Ernest Johnstone, L/Corporal 15/1179, 1st Leeds Pals
Photo courtesy of York Army Museum
Ernest Johnstone was born in Sharlston, near Wakefield, in December 1883, the fourth of five boys born to John Johnstone, a grocer from Scotland, and Emma Watts(?). The family has proved surprisingly difficult to find on the censuses. Only the 1891 Census seems to have a record of them, living in High Street, Sharlston, with Ernest at 11 still a scholar. (According to his birth date he should have been 8). He only then re-appears in 1911, but unusually most of his service records have survived, so we can make a picture of his life. (Find My Past)
His brother Jasper at 13 was a plasterer at coke ovens, so we can assume that Ernest also left school at 13. But what he did remains unknown. On the 1911 Census he appears with his wife Emily. He had married Emily Precious in Pontefract in 1905, and by 1911 they had two children, John James, born in 1905, and Harry, born in 1910. Later in 1911 they would have a third boy, Joe, but sadly Harry died in 1918 in the influenza epidemic, while Ernest was a prisoner in Germany. But in 1911 Ernest and his family were living at the Lord Raglan Hotel, Whitwood Mere, Castleford, and Ernest was a publican. (Find My Past)
Whether that occupation was not a success we can’t say, but in January of 1915, when Ernest volunteered for the Pals, he gave his occupation as electrician, his address as 10 Pleasant View, Sharlston Common, and he was working for the Sharlston Colliery, who wrote a letter in February 1919 asking for a prompt discharge as they needed him back.
Meanwhile back in 1915 Ernest was at Colsterdale for training, where he was not entirely the ideal soldier. Given home leave in April he returned exactly 24 hours late, and admitted that he’d intended overstaying, for which misdemeanour his punishment was 3 days CB and loss of one day’s pay. But that does appear to be the only black mark on his conduct sheet. (Find My Past)
On 5th December 1915 the battalion sailed for Egypt, where they were to guard the Suez Canal. But shortly before that Ernest went on an army cookery course, and passed the exam with a mark of 96%. Perhaps that links in with his earlier experiences as a publican. Their stay in Egypt was fairly short and uneventful, and on 7th March 1916 they sailed for France, ready for the Big Push.
Presumably Ernest took part in the Battle of the Somme, but if so he clearly survived. In March 1917 he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and paid accordingly. This was the time of the Battle of Arras, which lasted from 9th April to 16th May. On 3rd May he was reported missing, and later confirmed as captured. He was taken prisoner at Gavrelle, along with quite a number of other Pals, and was registered as unwounded. From there he went to Limburg POW camp, where he stayed until the New Year. His next of kin was given as Mrs M Johnstone, presumably a misunderstanding of ‘Emily’. His card was also marked as 18th Battalion, but there is no other evidence to support this. In January 1918 he was moved to Friedrichsfeld, and his address was recorded as Charleston Common, instead of Sharlston, the problems of translation. Finally in February he was moved to Schneidemühl, where he stayed for the rest of the war. (grandeguerre.icrc.org)
On 18th December Ernest was home again, just in time for Christmas. On 20th March 1919 he was placed on the Reserve List, but this was abolished in March the following year. He was awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, and there the record stops. (Ancestry) I have not found him on the 1939 Register, but neither have I found a death for him. (Find My Past)
Researcher: Peter Taylor
- All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
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