William Thomas JOHNS

JOHNS, William Thomas

Service Number: 3652
Enlisted: 30 March 1917, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 45th Infantry Battalion (WW1)
Born: Oaklands, New South Wales, Australia, 6 May 1885
Home Town: Oaklands, Urana, New South Wales
Schooling: Felton Woods Public School
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Died of wounds, France, 22 February 1918, aged 32 years
Cemetery: Trois Arbres Cemetery, Steenwerck, Nord Pas de Calais
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Daysdale & District WW1 Honour Roll
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World War 1 Service

30 Mar 1917: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 3652, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
10 May 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 3652, 45th Infantry Battalion (WW1), Enlistment/Embarkation WW1, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '19' embarkation_place: Sydney embarkation_ship: HMAT Marathon embarkation_ship_number: A74 public_note: ''
10 May 1917: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 3652, 45th Infantry Battalion (WW1), HMAT Marathon, Sydney
7 Feb 1918: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, 3652, 45th Infantry Battalion (WW1), Mustard Gas
22 Feb 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 3652, 45th Infantry Battalion (WW1)

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Biography contributed by Victoria Kennedy

William Thomas Johns was born 6 May 1885 on Wangamong Station, near Oaklands New South Wales, to parents Richard Johns and Fanny Mills, the second born of seven children. Along with his younger siblings, he attended Felton Woods School, one of the many small, one-teacher schools scattered throughout the district, which eventually closed as town schools grew. During his early adulthood, he worked as a farmer in the district.

At the age of 31, on 30 March 1917, William enlisted in World War One at Wagga Wagga, leaving Sydney aboard the HMAT Marathon (A74) on 10 May 1917, just four days after his 32nd birthday. William was part of the 10th Reinforcement of the 45th Australian Infantry Battalion, a posting he was to serve for the duration of the war.

William disembarked at Devonport two months later, on 20 July 1917 and headed to the military camps of Codford, as part of the 12th Training Battalion. The camps at Codford had become large training and transfer camps for troops heading to France, particularly for Australian and New Zealand troops. During his time in Codford, William wrote to his sister May a postcard featuring seventeen of the men William was training with:

Dear May,

This is a group learning ??. It was taken at dinner time in front of the bomb lecture hall. I do not if you can pick me out. I am on the left hand corner half behind poor old dad he went to sleep. I look pretty sorry on it too. I ought to have got out in front lying down opposite the darkie. I don’t think I have got any thinner since I came over. I weigh just 10 stone 11lbs, weighed yesterday.

Good night, hope to see you all soon.

W Johns

After spending around three months in Codford, William proceeded overseas to France, via Southampton, on 23 October 1917, reaching the battlefield, and the 45th Battalion, on 2 November 1917. By the time William was in the ranks, the Battalion was being rotated in and out of the front line throughout the winter of 1917/1918, along with many other Australian Infantry Battalions. However, his time on the front wasn’t to be long. 

On 7 February 1918, three months into his time out in the field, William was wounded in action as a result of a mustard gas attack. He was moved to the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station in France where he was treated, but sadly died of his wounds on 22 February 1918, just eight months short of the War ending. News of his death was reported in Australian newspapers a month later. Fanny received a letter dated 16 May 1918, which detailed how William had died, and where he was buried. 

William’s final resting place was chosen as Trois Arbres Cemetery in Steenwerck, France – Plot 2, Row D, Grave 34.

On 21 July 1918, an ‘In Memoriam’ service was held in the town of Oaklands to commemorate the lives of five local men who would not be returning home:

William T. Johns came from a home that gave two of its sons. Early they head the call for true-hearted men and responded. He gave his life in France where he sleeps awaiting the resurrection of the just in God’s glorious morn.

William’s youngest brother Barkel had also enlisted, and was one of the lucky men to return home. Unfortunately, Barkel had also been the victim of a mustard gas attack, and ill health would plague him until his death in 1937 at the age of 45.

As William’s father, Richard, had died in 1902, his mother Fanny was his next of kin. In mid to late 1918, she received his inventory of effects, which included:

Disc, Key, Metal Mirror, 2 Numerals, 2 Badges, Religious Medallion, Electric Torch, Cigarette Holder, Cards, Letters, Fountain Pen, Comb, Razor Strop, Razor, Knife, Metal Key Chain, YMCA Writing Block, Money Belt.

During his training at Codford, William had ended his letter to May with ‘hope to see you all soon’. Unfortunately, once he stepped foot on HMAT Marathon, he was to never see Australia, or his family, again. William was one of the 60,000 men and women who gave their lives for country and King during World War One.

Although he is gone, his service and sacrifice will not be forgotten.

Peace Perfect Peace.