James Johnson/Johnston


2253 James Johnston, Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars (Oxfordshire Yeomanry, or Territorial Force cavalry), enlisted on 9 October 1914. After a month's training, QOOH on orders from Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, joined the Royal Naval Brigade in Flanders to prevent a German advance on the Channel ports. QOOH were the first Territorials to see action and were Churchill's former regiment; his younger brother, Jack Churchill, was still serving. Disparagingly nicknamed ‘Queer Objects On Horseback' or ‘agricultural cavalry', the QOOH took part in actions from ‘First Ypres', in 1914, to the capture of Amiens and the advance, in 1918. They spent frustrating periods waiting to push through gaps in enemy lines, which never appeared. They brought up supplies, dug defensive positions, suffered appalling discomfort, and frequently dismounted to fight on foot. A number of Wheatley men served with them.

In July 1917, Sergeant Johnston was listed in the London Gazette (17 July) with the award of the Military Medal ‘for bravery in the field' sometime in the spring. The citations with details of the act of bravery by NCOs and men were not published, perhaps for reasons of sheer space. However, it is fairly certain that he had won the medal at Gillemont Farm outpost on 20 May of that year, when C Squadron QOOH, acting as infantrymen, were shelled heavily, then attacked by infantry, whom they repelled with rifle fire at close range of about 50 yards, taking two prisoners of war. They sustained 6 dead, 4 wounded, one gassed and one shell-shocked, all largely through the sheer ferocity of the barrage. Two of those killed were officers, including Major Valentine Fleming, C Squadron Commander, friend of Churchill and father of the author Ian Fleming. A posthumous DSO was awarded to the Major for his courage.

By 1918 James was at least an acting CQMS, one of the highest senior NCO ranks. He died on 15 April as a result of an action at Rifle Wood on 1 April 1918 mainly by cavalry, mounted and dismounted, to stem the German advance, protect Amiens and remove the Germans from the wood. He was buried at St Sever city cemetery, Rouen, ref. P. IX. P. 14B, in an extension added in 1916 to accommodate the number who died as a result of wounds and disease in Rouen's fifteen British military hospitals. In 2004 a memorial was raised at Rifle Wood to the twenty QOOH men who died in or following the 1 April attack to dislodge the Germans there.

Sergeant A[lfred]. Hawtin, killed 2 April, cousin of Annie Hawtin, Reg Stamp's fiancee and later his wife, is also listed on that new memorial along with ‘Sergeant J. Johnston, MM'. James was born in Newton-in-Ayr, Scotland. See also references to him in the chapters on Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, and on Wheatley in a World at War.

Queen's Own Oxforshire Hussars
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