Johnson W

Private 41495 William Johnson, 2nd battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers


Killed in action 10th August, 1917

William Johnson was born in Stokesley in 1890 the son of Frederick Johnson and Mary Ann Helm who were married in Stokesley district in 1880. Frederick was then a farm foreman, and was himself born in Stokesley whereas Mary Ann had been born in Bilsdale. William’s father was the cousin of Arthur Edwin Johnson and Harry Johnson who are recorded elsewhere in this list. (See Johnson A.E. and Johnson H.)

William was part of a very large family and had 14 siblings in all, all but one of whom reached maturity. The family in 1891 ranged from his sister Ada, through Ann, Arthur, Edith, Emma, Ethel, John and Ellen to himself. At the next census (1901) there were another six children in the family: Ellen, Frederick, Charles, Minnie, Nellie and Ernest. All six were born in Newby where the family still lived.

In 1911 William was living in Broughton as a servant for the Garbutt family at White Post Farm. His parents were then living in West End Stokesley with their 3 youngest children, where his father was a woodman, whereas previously he had been a hind on a farm and a farm foreman.

The Book of Remembrance says William was a farm man before enlisting, which he did at Richmond. He trained in Yorkshire and then was drafted into the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Private Johnson’s Battalion was part of the 96th Brigade, in the 32nd Division of the 5th Army. He was sent abroad to the Flanders area in June 1917, where he was caught up in heavy fighting sparked off by a grandiose British plan. An amphibious assault on the Belgian coast was to be supported by a breakout attack from Nieuwport and the Yser bridgehead. The plan was called Operation Hush, and was proposed early in 1917 by Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon.

On the 20 June, 1917 the British XV Corps took over the French sector on the Belgian coast and the 32nd Division (of which Private Johnson was a part) took over the Nieuport bridgehead from a French Corps, a move recorded on the war memorial in Nieuwpoort:

“Commonwealth forces did not return to this part of the line until June 1917, when XV corps relieved French troops in the sector from St Georges (now Saint Joris) to the sea. They saw particularly fierce fighting at Nieuport (now Nieuwpoort) in July, before handing the sector back to the French in November 1917”.

The German patrols detected and reported the changeover on the 21st June, and German Korps Commander von Schroeder correctly interpreted the move as the prelude to a British attack along the coast. Schroeder launched Operation Strandfest, a pre-emptive strike to eliminate the Yser bridgehead. This began on 10th July with a massive German bombardment of British positions around Nieuwpoort, and in the attack which followed the Germans used mustard gas for the first time. Flame thrower teams were used to “mop up” dugouts. Over 3000 British men were lost - killed wounded or missing - as a result of this attack. Operation Hush never took place.

Private Johnson’s Regiment was part of the 32nd Division and it is highly probable that he was involved in the efforts to hold these German attacks when he became a casualty. He died of his wounds seven weeks after landing in Flanders, on 10th August 1917.

Private Johnson was one of 4 brothers who fought. He was 27 years old when he fell and was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal. His body lies in plot I B 22 of the Ramskapelle Road Military Cemetery near Nieuwpoort, Belgium.

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