Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

John William Johnson

John William Johnson :

John William Johnson : (L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

John was born in around 1888 in Manchester. His father was called Aaron and his mother was Elizabeth. He was one of 8 children. We know the names of Hannah, who was older, and Amy and Elsie, who were younger. Their other 4 children had died by 1911. The family were members of the Church of England.

Aaron worked as a packer in a shipping warehouse. He raised his family at 12 Bath Street in Miles Platting, Manchester. In 1901 he packed cotton print goods, and in 1911 he was a hydraulic packer. John was a 'helper to a vanman' in 1901 and a maker-up in a cotton mill in 1911.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and John joined the 4th City Battalion on the 7th September. This was being formed by the workers of Manchester to make sure they could serve together. This unit became the 19th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and John was assigned to I Platoon in A Company. He was given the service number 11583.

When he enlisted John was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 126 pounds. He had a 'fair' complexion, blue eyes and dark brown hair.

The 19th Battalion trained at Heaton Park in Manchester until April 1915 when it moved to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. It moved again to Larkhill in Wiltshire during September, and then sailed to France on the 7th November 1915.

In France the 19th Battalion trained until January 1916 when they took their place at the front near Carnoy. They stayed there until May when they moved to the Maricourt area to train to take part in the attack on the first day of the Somme Offensive.

This attack took place on the 1st July 1916. John and the 19th Battalion attacked a German position called the Glatz Redoubt that protected the village of Montauban. They successfully captured the position, although they lost around 40 killed, 12 missing and almost 140 wounded. They were relieved on the 3rd.

After more fighting the 19th Battalion took part in an attack on the village of Guillemont on the 23rd. At the end of the day over 500 men, well over half the battalion, had been killed, wounded or were missing. The missing were mostly either dead or had been captured. John seems to have survived unharmed.

During August, September and October the 19th Battalion spent long periods in the front lines, but did not take part in any major operations. They still had to endure heavy German shelling, occasional attacks, and torrential rain that turned the battlefield into a sea of mud. Their final operation in the Somme Offensive was an attack near Ligny-Thilloy on the 12th October.

John and the 19th Battalion were in reserve in this area until mid January 1917 when they moved to the Arras area of France. They spent time in the front lines and in the rear between then and the end of March. They took part in a small attack on the 1st and 2nd April.

At some point around this time John was either wounded or taken ill. He had to be evacuated back to the UK on the 17th April. When he arrived in the UK he was sent to the Neurological Section at an unknown hospital. His doctors diagnosed him with neurasthenia. This was a term used at the time to describe disorders of the nervous system. He was treated in hospital for almost 3 months. When he was discharged on the 20th July his doctor described his condition as:

Has slowly improved and has now good movements in both arms and legs except for slight ankle clonus on the left side and slightly brisker EJs on this side. There is no physical sign of disease. He had recently complained of some numbness on the left side, but this also has diminished with treatment. [Ankle clonus is a series of rhythmic, involuntary movements of the ankle joint.]

After he was discharged from hospital John was allowed home to his parents until the 30th July. He then returned to duty. He was considered fit enough to work at a Command Depot, and he was assigned to one until the 13th November, although we don't know which. Command Depots were used to rehabilitate wounded soldiers until they were fit enough to return to a unit.

In November John was considered fit enough to join the 3rd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment at Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. This unit trained new recruits and recovering soldiers before they went overseas. This would not happen to John. He was still suffering from neurasthenia, and by the autumn of 1918 it was clear that he would never be fit enough to return to duty.

John was discharged from the Army as 'no longer physically fit for war service' on the 27th September 1918. He was awarded a Silver War Badge, with serial number B24243, to show that his discharge was honourable.

As well as his badge, John was awarded a pension of 13 shillings and 9 pence (13/9) per week for 13 weeks. This began the day after his discharge. It was reduced to 11/- on the 1st January 1919 and granted until the 1st July. We don't know whether John continued to receive a pension after this time, or anything about the rest of his life.

John's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in September 1991.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf

Telephone: 0161 342 5480
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Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Army Museums Ogilby Trust logo
Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council