Name: William Johnson
Rank: Lance Corporal
Service No: 1696
Date of Death: 10/01/1917
Age: 16 (CWGC reference; true age 27 – see below)
Regiment/Service:Yorkshire Regiment 1st/5th Bn.
Grave Reference: II. B. 6. Cemetery: AIF Burial Ground, Flers
Additional Information: son of Mrs Grace Johnson, of 64 William St, Scarborough.
Paul Allen provides further information:
Badly mauled during the Battle of Morval (25-29 September) the sorely depleted ranks of the 1st/5th Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, eventually withdrew ‘to rest’ at the Somme village of Bazieux where the Battalion began to receive the drafts of replacements to replace the over 300 casualties sustained in an assault on enemy trenches at Eaucourt L’Abbaye during the above operations. Remaining at Bazieux throughout the Christmas of 1916, training and repairing roads, the 5th Yorks returned to the front line in the Somme Sector at Mametz Wood on 1 January 1917. One can barely comprehend the miserable conditions facing the Yorkshiremen.
’The battlefield, under torrents of rain, had already assumed that forlorn and desolate appearance which ever after remained, burnt in upon one’s brain – a vision of living torture. The very earth stank of gas and was discoloured by the fumes of bursting gas shells. The countryside (if so it could be named) was a vast mass of shell holes overlapping each other in the tens of thousands; already they were full of noisome water, putrid from the dead bodies of friend or foe for whom a burial had been given. The fetid stench from the rotting carcasses of horses, or the poor remains of Briton or German torn from their hastily dug graves by shell fire and tossed here and there to await the mercy of fresh internment, filling the nostrils as one passed to or from the front line’…
Under almost continual shell and sniper fire whilst in Mametz Wood, on 10 January 1917 the 5th Battalion lost 1696 Lance Corporal William Johnson.
Born in Scarborough at 60 Nelson Street during 1890, William was the 6th of 7 children of ‘tinsmith’ Joseph and Grace Johnson. William worked in Scarborough’s fishing industry as a fish curer and packer prior to the war. Whilst living with his parents at 64 William Street, William enlisted into the 2nd/5th (Territorial) Battalion of The Yorkshire Regiment at Scarborough shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914. After training. he eventually joined the 1st/5th Battalion in the Ypres Salient during November 1915.
Remaining in Belgium until August 1916 the 1st/5th Battalion left the dreaded ‘Wipers’ Sector to arrive in the equally murderous Somme Sector during September 1916 where, on 10 September the Battalion went first into the line at Mametz Wood. On 15 September, Johnson and the remainder of 2/5 Yorks was involved in an attack on the village of Martinpuich which, although captured with relative ease, cost the Battalion dearly. Relieved during the following day, Johnson and his battle-scarred comrades moved to Bazentin-Petit Wood where they occupied the old German front line there until they eventually took their places for the Battle of Morval later that month.
Killed by enemy shellfire, William Johnson was aged 27 at the time of his demise (the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database for some obscure reason incorrectly records his age as sixteen years) and unmarried. His remains were initially interred in a small battlefield burial ground known as ‘Factory Corner Cemetery’ located near the village of Flers in the Somme Sector. However, after the war, his remains, and those of a further 15 British and 13 Australian casualties were re-interred in the much larger AIF Burial Ground located some two kilometres to the north of the village of Flers. Containing the graves of over 3,000 casualties of the Great War [over 2,000 of which are unidentified] William Johnson’s final resting place is located in Section 2, Row B, Grave 6.
Included in a casualty list that was included in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday, 26 January 1917, William Johnson’s was subsequently included on Scarborough’s Oliver’s Mount War Memorial. Elsewhere in the town his name can be found on a large ‘Roll of Honour’ located on the north interior wall of St Mary’s Parish Church. [An impressive gravestone located in Scarborough’s Dean Road Cemetery [Section A/ Border/ Grave 31] bears the names of William’s parents: Joseph, who died on 19 April 1928 at the age of 75 years; and Grace Johnson who passed away at the age of 76 years on 2 March 1931. This memorial also contains the name of their second son, James Johnson, who died on 9 March 1920 at the age of 49 years. Sadly, William’s name is not recorded].
 The Green Howards in the Great War 1914-1919; Colonel H C Wylly.