Robert P. Johnston (1885-1917)

Although a few months late, as I originally started this post in November of last year, I decided to finally post the work I’ve done related to one of my first cousins. I have collected the files of every WWI serviceman in my family that I have so far identified and this is but one of those stories.

Robert P. Johnston was born on December 15th, 1885 to parents William John Johnston (1861-) and Martha Ann Johnston (1854-1933) in Renfrew, Ontario, Canada. The medical history sheet from his war file reveals he was born in Forester Falls which makes perfect sense as this is where the Johnston clan settled in the area.

Robert can be found in the 1891 census living in the township of Ross with his parents and four siblings, James P. (1884-), John Samuel (1887-1978), William Andrew (1889-1971), and Noah Thomas (1890-). Interestingly enough, I believe his brother James was named after his maternal grandfather, James Patrick Johnston (1827-1905) and who is the first of the Johnston line to immigrate to Canada.

Another interesting tid-bit is that Robert’s middle initial is listed as ‘P’ in one census record while the other is listed as ‘B.’

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1891 Census.

I found the family in the 1901 census where they’ve made a substantial move west now living in Westbourne, Manitoba. This was a distance of over 1,600km. I’m curious as to whether or not the move was made so that Robert’s father could work and own a farm of his own rather than work as a labourer in Ontario. I was able to find a Western Land Grant for William Johnston Jr. which may be Robert’s brother but I am unable to confirm at this time.

1901censusrpjohnston

1901 Census.

There are some inaccuracies when it comes to birth years of the children between the census records and they are as follows:

Name Dates Difference
James P. 1884 vs. 1882 2 years
Robert P/B. 1885 vs. 1883 2 years
John Samuel 1887 vs. 1885 2 years
William Andrew 1889 vs. 1888 1 year
Noah Thomas 1890 vs. 1889 1 year

The children’s birthdates are a few years off, but I’m more inclined to believe the dates themselves are correct as Robert’s birthdate December 15th matches what is found on his attestation paper.

I’ve been stalling on writing this piece because I’ve had difficulty locating certain family member’s records. For instance, I don’t have James’ birth record; the same can be said of his younger brother John. This frustrates me as I’ve found the birth records for Robert, William, and Noah.

Furthermore, I’m unable to find the family in any census records for 1911 or 1916. I’ve located a few family members in the 1921 census, but a lot has happened in that 20 year period. For now, I will continue to focus on Robert, before I touch on some of the other family members.

Sometime between the 1901 census and the birth of his daughter, Grace Loretta Johnston (1915-2014), Robert married Eleanore Loretta Schneider (1895-1991).

Eleanore, also known as Ella, lived with her family in Edrans, where she is found with her parents and her six siblings in the 1911 census.

The date of their marriage can be narrowed to sometime between 1911 and 1915 yet I have not been able to locate it. The distance between the two communities is 40km, so I imagine the Johnstons might have moved closer to Edrans or the Schneiders towards Westbourne. I am leaning a bit more towards the latter since I found Eleanore’s parents and siblings living in Westbourne in the 1916 census.

I would like to search the census records a little closer to Edrans based on some other locations mentioned in other documents including Keyes, Wellwood, and Austin. These locations are mentioned as later residences for Robert’s wife and mother. All of these locations are further west than Westbourne.

On September 11th, 1915, Robert travelled south-west to Hughes Camp, previously known as Sewell Camp, and attested. He enlisted as a private and his regimental number was 623165. Robert is described as thirty years and nine months old, 5 foot 9 1/2 inches with brown hair and eyes. Some 48 days later, Robert arrived in England on October 30th, 1915, after travelling on the SS Lapland from Halifax.

The next of kin listed is Robert’s wife under a PO Box in Wellwood, Manitoba. There are some additional notations on the attestation paper which appear as though Robert original next-of-kin listed was going to be his mother but he apparently changed his mind. An “A” was originally written but was crossed out and replaced with an “R.” There is also the start of what I believe to be the word “mother” but was replaced with the word “wife.”

From Robert’s pay book, signed March 30th, 1916, he indicates in his Will that everything should go to his wife, Ella, living in Edrans. The time between when Robert attested and when he signed his Will was 6 months while it was some 15 days before he was sent to France.

Another address lists Robert’s wife living in Keyes dated August 12th, 1918. Additionally, Robert’s mother, Martha Ann, is listed as living in Keyes as well.

Yet another document list’s Ella as living in Austin with a stamp on the reverse dated October 25th, 1922. This same address is found on a second card.

After Robert landed in Europe in October, he contracted influenza which he sought treatment for on November 18th, 1915. He was treated at the Bramshott Military Hospital and discharged on November 30th, 1915. This would not be the last time Robert would seek treatment at a medical centre.

Robert was originally assigned to the 61st Battalion but was transferred to the 44th Battalion on October 16th, 1915. This information can be found on Robert’s casualty form which also states Robert embarked and arrived overseas with the 27th Battalion on April 15th, 1916. He left the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) with his unit on May 4th and arrived in the field on May 6th, 1916.

A month later, on the 6th of June, Robert was wounded in action at the battle of St. Eloi. He was thrown onto a stake hurting his ribs on the right pectoral region. Below are excerpts from the 27th Battalion war diaries.

F CAMP. JUNE 6, 1916.
Battalion in Brigade reserve at F Camp. Weather, heavy rain in early morning clearing towards noon. Wind fresh westerly. At 3:50PM received message to fall in and move at once to the Asylum past west of Ypres H12d central.

A CAMP. JUNE 6, 1916.
4:15PM. Battalion moved as ordered. [Diving] to shelling of road battalion moved by platoons at 100 yard intervals. Met by guides and proceeded at once to the Ramparts in Ypres at I14b24 ref sheet 28.

6:30PM. Arrived at Ramparts where Battalion headquarters were established along with Brigade headquarters. Brigade front was held by 28th Battalion in left sub-sector and 31st Battalion in right sub-sector. After an intense bombardment lasting some hours the enemy blew up four mines at Hooge covering a frontage of 200 yards and then attacked and made some ground. Sent “C” Company and 100 men of “D” boy to occupy Zillebeke Switch in I16 in support of 31st Battalion. Furnished carrying parties of 150 men for front line at night. Men not in trenches were quartered in Infantry Barracks in Ypres.

On June 23rd, 1916, Robert was transferred to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre (CCAC) via the HS Newhaven and was admitted to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London. He was transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Bromley on July 5th, 1916, and later to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Epsom (also known as Woodcote Park) on July 7th, 1916.

It was during an exam on July 5th that the doctor recounts how Robert was injured and the severity of those injuries. Robert’s ribs had healed but with some irregularity on the third rib in addition to pain on coughing and breathing.

On August 21st, 1916, Robert was transferred from the CCAC to the 11th Reserve Battalion in Shroncliffe. He was taken on strength by the Battalion on August 22nd, 1916, where he remained until a little after 1917. In September 1916, Robert sought treatment for an ailment at the Military Hospital in Shorncliffe and was transferred to the special Canadian Hospital in Etchinghill.

Robert was transferred to the 27th Battalion overseas on March 6th, 1917. He landed and was taken on strength in France where he fought with his unit. Seven months later, on September 11th, 1917, Robert was awarded a good conduct badge during training exercises. Below is a copy of the training schedule from the war diaries.

ESTREE CAUCHIE. SEPTEMBER 11, 1917.
Battalion in rest ESTREE CAUCHIE. Weather fair. Wind S.W. Remainder of Battalion bathed. Training as per Syllabus.

Time Schedule 1 Schedule 2
9:10AM to 10:00AM Physical Training Section and Platoon Drill. Bayonet Fighting. Rifle exercises.
10:00AM to 10:30AM Interval. Interval.
10:30AM to 12:30PM Musketry. Company in Attack. Rifle Grenades. Bombing, Lewis Gun. Musketry.

Communication Section and Company Signallers 9:10AM to 10:00AM instructed by Bomb Officer. 10:30AM to 12:30PM – Signalling.

Company Scouts and Snipers will report to Scout Sgt. after C.Os. parade on days in which their Companies have Bombing.

Sixteen men per Coy. will report to wiring instructor during Bombing period.
All Companies will practice attack as well as Bombing and musketry with Gas Respirators on.

“A” and “B” Companies will follow Schedule 1, “C” and “D” Coys. will follow Schedule 2 September 11th and will alternate following days.

Company Officers will spend one hour each afternoon on map reading and Compass work. Opportunity should be given Senior N.C.Os. to take advantage of this work.

Nearly two months later, Robert is reported missing on Nov 6th, 1917. This date is particularly interesting as it appears he was likely killed by a shell during the Battalion’s assault on the village of Passchendaele.

I have transcribed the following page from the Battalion’s war diaries.

PASSCHENDAELE. NOVEMBER 6, 1917.
Battalion in front line in front of PASSCHENDAELE. Weather dull. Wind N.E. Battalion assembled for the assault and all in position at 4AM. Zero hour was at 6AM. Battalion attacked the village of PASSCHENDAELE with the 31st Battalion on the left and the 26th Battalion on the right. All objectives captured at 7:40AM.

Day spent in consolidating position. 9 Machine Guns and 76 prisoners were captured. Approximate casualties were: 13 Officers and 240 O.Rs. Operation Orders No. 197 for move from HILL 37 to Assembly Position attached.

There were two Victoria Cross recipients for this date and their participation in the fighting on Nov 6th, 1917. One of the recipients was James Peter Robertson who was part of the 27th Battalion and was awarded the cross posthumously. I wonder whether the two men knew each other, and how many of their friends died alongside them that day.

On June 28th, 1918, Robert is reported as having been killed in action and his name can be found on the Ypres Memorial. He was 31 years old.

casualtyrjohnston

An interesting remark on one of the forms in his file indicates that Robert’s wife married his brother, William, only 32 days after he was declared dead.

 

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War Service Gratuity Form.

 

On July 30th, 1918, Ella married William Andrew and on September 26th, 1918, Robert William Johnston (1918-2018) was born. Based on his date of birth, Robert William was likely conceived sometime in December 1917 or January 1918 only a few months after Robert went missing in France. I wonder then, whether anything was going on between Ella and William before Robert’s disappearance or if their relationship developed suddenly when it appeared Robert would not return.

Both explanations are plausible, but with a piece of information I received from two researchers in Ontario who work with WWI records I’m leaning more to the first scenario. If a soldier required treatment or hospitalization for venereal disease their pay home would be stopped for that period. In turn, this would lead to family questioning why pay was stopped which might serve as a catalyst for a new relationship. Robert was in hospital receiving treatment from October 11th to December 18th, 1016 which meant his pay would have been stopped for two months – a substantial amount of time.

Two more children would be born to Ella and William, Anne Louise Johnston (1920-2004) and Vernon Andrew Johnston (1923-1944).

Ella and her three children, Grace, Robert, and Anne can be found living with Ella’s brother, Albert Schneider in the 1921 census. I don’t know where William is, though I suspect he is working somewhere on another farm. The full family of William, Ella, Grace, Robert, Anne, and Vernon can be found in the 1926 census split between two pages.

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1921 Census.

 

1926census

1926 Census.

 

Both Robert and Vernon served in the second world war although only one would return home. Vernon rose to the rank of Corporal with the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) and was killed September 13, 1944. He was buried at the Calais Canadian Military Cemetery in St. Inglevert, France.

Robert was injured in 1942 and 1944, with the second injury being severe enough to have him sent back to Canada where he convalesced at Deer Lodge Hospital in Winnipeg.

Based on the information above, I believe the only child born to Robert and Ella was their daughter, Grace. Grace married Norman George Bowden Hay (1898-1958), who was 17 years her senior, on October 19, 1940. She had met him while working on the Hay family farm. They would have 7 children before Norman passed away on March 19, 1958.

Grace passed away in 2014 while her brother, Robert, passed away in 2018.

One of the reasons why I wanted to do a write-up of Robert is not because of anything specific to him, but because of the following doodle I found in his file. It amused me to see this little smiling pumpkin and I bet you the person who drew it likely never thought it would see the light of day.

 

doodle

Assigned Pay Sheet.

 

Today in the Dauphin Herald – Aug 27 – 1914

1914 Aug 27 – Latest From Line of Battle

LONDON, Aug. 27 – Late reports to War office state that desultory fighting is occurring along French frontier.

ON EVE GREAT BATTLE

Germans are ready to strike great blow. The troops are fast advancing and one of the biggest battles of the war is in sight.

RUSSIANS ADVANCING

The Russians are advancing in German territory and clearing everything before them.

1914 Aug 27 – Volunteers Get Right-Royal Send-Off

It was truly a great night in Dauphin, the night before the volunteers went away. It was Friday night last, the boys leaving on Saturday morning. The people of the town were out in full force and their right royal patriotism was most marked. The reality of war is brought home to us when “Our Own” are called out for service and hence a subdued depth of pent up emotion which is not found on other occasions. The Band did their part well, and what could be done without the band at such a time as this.

Great Cheering

A crowd of enthusiastic men, joined by a host of boys, well supplied with Union Jacks, some Belgian and French flags, formed in procession headed by band and red-coats. Everywhere, from doors and windows, hotels and street corners, the volunteers were lustily cheered.

Meeting Held in Open

The procession reached the town hall about 9 o’clock. The ball had been packed for nearly an hour and the enthusiasm inside was no less than on the street. Patriotic music was indulged in led by Prof. Minnaert. Only a small portion of the crowd being able to hold the public meeting and send-off for the boys in the op. When all gathered in front and around the corner, as large a crowd as was ever seen in Dauphin, surrounded the group of thirty-two men, whom we have the honour of sending to the front. Again the Band did its part well and between the addresses gave without stint, sweet patriotic strains.

Farewell Speeches

The chairman, Mayor Bottomley, took his place on the front steps of the town hall and everyone, except the volunteers, stood up for over an hour’s programme of music and speeches.
The speakers were Messrs. D.S. Woods, Munson, Wiley, Flemming, Bethell, Major Walker and Captain Newcombe.
The words spoken by all were in accord with Britain’s position and in a deep serious vein set forth the new grave situation in which Canada and the Empire stand today.
The Boys were recipients of a box of cigars each, some wholesome advice, heartiest congratulations, with affectionate hopes for a safe return.
It was an evening never-to-be-forgotten in Dauphin and the warmth of the farewell, the deep subdued feeling, was only surpassed on Saturday morning, when the train actually pulled out, all hats and handkerchiefs waving, all eyes wet, and the Band paying “God be With You Till We Meet Again.”

1914 Aug 27 – Praise For Dauphin Boys

W.J. Rawson, of Brandon, who was in town on Wednesday, told a Herald representative, that the Dauphin contingent had the best appearance of any of the troops assembled at that point for transpiration to Valcartier.

DAUPHIN.
Lieut. A.E.L. Shand (Albert Edward Lawrence Shand, 1891)
Sergt. G. Fraser
Sergt. W. Code
Sergt. T.D. Massey
Corp. D. Wetmore (David Lee Wetmore, 1884, 346)
Corp. N.C. Chard (Norman Cyril Chard, 1894, 240 SGT)
Corp. C.S. Wiltshire
Pte. H.A. Bray (Harold Arthur Bray, 1891, LT)
Pte. H.H. Moore
Pte. A.J. Pudifin (Arthur James Pudifin, 1885, 322)
Pte. Garth Johnston (Garth Fraser Johnston, 1890, 718076)
Pte. Neville Munson (Neville Munson, 1892, 313)
Pte. W.S. Gilbert (William S. Gilbert, 1874, 265)
Pte. C. Curtis
Pte. H. Izon (Hubert Izon, 1885, 280)
Pte. S. Laker (Stephen Laker, 1895, 13)
Pte. J.E. Greenaway (Joseph Edward Greenaway, 1885, 269)
Pte. A.J. Johnson
Pte. D. Powell
Pte. E. Sonnenberg (Edward Sonnenberg, 1892, 335)
Pte. E. Classen
Pte. E. Herrick (Eliot Charles Herrick, 1887, 275)
Pte. E. McNab
Pte. J.E. Lewis (John Edmund Lewis, 1893, 27501)
Pte. C.S. Van Tuyll
Pte. D. McVey (Devon McVey, 1892, 302)
Pte. A.E. Pickering (Albert Edward Pickering, 1892, 320)
Pte. A. Redgate (Albert Redgate, 1889, 324)
Pte. F.A. Mathews
Pte. H. Pollard
Pte. T.A. Collins (Thomas Arthur Collins, 1887, 245)
Pte. Frank Norquay (Frank Norquay, 1891, 318)
Pte. F. Jauncey (Fredrick Jauncey, 1890, 282)

WITH 99TH BRANDON.
Pte. C. Lane
Pte. P. Mickleburg (Ernest Michleburgh, 295)
Pte. Jackson
Pte. W. Bubb (William Charles Bubb, 1884, 2140)

WINNIPEGOSIS.
Pte. E. Morris
Pte. A. Martin
Pte. A. McKerchar

SWAN RIVER.
Pte. D. Stringer (Dixon Stringer, 1890, 24178)

ROBLIN.
Corp. J.B. Shearer (John Buchanan Shearer, 1892, LT)
Pte. J. Hallam (Jonathan Hallam, 1878, 46973)
Pte. W. Day
Pte. W. Armstrong
Pte. R.J. Ritchie
Pte. F. Burt
Pte. A. Hay
Pte. E. Simpson

1914 Aug 27 – Fork River

Mr. Vivian Hafenbrak and bride have returned from a month’s visit to Ontario. Mr. H. is of the opinion the crops in the Dauphin district are ahead of anything along the route he travelled.
It is said, “War is Hell.” So is the price of binder twine, when there is a difference of 1 to 4 cents on the same quality. How the war should affect twine now that was made in 1912 we give it up and leave it to other fellows to explain. Even the motorcar dare is doubted.
The fall fishing has started, so we are told, and while wages are lower our bonnie fishermen are head singing. “Rule Britannia” and “Britons never shall be Slaves.”
Some of our ratepayers are enquiring who is running the Mossey River School affairs at present.
Jack Chipla left for Winnipeg to work on the C.P.R.
D.F. Wilson returned from a trip west on business and reports crops light out there.
A. Snelgrove and Pat Powers have left for Yorkton for the threshing season.
Mrs. Johnston, of Port Arthur, is a visitor at the home of Mrs. Kennedy.
Mr. Clarkson, Winnipegosis, passed through en route for Yorkton.
The Winnipegosis contingent passed through here for the seat of war as happy as clams on their way to Dauphin.
Mr. Ramsay, of Sifton, paid the burgh a visit with a cattle buyer and is rustling a car of stock.

1914 Aug 27 – Winnipegosis

The fishing fleet has left for Spruce Island, a point about 40 miles north. There are between 15 and 20 boats engaged in the work. The catches so far are reported good.
Capt. Coffey arrived from Dauphin on Wednesday.
Hon. Hugh Armstrong was a late visitor.
To be or not to be, that is the great question. At the time of this writing the funds required to complete the school are not yet in sight. It is believed they are forthcoming but until they are the citizens are in a sate of doubt. The new school is needed that is one thing sure.
Architect Bossons, of Dauphin, was here on Saturday.