Johnsons of Whixley remembers war hero founder

For Remembrance Sunday, Johnsons of Whixley group managing director Graham Richardson has written an article on the impact war hero and business founder Eric Johnson made on the company.

"At this time of year, the nation has been reflecting on the Great War and the Victorious Armistice signed 100 years ago on November 11th, at 11am, 1918.

"From a personal perspective, it evokes powerful boyhood memories of our business founder, Mr Eric Johnson.

"I recall badgering him about his wartime experiences – the response was his usual warm smile, a chuckle and a twinkle in his eye – little else!

"On occasion, we would go to the nursery house, open a large cupboard in an unused room and I’d see a range of artefacts collected in order that his experiences would never truly be forgotten.

"His Webley Scott service revolver (decommissioned) was in pristine condition and was still in its highly-polished walnut brown leather holster – I can still smell the rifle oil and leather to this day!

"Components of standard issue ‘Mills Bomb’ (Hand Grenade). Bayonets gathered from a distant Flanders battlefield (Allied and German), his Trench Great Coat. All items of wonder to a small boy.

"To this day, I retain the Fuse of a ‘Stokes’ mortar bomb kept as a relic by Mr Johnson and passed on to me via his family. It sits pride of place on my desk!

"Mr Johnson rarely discussed his experiences. We know that he lost many members of his immediate platoon on more than one occasion. He expressed his revulsion at the smell of whisky, which always brought back horrific memories of drinking heavily following a particularly ‘costly raid’. An extract from the war diaries of his regiment (1/7 th Middlesex) paints a vivid, and terrible, picture: No’s 2 and 2a Parties – Enemy Trench Raid 18/29 May 1918 – Wancourt Road.

"A hostile party was also encountered between trench running from L to D. These were also engaged. Estimate hostile casualties 32. The platoon found a considerable number of German dead in the trenches. A few of the enemy threw themselves down and pretended to be dead. All ‘dead’ men were bayoneted on passing out.

"The Lewis Gun fired two magazines and accounted for 20 of the enemy. Range less than 50yds. Panic stricken enemy were observed running about in front of the trench of which 3 were killed by Lieut Mackenzie. One wounded prisoner and one light machine gun was captured by this platoon. The platoon claims having inflicted 35 casualties which can be taken as reliable. ORKNEY Trench was strongly held and the men went over with the intention killing and they carried out this intention.

"Mr Johnson applied for a commission as an officer after having served in Leeds University’s cadet force. His records say that he stood 5ft 8in tall, with an expanded chest of 34 inches and a weight of 120lbs (8.5 stone). He was above average height and build for the time.

"On mobilisation, he was made a private in the 3/5 th Battalion of the Buffs (East Kent Regt) a training unit of the territorial force. He never actually joined his unit, instead joining number 8 officer cadet battalion in Lichfield Staffordshire in March 2016, at the age of 19. He passed the course in September 2016 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

"He was seconded to the 1/7th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and the war diaries note his arrival at ‘La Gorgue’ near the town of Estaires – here he joined his colleagues for the first time as they rested ‘out of the line’.

"His division (167th Infantry Brigade in 5 th London Division) had seen action at the Battle of the Somme and were relieved, exhausted on October 9th .

"His battalion next went into action at Neuvile Vitasse nr Arras when the Britsh Third Army launched another massive attack in April 1917. In July, they moved out to the rear of YPRES (Called ‘Wipers’ by Mr Johnson) – the Third Battle of Ypres unfolded.

"On August 16, the division attacked through two strongly-held positions called Glencorse Wood and Nonne Bosschen – soon after they were relieved having suffered 2,900 casualties.

"Mr Johnson then went on to serve at the Battle of Cambrai (I recall his ref to Cambrai Wood). As the war ground on the German massed for a massive counter attack in March 2018 and his division fought a magnificent rear-guard defence against a many time greater number of German Attackers.

"By now, the Allies were in the ascendancy and his division was to assist in piercing the impregnable ‘Hindenburg Line’ between Cambrai and Saint-Quentin. The German defensive structure was broken forever in the west.

"At the point the Armistice was signed his unit were in La Dessous near Blaregnies, Bavay.

"Following the end of hostilities, Mr Johnson remained with his unit ensuring order and assisting with refugees until demobilisation in 1920 when he was ‘stood down’.

"The rest is history, as they say, he returned to his native Yorkshire and started cultivating garden and landscape shrubs on his wife’s land Nr Cattal Station.

"His business soon expanded and, by 1964, he was growing on 11 acres of land with 11 staff members.

"John Richardson took over soon after and developed a great friendship with Mr Johnson based on respect.

"We are hugely proud of Mr Johnson and the business’s pedigree – remembrance Sunday and the Armistice is a wonderful time when we reflect on Mr Johnson, his lost pals and the sacrifices made by all our armed forces at this time and indeed in every conflict since.

"Whilst our business has now been in ‘Richardson’ ownership longer than that of Mr Johnson, our name will always reflect Mr Johnson what he created and the sacrifices he made along the way."


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