Robert Loudon Johnston was born in Plumpton, Devon on 6/9/1891. His parents Robert Snr and Julia Mary Johnson (nee Ellis) had married in Eccles in 1890 and travelled to Australia soon after; where Robert’s siblings Florence Margaret & George Gordon Johnston were born. By 1911, the family had returned to Salford and lived at “Yetna” Park St., Kersal. Yetna is a town north of Perth in Western Australia, where George was born. Robert was a cotton salesman and George was a clerk in a cotton merchant’s office. The brothers had worked at Fred Taylor & Sons, a cotton manufacturers and merchants of Bloom Street in Manchester. His colleague was Arthur Taylor, who was instrumental in the raising of the Pals Battalions in 1914 and who subsequently became Staff Captain to the 90th Infantry Brigade Headquarters.
Robert originally enlisted in the 1/6th Territorial Battalion and went to Egypt on 25/9/1914. This early departure suggests he may have been a pre-war Territorial. Robert served as Private 2462, until he was discharged for his Commission on 20/3/1915 and Gazetted 2nd Lieutenant on 10/5/1915. By the time the 17th Battalion went to France, Robert had been appointed Transport Officer and he sailed from Southampton to Le Havre on 7/11/1915.
In early December, the Battalion faced their introduction to trench warfare. On 13th December, they suffered its first casualty and sole loss in 1915. The Official History records that 24 year old Robert was killed by an anti-aircraft shell at Bayencourt. The War Diary suggests the his death was caused by a shrapnel shell and this is confirmed by an unknown diarist from the Royal Warks Regiment. “An unfortunate incident occurred at about 11.30 am. Lt JOHNSTON, 17/Manchester Regt killed by one of our own shrapnel cases. Our guns were firing at a German plane at the time.”
Robert Loudon Johnston is buried in the Fonquevillers Military Cemetery. Robert attended Salford Municipal School and is commemorated on the Old Salfordians Memorials now situated in part of Salford University. Robert Snr died in June 1917 and Florence received her brother’s effects and Estate. George served as a Gunner 624710 in the Honourable Artillery Company and 297967 in the Royal Field Artillery.
For more information on the early days in France, see Arrival and travel through France