| World War 1 records
The centenary of World War 1 has focussed many family researchers on this era of their family history.
Unlike any other period of research we have also been rewarded with a huge influx of records and access aids that have made this a very fruitful period. It is not all that difficult to trace an ancestor through their active service day-by-day and indeed I assisted my wife to do this for her maternal Scottish grandfather who, serving in the Royal Scots Guards, found himself in France within days of the declaration of War on 4 August 1914.
Here in Australia the War arrived quickly. It is difficult to understand that the Governor-General received a telegram on 5 August 1914 effectively telling him that Australia was at war. Australia did not elect to enter the war, the coutnry was told it was at war. Not that this was then an issue either politically or socially and in fact the first shots in anger were fired the very same day by the Artillery Garrison stationed by Port Phillip Heads when a German merchantman, the Pfalz, attempted to depart Melbourne! Australian troops had occupied parts of German New Guinea by 17 September and NZ troops were in possession of German Samoa from 28 August! On 1 October, less than eight weeks after the declaration, 16 ships left Melbourne to form the first convoy of the Expeditionary Forces being assembled at Albany in WA.
The speed at which the process developed and the highlights are all readily available to view on the National Archives of Australia website, Discovering Anzacs, and in particular on the timeline display.
Back in mid-2014 I wrote about my South Australian Light Horse men, my maternal grandmotherís brothers, who saw action and outlined in that newsletter how I went about finding the details. While both returned home wounded, another, my maternal grandfatherís cousin did not return. In fact my grandfather and he shared the same name, Allan and my grandfather never used that name again!
By working through the records available at the National Archives of Australia it is possible to build up a detailed picture...
The first information to locate is the material held on the nominal roll at the Australian War Memorial:
2518 Pte Allan John JOHNSON
Enlistment: 15 May 1916
Killed in Action 2 Apr 1917
The same site will also reveal other documents held, namely the Embarkation Roll and Roll of Honour:
Embarked: Adelaide 21 Sep 1916 Commonwealth
Next of kin and their address
Location of name of the War Memorial: panel 150
Cemetery details (Noreuil is a village approximately 10 kilometres north-east of Bapaume).
With the above details it is an easy step to build up background information using the 12 vol The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 and other material.
Noreuil was the scene of a fierce engagement between Australian troops and the Germans on 15 April 1917.
The Australian Cemetery was started at the beginning of April 1917 and used until the following December. Four further burials were made in September 1918.
Noreuil Australian Cemetery contains 244 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 28 of the burials are unidentified and 82 graves destroyed by shell fire are represented by special memorials. These 82 are almost all of the 50th Australian Infantry Battalion.
For the 50th Battalion, the operation began during the night of 1–2 April, when they lay out in the fields on either side of the D5, the road which today still runs between Lagnicourt and Noreuil.
At 5.15 am three companies of the 50th Battalion advanced down the hill towards Noreuil in the direction of Noreuil Australian Cemetery. The covering artillery barrage had little effect on German positions in and around the village and enemy machine–guns caused many casualties. On the Lagnicourt–Noreuil road a particular enemy machine gun position was causing all sorts of problems, when it was attacked alone by Danish–born Private Jorgen Jensen, with hand grenades. One of Jensen’s platoon shot the enemy machine–gunner while Jensen charged forward, flinging two grenades into the German post. He then took out two more, pulled the pin out of one of them with his teeth and, holding them aloft, called out in German for the Germans to surrender as they were surrounded by Australians. They believed him and gave themselves up. Jensen was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Captain Harold Armitage, Sergeant William James, and the other South Australian dead were buried in a new cemetery at Noreuil. Private Harold Willmott, 50th Battalion, helped to create it: We were told there were a lot of our chaps lying dead on the battlefield, so myself and a few more chaps volunteered to go out and bury them. We went out for two nights and made a little cemetery just outside Noreuil, the village we captured. We had to scrape the snow off them, and Fritz shelled us several times while we were digging the graves.
Noreuil cemetery 1917 later destroyed by artillery fire.
Noreuil cemetery - location of the Johnson grave is unknown and the memorial is on the fence line.
Left: Johnson headstone. Right Allan John Johnson at enlistment.
To commemorate the centenary of the end of the War in 2018, the RSL is undertaking a project to assemble a field of knitted poppies at the Australian War Memorial. They are seeking the help of the public to knit 62,000 poppies and more detail on the project and how one can participate is to be found on the Web. To date the project has received 15,000 poppies. One can dedicate a poppy to a particular person and we have of course knitted a poppy for Allan Johnson.