Alfred Howlett JOHNSON

Badge Number: S2152, Sub Branch: KADINA

JOHNSON, Alfred Howlett

Service Numbers: 4457, S71327
Enlisted: 11 January 1916, at Adelaide
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd Machine Gun Battalion
Born: Kadina, South Australia, 24 June 1894
Home Town: Cowell, Franklin Harbour, South Australia
Schooling: Tikkera
Occupation: Farm labourer, Farmer in Soldier Settlement Scheme, Linesman,
Died: Natural Causes, 20 January 1969, aged 74 years, place of death not yet discovered
Cemetery: Wallaroo Cemetery, S.A.
Memorials: Alford District of Ninnes Honour Board, Bute District Council WW1 Roll of Honor, Tickera War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

11 Jan 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 4457, 27th Infantry Battalion, at Adelaide
25 Mar 1916: Involvement Private, 4457, 27th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '15' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Shropshire embarkation_ship_number: A9 public_note: ''
25 Mar 1916: Embarked Private, 4457, 27th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Shropshire, Adelaide
3 Oct 1918: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, 4457, 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, "The Last Hundred Days", GSW right leg
11 Nov 1918: Involvement Private, 4457

World War 2 Service

8 May 1942: Involvement Private, S71327
8 May 1942: Enlisted Cowell, SA
8 May 1942: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, S71327
2 Jan 1946: Discharged

Help us honour Alfred Howlett Johnson's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Central Yorke School

Many of the volunteers who enlisted for World War I were soldiers from the bush. Charles Bean (1944) noted that the country origins of soldiers ‘where men have to live the lives of strong men’ had shaped them into fine fighting men (Bean, 1944). In every rural town, the War Memorial is a notable place, proudly displaying the names of those local boys who had fallen in the line of duty. However, missing from memorials are the names of countless others who were wounded physically and spiritually. Alfred Howlett Johnson, and his seven brothers, was among the hundreds of country boys who flocked from the farming districts of the Yorke Peninsula to serve arm in arm during wartime. This is his story.

Alfred Howlett Johnson was a South Australian serviceperson who served on the Western Front during World War I. He was born to parents Eliza and Thomas on June 20th, 1894, in Kadina and was the second eldest of twelve siblings. Johnson was initially raised on a small farm near Tickera, SA, where his father managed the property. However, the family soon moved to the Medical Hall building in Kadina where they managed a combined butchery and sweet shop. Within their community, the ‘Johnson Boys’ were renowned for their sense of humor and willingness to help others (Yorke Peninsula Country Times, 2005).

In his adult years, Johnson worked as a farm labourer and spent his spare time woodworking and rearing greyhounds. He was initially introduced to woodworking as a rehabilitation exercise for an existing injury and enjoyed collecting old woodworking tools. Johnson also had a keen interest in greyhound racing and owned, trained and raced his dogs (B. Johnson, personal communication, March 20, 2020).

Johnson enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in Adelaide on January 11th, 1916, aged 21 years. His brother William also enlisted with him and were both allocated to the 27th Battalion - 11th Reinforcements (National Archives of Australia, 2019). This was one of four South Australian battalions that fought in the Great War and the two men reinforced a battalion that had already seen combat at Gallipoli the previous year. Remarkably, of the nine sons in his family, eight served their country during World Wars I and II. Alfred and William would also be joined by Bert and all would serve on the Western Front in World War I (Alfred’s brother Victor, who lost the fingers off his left hand in a butcher shop accident, was deemed medically unfit to enlist).

Johnson embarked on the HMAT Shropshire on March 25th, 1916, in Adelaide destined for Alexandria, Egypt. He then departed Alexandria on the H.T. Tunisian for England where he arrived on June 29th, 1916. In October 1916, Johnson trained at the No.2 Command Depot at Weymouth and later transferred to Bovington Camp, Dorset, within the No. 3 Command Depot (National Archives of Australia, 2019).

It appears that Johnson was court martialed during his time in England for “being found beyond the limit [of the camp] … without pass or written leave” and “being in possession of a document purporting to be genuine well knowing it was not genuine” (National Archives of Australia, 2019). On January 4th, 1917, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 42 days field punishment and lost sixty days pay.

In October 1917, Johnson proceeded overseas to France to the front line at Ypres, an area which had been heavily shelled and buildings within the towns were destroyed. According to the 27th Battalion Unit Diary, in early October he completed training in the Ypres area (Australian War Memorial, 2020). According to Kearney & Cleary, on October 9th the 27th Battalion was heavily involved in supporting the area known as Anzac Ridge, located near Broodseinde, however the Allies were in a compromising position which proved fateful for some senior officials. Johnson joined his unit on 20th October.

According to the Official War Diary, on October 24th, 1917, the battalion partook in a football match against the 28th Battalion, in which the 27th were victorious by 5 points (Australian War Memorial, 2020). According to Kearney & Cleary (2018), Australian Rules Football matches provided a distraction to soldiers, and there were great rivalries between battalions and states. Additionally, the 27th Battalion played the 28th Battalion in a game of cricket.

Two days later, the battalion began its journey back to the front line in Belgium, travelling in torrents of rain. It was noted in the Unit Diaries that here there were ‘many hostile planes, appearing to be directing … artillery fire … shelling by enemy all day. A little gas shells” (Australian War Memorial, 2020, p. 2).

Despite the appalling conditions, the 27th Battalion progressed through a complex system of trenches, referred to as ‘the Maze’ near Flers. In November, they participated in an attempt to capture ‘the Maze’, however they were soon defeated by a German counter-attack. During this time soldiers succumbed to the winter conditions, developing cases of trench foot, trench fever and trench nephris due to the muddy conditions. This was the harshest winter on the Somme in four decades, and General Joffre and Haig decided that any fighting should be postponed until Spring (Kearney & Cleary, 2018).

Johnson was transferred to the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion on March 23rd, 1918. This company was serving on the front line near Villers-Bretonneux and received heavy enemy shelling (Australian Imperial Force, 2020). On April 9th, 1918, Alfred fell ill with influenza and was initially treated by the 56th Casualty Clearing Station for influenza and was then admitted to the 20th General Hospital in Camiers, France. His illness required further treatment and two days later he was transferred via the H. S Princess to the Kitchener War Hospital and 1st Auxiliary Hospital in England (National Archives of Australia, 2020). Alfred would suffer several bouts of influenza throughout his time at war which would require hospitalisation.

In September 1918, Johnson returned to the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, and Unit Diaries note of the destruction left by the German’s retreat (Australian Imperial Force, 2020).

One month before the war would conclude, Johnson received a wound that would impact his physical health long after the war’s end. On October 3rd, 1918, Johnson received a gunshot wound to his right leg and was initially treated by the 5th Field Ambulance before being transferred to the 11th Stationary Hospital in Rouen two days later (National Archives of Australia, 2019). He was further invalided to the Graylingwell War Hospital, England. It was here that Johnson watched the signing of the Armistice from the confines of a hospital bed in England.

Johnson returned to Australia from England due to this injury on December 9th, 1918. This wound gave Johnson a life-long limp (B. Johnson, personal communication, March 20th, 2020).

Alfred and his two brothers, William and Bert, returned safely to Australia at war’s conclusion. Alfred Johnson returned to Australia in February 1919, and was welcomed home with a special service at the Tickera Church. The locals from Tickera and the surrounding districts celebrated and congratulated him on his safe return home from the battlefields of France. In the years after he met and married Jessie Ada Rebecca Anderson. In February 1922, he was allotted a farm under the Soldier Settlement Scheme at the ‘Hundred of Finniss’ and relocated to Mannum with his newlywed wife to begin their family (State Records of South Australia, 2019). His love for animals ensued and he pursued an interest in raising poultry and devoted much time to his beloved greyhounds.

Like most servicemen, Johnson spoke little of their war experiences, but each of their families are aware of the contributions they made, the courage they showed and the suffering they endured as a result of war service. In 1923, Alfred and Jessie welcomed into their family a daughter, Grace Alice Johnson. This daughter left home at an early age never to return; it was only recently discovered in records of newspaper articles that she led a criminal life of assault and larceny and used several aliases as well (B. Johnson, personal communication, March 20th, 2020).

In 1937, the Johnsons lived in Booleroo Centre and Alfred worked in the PMG as a linesman, a trade that continued until 1946 when he retired due to ill health. In 1939, his first wife Jessie died, and Johnson relocated to the Eyre Peninsula to work at Tumby Bay and Cowell. It was here he met Winifred Jane Pinding and they married on December 19th, 1943. Alfred had three children with Winifred: Lorraine (Lori), Rosemary (Rosie), and William (Bill). Johnson’s family suspect he had a love interest that he would visit during his R&R “as he would have looks of long lost love in his eyes and mention “Cherie” at times … he used this as a nickname for his eldest daughter” (Johnson, 2020).

Alfred Howlett Johnson died at the age of 73 on the 20th January, 1969, and is buried in the Wallaroo Cemetery where he is reunited with his parents Eliza and Thomas.