south of Skerryvore, Scotland by UB64.

SS Justicia jpg.jpg

                                    From Wikipedia: SS Justicia painted grey for wartime service

At the time she was operated by the White Star Line on behalf of the British Government as a troopship. Fortunately when torpedoed she was not carrying troops. The initial strike did not sink her (she was sunk by further torpedoes the following day whilst under tow with a skeleton crew). After the initial strike, most of the crew (presumably including Sydney) were evacuated into small boats. His family were always of the opinion that his health never fully recovered from the shock and from spending several hours in a small boat in December in the north Atlantic.

By August 1919 we know that Sydney was back at work as an assistant steward on the            SS Vasari for the Lamport & Holt Line, as he was recorded by US Immigration as landing at New York from Liverpool on the 12th.

SS Vasari jpg.jpg

SS Vasari from here

Other passenger lists show that he sailed to Buenos Aires and Barbados, as well as to and from Liverpool on several occasions between then and his death on 9th July 1921 aged 20.

He died of strangulation of the intestines after clearance at Dock Central in La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina but whether this means he died at sea, or whilst still in port is unclear. Possibly he was buried at Buenos Aires or his body was buried at sea. The SS Vasari arrived in New York on the 8th August following, so it is also possible he was buried there.

Sidney Johnstone DA 15 Jul 1921 snip jpg.jpg

Deeside Advertiser 15 July 1921

Although it is not possible to prove that Sydney’s death was due to his war time experience, it was accepted as such by the local community. Though he died too late to be included on the Grange Hill War Memorial or on the churches’ Rolls of Honour, he is commemorated in the Book of Remembrance currently held at West Kirby Library. His parents were guests of honour at the dedication of Grange Hill War Memorial in August 1922, and his father laid the first wreath.

Notes:
Birth: 21 May 1900 in West Kirby
Death: 9 Jul 1921 at Dock Central, La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Address: 11 Grove Road (now Groveside), West Kirby (01,11)
Occupation: assistant steward, Merchant Navy
Unit: n/a
Numbers and Rank: n/a
Medals: none
Commemorated and Buried: not known
Sources:  DA, Census: 01, 11, BR, family, New York passenger lists, BT334

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