15603 Private Frank Johnson, 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment
Born 17th July 1894 in Ringshall
Killed in Action 13th November 1916 in France
Frank Johnson was born in Ringshall, the youngest child of Thomas Arthur Johnson and Jane Eliza, previously Smith, née Hembley. His father was a Wheelwright. Frank had a stepbrother George Smith, b. 1874 and seven older full siblings: Arthur John, b. 1882; William James Johnson, b. 8th June 1884; Jane (Jenny) b. 1886; Annie (Ann) b. 1887; Thomas Andrew Johnson, b. July 1888, Esther, b. 1890 and Helen (Ellen) b. 22nd March 1891. The family lived at 18 Ringshall.
Frank Johnson should not be confused with Henry F Johnson (1580, later 105144, Private Francis Edmund Henry John Johnson), also known in his childhood as Frank. Henry F Johnson, who is also commemorated on Little Gaddesden’s Roll of Honour, was born 20th November 1896 and survived the First World War.
On 18th April 1898, Frank Johnson was admitted to the Infant Department of Little Gaddesden School; he was only 3 years 9 months old. He left school from Standard 7 on 22nd July 1908, “being over 14 years of age”.
Scarlet Fever 4
The Little Gaddesden School Log Book entry for 16th May 1899 noted that three members of the Johnson Family of Ringshall had contracted Scarlet Fever. They had been playing with a neighbour who had returned from the Fever Hospital a few days before and had caught it from her. The school was then closed for an extra three days before the usual Whit Week holiday. On 29th May the Headmaster wrote: “I am sorry to say that, since the children were sent home on Tuesday May 16th, three more of the Johnson family have been taken with Fever, making altogether six in this family; five of these belong to the School.” On 5th June the school was closed for four weeks by order of the Medical Officer of Health. It re-opened on July 3rd but the Johnsons were still absent ill. On Sunday 13th August three of them arrived at Sunday School but “as they had not a written Doctor’s Certificate” they were sent home again! The schoolmaster noted “I hope they will not turn up again until after the holidays as I know the Rector thinks it will be safer for them not to do so.” The Harvest Holidays started on August 18th and the school re-opened on September 11th with nearly all the children back in attendance.
In the 1911 Census, Frank was a 16 year old Under Gardener, a boarder in the household of John Mead, Farm Labourer and his wife Elizabeth at 17 Berkhamsted Common. His mother had died in July 1902 and no record of his father at Ringshall has been found in Electoral Registers after 1905. By 1911 only Frank’s brother William Johnson remained at Ringshall.
Frank enlisted into Princess Charlotte of Wales’ (Royal Berkshire Regiment) at Wokingham, whilst resident in Berkhamsted. He must have volunteered fairly early in the War, as he first served overseas in France on 7th August 1915.
22 year old Private Frank Johnson was killed in action on the Somme on 13th November 1916, whilst serving in the 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment. His next of kin was his brother William.
Frank has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, Pier and Face 11D. He was recorded as the “brother of William Johnson, of 29, Ringshall, Berkhamsted, Herts”.
Frank’s Grave Registration Report gives his age as 20, but his Baptism Register entry is dated 2nd September 1894 and gives his date of birth as 17th July 1894, so he was actually 22.
We will remember them 8
Frank Johnson is commemorated on the War Memorials on the village green and in St Peter & St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden. He is also named on the Roll of Honour in the church.
He was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
His brothers Arthur Johnson, (Royal Army Medical Corps), Thomas Johnson, (Royal Fusiliers) and William Johnson, (Bedfordshire Regiment) are also named on the Roll of Honour. All three survived the war though both Thomas and William were taken prisoner during it.
Brother Thomas taken Prisoner of War in 1915 12
Frank’s brother 11619 Private Thomas Johnson, Royal Fusiliers, was reported missing at Ypres on 24th May 1915. He was named on a German prisoners’ list of 31st July. A Red Cross letter of 22nd September reported him to be suffering from gas poisoning and a broken thigh resulting from a gunshot wound. He was held prisoner at Reserve Lazarett, Iseghem, Belgium until 6th December 1915 when he was released through a prisoner of war exchange. On his return to England, he was admitted to Queen Alexandra’s Hospital, Millbank. His notes showed that the gunshot wound had fractured the shaft of his left femur, which had shortened his left leg by 3” and caused 50% permanent disablement. Thomas was discharged from the Army on 14th February 1916 before receiving further hospital treatment in Dublin until at least 28th July that year.
29592 Private William Johnson, D Company, 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment was captured unwounded on the Western Front at Etreillers on 22nd March 1918. He was then held in Germany at Cassel, where he is recorded on 5th June 1918, at Zwickau, recorded on 12th June and at Chemnitz, recorded on 5th July 1918. His release date is not known but his Autumn 1918 Absent Voters’ List entry noted that he was a Prisoner of War. On his release and discharge he returned to Ringshall, living at 29 Ringshall until his death in 1960.
4. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906 and 1906 – 1934
11. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947
14. HALS Autumn 1918 Absent Voters’ List Hertford, Hemel Hempstead division/ O/ p1/ Little Gaddesden
Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson