Thomas Frederick JOHNSON was born on 14 April 1894 in Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire.
His parents Thomas and Margaret, née Littlefair, Johnson were born in the north of England and then moved south: to Grendon, Atherstone where in 1891, Thomas senior was a ‘coachman domestic servant’; then to Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire before April 1894 when Thomas junior was born; and then to Street Acton, Warwickshire in the later 1890s. By 1901, the family was living in Monk’s Kirby where Thomas senior was a ‘coachman and groom’ and by 1911 they had moved to Rugby where he was a ‘coachman domestic’.
Thomas was one of their seven children and in 1911 he was still living with his parents at 76, Lawford Road, Rugby, and was a fitter in the meter department of an engineering works.
When war was declared he joined up as No.751, in the 1/7th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (RWR). The Battalion was formed in August 1914 in Coventry and was part of Warwickshire Brigade, South Midland Division. At some point Thomas was promoted to Corporal.
Despite hopes that it would be posted abroad, the Brigade remained for a time in Essex with the South Midlands Division. There was some reorganisation in March 1915, which suggested that a move was imminent. They entrained to Southampton, and crossed the Channel to Le Havre on 22 March 1915. Thomas Johnson’s Medal card confirms his arrival ‘in theatre’ on 22 March 1915.
They moved to Cassel by train and then on 28 March marched to Bailleul and on 1 April to Armentieres. The units served an ‘apprenticeship’ in the trenches learning the ‘art’ of trench warfare and when not in the line were billeted in Bailleul. On 12 April, the 7th Batalion started rotating into the trenches at Douve and Steenbecque, north-east of Ploegsteert (‘Plug Street’) village. Their first priority was to improve the trenches and make them continuous, however, the high water table caused problems.
The Brigade continued to be ‘eased into trench life in April and May: casualties were low and the weather was warm and dry.’ Indeed, at that date there was an informally operated ‘live and let live’ policy. Despite the quiet, there were casualties, from sniping, shelling or night patrolling, and ‘… in May the figures were forty-six [killed] and one hundred and sixty-seven [wounded]’.
Sadly Corporal Thomas Johnson was one of those casualties that ‘wilted down the fighting strength of the Brigade’. He was killed on 9 May 1915.
He was buried in Grave V.C.5. at La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery which was begun in April 1915 by the 48th (South Midland) Division and continued in use until May 1918.
The Cemetery is some 10.5 kms. south of Ypres. La Plus Douve was a farm which was generally within the Allied lines. It was sometime used as a battalion headquarters. It was also known as ‘Ration Farm’ because battalion transport could approach it at night with rations.
Thomas Frederick Johnson was awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Although killed on the same date as several other Rugby soldiers who lost their lives in the attack at Auber’s Ridge, this was coincidental; Thomas Johnson and the 1/7th RWR were some miles further to the north, much nearer to Ypres.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
This article on Thomas Frederick Johnson was researched and written for the Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, June 2017.
 Quotation and general text edited from, Peter Caddick-Adams, By God They Can Fight, A History of the 143rd Infantry Brigade 1908-1995, 143rd (South Midlands) Brigade, 1995.