Lance Corporal Frank Johnson
19884, 1st Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) who died on 9th May 1915, age 23
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Ploegsteert Memorial (Panel 7)
In the late 1870’s, Henry Johnson’s family moved to the Newbold area of Chesterfield from Wellington in Shropshire to work at the ironworks belonging to the Staveley Coal and Iron Company. Alice Longman had been born in Darlaston, Staffordshire but moved to Devonshire Terrace in Barrow Hill as a small child where her father had found similar employment at the ironworks.
29 year old Henry and 22 year old Alice married in 1889 and lived with her parents at Barrow Hill where their first child, Fred, was born. Shortly after Fred’s birth, the couple moved to live at 119, Church Street, Whittington and it was here that FRANK was born in late 1891, followed by Elizabeth.
By 1900, when their daughter Mary Alice was born, the couple had moved back to Barrow Hill and were living with Alice’s widowed mother at 129 (6) Devonshire Terrace. Had they not done so, Mrs Longman’s tenancy would have been terminated as all of the houses in the village were tied to employment with the Staveley Company.
At the age of 19, Frank, his brother Fred and his father Henry were all working as Pipe Moulders at Staveley Works. His sister Elizabeth was living at home and working as a servant whilst Mary Alice and George were both still attending the Staveley Works Schools at the top of the hill. The tenancy of the 3 roomed cottage had been taken over by Henry and Grandmother Alice still lived with them.
Frank was a “well known and respected lad” in Barrow Hill. He had been “a scholar at St Andrew’s Sunday School” and, having previously worked at both the Old and New Works, was working at the cinder cracker at the Great Central Railway, Staveley Works when war broke out.
Frank Johnson enlisted at Leicester in September 1914 and landed in France the following Spring, on the 16th March 1915, where his Division had been engaged at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle .
Battle of Aubers: The attack upon Rouges Bancs was entrusted to the 8th Division. On the 8th May they moved out of billets near Sailly and arrived at the assembly trenches, some 500 yards south of Rue Petillon, without mishap just after midnight. At 5.55 on 9th, ‘B’ and ‘D’ companies supported the East Lancashire’s in an attack which was checked almost immediately. The Foresters companies did not get out of the trench until 6.10, when platoons went over the top close behind the East Lancs. The British artillery had been inadequate and the enemy trenches undamaged and held in strength. There were eight machine guns firing into the advance and the leading battalion was making no headway, therefore the Foresters changed direction, half right and advanced against point 373, but still found themselves under machine gun fire. The leading platoon of ‘B’ company managed to get within 40 yards of the enemy despite constant heavy fire.
An order came to stop the advance and the East Lancs and Berkshires could be seen withdrawing, so the Sherwood companies also fell back to reorganise. At 7.35 another attempt was made with ‘A’ and ‘C’ companies taking part supported by the other two companies. Once again artillery and machine gun fire halted them and they lay wherever they had got to.
At 1.15 pm the enemy brought down enfilade shell fire on the trenches of the battalion from the left, and Major Morley had just ordered ‘A’ and ‘C’ companies to fall back to the breastwork, when he was wounded by shrapnel and handed over command to Captain Wayte. At 7.30 pm the enemy opened up high explosive shelling which caused many casualties among officers and men of the battalion. Just after 10 pm what was left of the battalion was relieved. From “1st and 2nd Battalions., The Sherwood Foresters in the Great War” . Col. H C Wylly CB
The battalion had 3 officers killed and 52 other ranks. 12 officers and 245 other ranks were wounded with 46 other ranks missing.
Frank’s parents received a letter that he “had fallen” although he was reported in casualty lists as wounded and missing. It was another four months before they received official notification that he had been killed in action on May 9th. He had been in France for less than 2 months and was 23 years old.
*Fred Johnson had joined the army in 1911 and is believed to have gone to France with the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters in November of 1914 on their return from India.
© Ann Lucas