b. 21/12/1879 Edinburgh, Scotland. d. 08/06/1915 Ypres, Belgium.
William Henry Johnston (1879-1915) was born at 2 Madeira Place, Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland on 21st December 1879. His father was Major William Johnston, who served in the Royal Artillery as a soldier for almost 12 years before being commissioned as a Riding Instructor on 15th January 1864. He then served in England, India and Scotland before retiring in 1891 from Woolwich as a Honorary Major. His mother was Mary nee Russell. His parents married in London in 1863. William had two brothers and seven sisters and was educated at Bosworth and Stern’s School, Barnes.
William trained at the Royal Military Academy Woolwich and was commissioned on 23rd March 1899. He served at Chatham until 12th April 1900, then went to Gibraltar to serve in the Intelligence Department until 1905. On returning to England, he served in the Survey Department. He was promoted to Captain in 1908, and worked in the War Office, before being appointed GSO3 North China in Tientsin on 11th July 1908. He worked in Tientsin until 1911, visiting 11 of the 18 Chinese provinces. He was then appointed GSO3 South China in Hong Kong and was involved in the survey of the border between China and the New Territories. He resigned from the appointment in 1912 and returned to England to work in the Geographical Department of the War Office. He was posted to Bulford, Wiltshire in October 1913 and became a student at the Staff College between January and August 1914.
He was posted to 59th Field Company on 4th August 1914, and arrived in France on 18th August 1914. On 14th September 1914, the ferry site at Missy-sur-Aisne, France was under direct rifle fire and the movement of troops was halted, but the sappers continued to ferry ammunition over the river and recover the wounded. This dangerous work was carried out by two men, Captain William Johnston and Lieutenant R B Flint. Johnston personally worked two rafts and ensured an adequate supply of ammunition reached the troops on the north bank. Without it they would not have been able to hang on to their precarious positions.
Following being gazetted for the VC on 25th November 1914, he was presented with his medal by King George V at St Omer, France on 3rd December 1914. He was then appointed to command 172nd Tunnelling Company from March 1915. He was then appointed Brigade Major of the 15th Brigade on 2nd May 1915. Sadly, just over a month later, Johnston was killed by a sniper on Hill 60, near Ypres on 8th June 1915. He was buried in Perth Cemetery (China Wall) at Zillebeke, Belgium. He was described by Major General Lord Gleichen as “a wonderful fellow all round, always full of expedients and never disheartened by the cruel collapse of his plans by the wet weather.”
William never married. In addition to the VC, he received the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf. His medals are held by the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham, Kent.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL ENGINEERS MUSEUM, CHATHAM, KENT.
BURIAL PLACE: PERTH CEMETERY (CHINA WALL), YPRES, BELGIUM.
William Johnston's medals including VC on display at the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham, Kent (April 2014).
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT III, ROW C, GRAVE 12.
Johnston's memorial stone in Edinburgh
(Picture - Thomas Stewart).
St Luke's, Kew Memorial
Royal Engineers Museum Roll of Honour Board