Johnson, Albert William. Died 5th Jan 1916

Albert William JOHNSON was born in Harlesden [1911 census], or Willesden [1901 census], London, in about 1894. The two places are only half a mile apart and both in North-West London, not far from the present Wembley Stadium.

He was the only son of Mary Ann Johnson, who was born in about 1862 in Rowley Regis or Dudley, Staffordshire. Johnson is a common name in Rowley Regis, with many of the Johnson families in the area having been ‘chain makers’; her early life has not been traced. However, with three children born in London, she must have lived there, at least between about 1885 and 1901, before coming to Rugby.

Albert had two sisters: an older sister, Alice A Johnson, was born in about 1886 in Paddington, and a younger sister, Grace M Johnson, born in about 1897, also in Willesden. The family had moved to Rugby before 1901.

In 1901, the four of them were living at 185 Oxford Street, but by 1911 they had moved to 110 Abbey Street, Rugby. Mary Anne was now listed as widowed [she had said that she was married in 1901, although there was no trace of her husband] but had apparently been married for 26 years with 3 children, only two of whom were now living. This information was deleted as not required by the enumerator, but is now useful none the less!

It seems that Albert’s sister, Alice, had died, probably in later 1904, aged 18, and recorded as Alice White Johnson.[1]  Albert was now a Power Motor Assembler, and Grace, although only 14 was a Meter Assembler, both at an ‘Electrical works’ with BTH added in pencil.

By searching for this sister, Alice White Johnson, in London in the 1891 census, his mother, Mary, confirmed as born in Dudley, was also found. They were then living at 63 Wendover Road, Willesden, Middlesex.   Mary Anne was recorded as married, although again there was no sign of a husband. Grace was six, and also staying was a visitor, Julia White aged 24, some nine years younger than Mary, and also born in Dudley – she was likely to have been her sister, and this suggests that a maiden name Mary Anne White might be appropriate. To date no suitable marriage has been found with the ‘missing’ Mr. Johnson.

Albert Johnson joined up as No.3382, a Private in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.   It is not known when he joined up, but the 9th (Service) Battalion was formed in Warwick as part of the First New Army (K1) in August 1914 and then moved to Salisbury Plain and joined the 39th Brigade of the 13th Division. In January 1915 they moved to Basingstoke and then to Blackdown, Aldershot.

The Gallipoli campaign was in difficulties ‘… a great reinforcement would be required. … during June and July three divisions of the New Army and two Territorial Divisions were sent out from England. Amongst them came the 9th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Warwickshires … On June 17 [or 24], the 9th Royal Warwickshire, … embarked at Avonmouth, and reached Mudros, in the island of Lemnos, on 9 July. Four days later they landed on Beach V. near Cape Helles …’.

 Johnson A W Medal Card

This agrees with Albert’s Medal Card which recorded that he served in the ‘(2b) Balkans’ from ‘13 July 1915’so it would appear that ‘overseas service’ and the associated additional allowances or pay, did not apply until soldiers actually landed in the combat area ‘overseas’ – the voyage it seems was treated as UK service!

The Division – and presumably Albert – was engaged in various actions including: the Battle of Sari Bair, the Battle of Russell’s Top, the Battle of Hill 60, and the last Turkish attacks at Helles.

On July 29, the battalion returned to Lemnos, and on 3 August embarked again for Anzac Cove, where they were to take part in the impending great attack. … The 9th Royal Warwickshire, … landed in the early morning of 4 August. During the first two days … they were in divisional reserve, but … on 8 August they crossed Bauchop’s Hill to the ridge beyond, part going to relieve the 9th Worcester at the head of Aghyl Dere. The crisis of the attack came on 9 August with the assault of Koja Chemen.   Three battalions – the 9th Royal Warwickshire, the 6th South Lancashire, and the 6th Gurkhas – reached the crest, whence they could look down on the waters of the Dardanelles and seemed to have victory in their grasp … when the Turks rallied to a counter-attack our men were forced back to the lower slopes from whence they started. One company of the Royal Warwickshire held on, till they were surrounded, and, as it is supposed, all perished … But the brief space when the men of the Royal Warwickshire looked down on the Maidos road was the nearest approach to decisive victory which the British in Gallipoli were to achieve …’.[2]

On 18 and 19 December, the 9th Warwickshires were withdrawn, ‘the whole party embarking without the loss of a single man.’   After rest at Lemnos, ‘… on 28 December the Royal Warwickshire was sent to help in the evacuation of Helles.   They landed … and marched up to hold the same trenches which they had held five months before, only with rain and mud in place of dust and flies. They were six days[3] in the front line and had six men killed, … though the weather was less favourable … the evacuation was equally successful. On the night of 8/9 January the last troops embarked, and the enterprise of Gallipoli, heroic for endeavour and endurance if not for victory, came to an end.’[4]

A W Johnson war diary

The ‘War Diary’ showed that on the 5 January, ‘O.R. Killed. 5’, as well as ‘Wounded 3. Sick 3’. The other casualty of the six was on 2 January, and searching the CWGC website suggests this was Albert’s colleague, Private Kenneth Marshall No.13237. It seems likely that Albert was one of the five men killed on 5 January during the assistance with the ‘successful’ evacuation.

Albert Johnson was recorded as being killed in action on 5 January 1916. A note in the Rugby Advertiser stated that he ‘… was killed in action at Cape Helles. Pte Vertegans,[5] also of Rugby, who was in the same section, put a cross, which he made himself, with a suitable inscription and verse thereon, at the head of his grave.’

Albert was awarded the Victory and British War medals and the 1915 Star.

It seems that his grave was subsequently lost and Albert Johnson is one of the 20,882 casualties remembered on the Helles Memorial who have no known grave. He is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates and on the list of BTH Employees Who Served in the War, 1914 – 1918, but for some reason he was unfortunately omitted from the BTH War Memorial.[6]



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This article was written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, December 2015.

[1]       The birth of an Alice White Johnson was registered in Paddington in Q1, 1886 [Paddington, 1a, 75] – the only other Alice Johnson registered in Paddington in that period was an Alice Mary in Q3, 1887.


[3]       The War Diary suggests it may have been slightly longer


[5]       This appears to be Arthur Vertigans, born 1892 in Fakenham, Norfolk, No.3280, 9th R.War.R., whose medal card shows that he also went to the Balkans on 13 July 1915; his father came from Sculthorpe, Norfolk. He should not be confused with Arthur J Vertigan, born in 1894 in Kempston, whose family lived in Rugby at least for the 1901 census and who served in the 1/7th Battalion R.War.R. as No.1458 and later as No.265092, in France; his father was born in Burnham, Norfolk and the family came from Tatterford, only four miles from Fakenham. Both families thus had close connections to a small area in north Norfolk and may have been related.

[6]     This being the list of names on the BTH War Memorial when it was unveiled, as listed in the Rugby Advertiser dated 4 November 1921.