Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Benton JOHNSON


Regiment/Service:
Sherwood Foresters
(Notts and Derby Regiment)
Unit:
1st/6th Battalion
Service Number:
n/a
Date of Death:
21 September 1917 -
Killed in Action
Age:
27
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
C. 8.
Awards:
Mentioned in Despatches (2)



Personal History:

Cyril was born on the 7th May 1890 at Marple, Cheshire, the son of Charles Frederick (Solicitor) and Lizzy (née Benton) Johnson. He had a brother, Brian, two years younger . In 1901 (Census RG 13/3270) they were living at 'Nithen', Carlisle Road, Buxton, Derbyshire. Cyril was educated first Park Hurst School, Buxton, then at Moorland House, Heswall before going to Charterhouse School, Surrey, where he captained the Soccer team. In the photo on the right he is shown seated, second left.

He went on to gain a B.A. at Christ Church, Oxford, where
he was a fine athlete and got a 'blue' for football for the
University team. In the holiday periods he played for the
Buxton XI. He was also described as a "capital golfer"
and regularly his father, mother and brother in the "family
foursomes".
In 1911 (Census RG 14/21236) Cyril is a "Law Student", at the same address. He was Articled to W. P. Norton,
of 571 Old Broad Street, London, but his final examinations were interrupted by his mobilisation in August 1914.
The family moved soon after to Hall Bank, Buxton.

On 17 May 1917, whilst home on leave, he married Dorothy Lord, the only daughter of Charles Lord, a Manchester solicitor. Coming so soon after her marriage, Cyril's death on 21st September 1917 was a great shock and it was left to his brother, Brian, also serving with the Battalion as a Lieutenant, to write home to tell the family what had happened. [see Footnote 2 below] Dorothy had gone to live with Cyril's parents at Hall Bank and it was there that the dreaded telegram arrived.

Brian was unable to be Cyril's 'best man' at the wedding as he was on active service.  Dorothy's brother, 2/Lieutenant Evelyn Geoffrey Lord, Machine Gun Corps, could not attend for the same reason, and he was to die on 25th June 1918, and is buried in St Mark's Churchyard, Worsley. (Buxton Advertiser, 19 May 1917)

After the War Dorothy had moved to a house called "Wood Edge", Buxton. She and other members of the family arranged for Cyril's name to be commemorated at St Giles' Church and, also, on the local War Memorial. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show that after the War Charles and Lizzy Johnson had retired to Wharfe Bungalow, Henley-on-Thames. Probate Records show that Cyril’s Estate amounted to £1058 6s 11d [£1058.35], a relative purchasing value of £43,650.00 today [2014]. Cyril’s address at the time was recorded as The Coburg Hotel, Mayfair.

Military History:
Cyril's Military Service Record shows that on the 22nd December 1909 he applied to join the Battalion and that he was 5' 9"" (1.75 m) tall. In 1910 Cyril was Commissioned into the local (Buxton) Territorial Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment). He was mobilised on the 5th August 1914 at the start of the War. The Battalion sailed from Southampton to Le Havre on the night of 25/26th February 1915 and a few weeks later he was promoted to Adjutant. Cyril relieved Captain Lomer, who had contracted pneumonia, on the 31st July, but was himself admitted to the Divisional Rest Station suffering with Pyrexia and didn't return to duty until the 18th August.

Shortly after his return to the Battalion after a short period of leave in early 1916, Cyril was "Mentioned in Despatches" for gallantry and distinguished conduct. He was then promoted to Captain. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, Cyril was wounded by shrapnel and evacuated to No. 2 General Hospital at le Havre, and then was evacuated on the 3rd July on board the 'Lanfranc' to No 2 Western General Hospital, Whitworth Street, Manchester. He was declared fit for General Service at the end of September and was soon writing to the War Office asking to return to France.

Cyril returned to duty on the 30th October 1916 and temporarily took command of the Battalion in early December for a few days while more senior officers were on leave. Soon afterwards he was promoted to Major and was promoted again, in March 1917, to Lieutenant Colonel and took permanent command of the Battalion. He was, reputedly, the youngest man of that rank at the time. The next month, on the 9th April 1917, he was again "Mentioned in Despatches".

Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Benton Johnson returned to duty after a further period of leave, during which he married Dorothy Lord, on the 9th September 1917. Just two weeks later was killed in action, on the 21st September 1917. The Battalion was moving forward to take over a line of support trenches at a position known as Hill 70, near the French village of Loos, when a German shell exploded nearby. Cyril died instantly. [Corporal 240311 Wilfred Higginbottom was killed in action at the same time and lies in the adjacent grave to his Commanding Officer.]

The War Diary reads: ".. the following month (September) found the 6th in the Hill 70 Sector; and with entry into these trenches on 21st September 1917, we suffered a loss that felt by every Officer and man who wore the green diamond. Lieut. Colonel C.B. Johnson, who had taken command at 'Kite Copse' at the age of 26, was killed by a shell whilst going up to the trenches on 21st September just in front of Loos. He died instantly and was buried in the little cemetery at Sailly-Labourse." The esteem in which he was universally held was reflected in the words of Major General Thwaites, who, at Chesterfield at the end of 1919 spoke of "that dear fellow Johnson". 

Footnote 1:
Colonel Johnson was succeeded on 23th September by Major Bernard William Vann,
from the 8th Battalion. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on
29th September 1918 at Bellenglise and Lehaucourt, France, where he led his
battalion across the Canal du Nord through thick fog and under heavy fire.
He secured his troops' advance by rushing up to the firing line and leading
the line forward himself.

He was killed in action, shot by a sniper at Ramicourt, France, on 3rd October 1918.
Before the War Bernard Vann had been a regular member of the Derby County
football team in the First Division.




Footnote 2:
· Cyril's brother, Brian Eccles Johnson, also served with the 1/6th Battalion as a Lieutenant, and was promoted to Acting Captain on
  14 September 1917.

Sources:
· I am grateful to John Hartley for allowing me to use material from his excellent website MORE THAN A NAME - the stories of Stockport's fallen
· Photo of Lt. Col. Johnson's Grave kindly supplied by British War Graves
· The Buxton Advertiser - 19 May 1917 and 29 September 1917
· "Men of the High Peak: A History of the 1/6th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters 1914-18" - Capt. W D Jamieson (ISBN-10: 0952964864)
    Miliquest  Publications (1 Oct 2004)
· "Oxford Journal Illustrated" - 20 October 1920, p. 9
· "Remembered" by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff. (available online)


Commemorated on:
St Giles' Church Memorial, Oxford (see right)
Link to CWGC Record
Col Johnson's grave at Sailly-Labourse
Col. C. B. Johnson
Col B W Vann VC, MC & Bar
Col Vann's Grave at Bellicourt
Cyril & Dorothy's Wedding photo
Cyril and Dorothy's Wedding Photos
Buxton Advertiser 19 May 1917
poppy
St Giles' Church Memorial, Oxford
St Giles' Church Memorial, Oxford (c.1920)
... about Col. B. W. Vann