158 Cpl. James Johnston
James Johnston was 26 years old, when he enlisted. Working as a blacksmith and living in Marrickville, New South Wales, he was originally born in Glasgow Scotland to parents Robert Johnston and Janet nee Dickson. He had an older brother Samuel and a younger sister Janet
James arrived in Australia and his father was his next of kin also living at Marrickville. It is possible the whole family immigrated to Australia prior to 1914, but this is still to be confirmed.
James Johnston was promoted on enlistment, to NCO (non commissioned officer) Corporal. He was immediately in charge of a group of sappers, and answerable to one of the Commissioned officers in charge of the section.
He was also a very talented engineer, who was promoted and distinguished himself throughout the Gallipoli and Western Front campaigns.
He would ultimately be renowned for being the Engineer who invented and created what became known as the “Johnston Shower”.
On the 3th May, 8 days after the landing at Gallipoli fellow sapper 150 Leslie Cridland was struck down with a gunshot wound to the left upper leg.
On the night of the 3rd while constructing communication trenches behind the firing line and in the early hours of the next morning Lieut. Clive Nielson Huntley was also severely wounded in action.
Jim Johnston as he was known, was also wounded in action on the 4th May 1915 by gun shot wounds to his pelvis, groin area, thigh and buttock.
On the 4th May, Cridland, Johnston and Huntley were all transferred to the Hospital Ship “Gascon” and embarked for hospital in Cairo, Egypt. Unfortunately later that day Lieut. Clive Huntley died from his wounds on route to Alexandria.
Lieut. Huntley was buried at sea between Gallipoli and Alexandria, and the service was officiated by Chaplain Hugo. Both James and Leslie although both carrying wounds would have witnessed the service and having recalled the early Moore Park days and their experience with a full military burial for sapper Ernest Cotterell, they would have honoured their original Lieutenant and given him a deserving farewell.
Jim Johnston recovered quickly and returned to Gallipoli just four weeks later and was promoted to Sergeant. His time again at Gallipoli was interrupted once again, this time with Diarrhoea. He was transferred to Mudros and his wounded groin was re-examined, perhaps his previous wounds had not healed completely.
He remained at Mudros until late October and then returned yet again to Gallipoli, this time as Temp. Company Quarter Master Sergeant until the evacuation and then finally returned to Alexandria, Egypt with the 1st FCE.
When the company embarked to Marseilles France in March 1916 , within a few months Jim was promoted to Company Sergeant Major W.O 2nd class a rank recognized by the badge below.
Jim served almost continuously for over 2 years in the field at the western front right up to September 1918, having only 4 days leave in Paris, 2 weeks leave in the UK and again 8 days leave in Paris.
During the action at east of Proyart on the 23rd August 1918 Major Sinclair recommended James Johnston for the French Croix de Guerre, an extract from the citation reads…..
“He supervised the despatch of the company to their different jobs and he worked unceasingly throughout the action, attending to the comfort and welfare of the men, sending them hot meals etc, to the men whose duty kept them out on the job and so encouraged them to greater efforts. He has at all times supervised the distribution of stores and done excellent work” RCDIG1068467–65- Croix de Guerre
A few months later Major Sinclair once again praised James Johnston for his untiring and relentless dedication and recommended him for the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM ) . Major Sinclair cited the following………
“He had only been absent from the company for three weeks since its formation and during that time his work has always been of a very high standard. I can with confidence recommend him for this award”
James Johnston’s extraordinary work ethic and staying power, and his engineering prowess was clearly worthy of these distinctions, however his own sense of worth and achievement during the war would have always been enough for James.
He has left a lasting legacy in the history books for all to see and made his mark among the military engineers with his invention, the “Johnston” Shower which will forever bear his name.
The ‘Johnston’ Shower, made by the 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, July 1918. AWM4 14/20/43.
The ‘Johnston’ Shower is one example of ingenuity and initiative that can be found in the engineers’ war diaries and a story by Alessandro Antonello of the Australian War Memorial has immortalised Jim Johnston’s innovation.
“Company Sergeant Major James Johnston had the idea to create the shower using materials salvaged from retreating German forces. He designed a shower that weighed only 40 pounds (around 18 kilograms), and could provide hot and cold water using ‘a minimum amount of fuel and water’. A technical drawing of this shower is shown above.” – Alessandro Antonello – Australian War Memorial
For every soldier on the western front, having a hot shower or a shower of any kind would have been the ultimate luxury and as there were no other luxuries, James had made a significant contribution to the well-being of all the soldiers.
– See web link below to the Australian War Memorial tribute to James Johnston –
James finally returned home to Australia on the transport ship ‘Durham’ on the 23rd December 1918 along with fellow originals 178 Walter Blattman, 228 William Davis Cohen, 193 Forde Leathley, 196 Frederick Meads and 171 Keith Waterhouse,
James married Lillian Amy Gale in 1919 in Bathurst and later had two sons Gale Robert Johnston and Ronald James Johnston b. 1920.
The ‘Best man’ at James and Lillians wedding was a young man, also a very distinguished soldier, Sgt. Eric Lewins DCM, MM. and Lillians bridesmaid was her younger sister Ivy.
Nearly a year later married Eric and Ivy were also married.
In 1943 the New South Wales electoral roll show the Johnston family all living at 196 Catherine st Leichhardt, his son Gale was a fitter, his wife Lillian and father Robert living with them and James working as a tram Conductor.
Kaye Johnston , grand-daughter of James, has fond memories of growing up with him and recently shared her memory of James….
” I grew up with him for the first few years of my life. He was wonderful and I have happy memories of his thick Scottish accent. He was gassed in the trenches and was sickly and died early as a result.
This year (2015) we celebrated his War service and awards at the Berry Museum NSW.” … Kaye Johnston.
In 1955 CSM 158 James Johnston passed away.
In 1967 Lillian Johnston still living in the family home at Leichhardt applied for his Gallipoli Medallion.
Story © Vance Kelly 2016
The Johnston family and relatives.
Kaye Johnston Grand daughter of James and Ross Wellington for kindly allowing the use of family photos and additional information.
AWM, NAA, NLA , Ancestry.com
Alessandro Antonello of the Australian War Memorial –
Link to AWM blog