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George Leonard Johnson

The months of August through to November were largely uneventful, with the Battalion mainly based in the Asylum in Armentieres with occasional periods in trenches, in alternation with the 4th Battalion of the Yorkshires and battalions of the Durham Light Infantry.  While this time was regarded as “quiet” they were still under regular shellfire and sniper attacks.

On September 18th they relieved troops from the Durham Light Infantry in trenches 71, 72 and 73, where they remained for a week.

1901 Census - 50, Mill Street, Norton, Norton (York Er), Malton, Yorkshire

Edward Johnson, Head, Married, Male, 40, Groom Domestic, Market Weighton, Yorkshire

Mary E. Johnson, Wife, Married, Female, 38, -, Rillington, Yorkshire

Hilda K. Johnson, Daughter, Single, Female, 12, -, Norton, Malton, Yorkshire

Sydney W. Johnson, Son, -, Male, 10, -, Norton, Malton, Yorkshire

Sam Johnson, Son, -, Male, 8, -, Norton, Malton, Yorkshire

Stanley E. Johnson, Son, -, Male, 7, -, Norton, Malton, Yorkshire

George L. Johnson, Son, -, Male, 5, -, Norton, Malton, Yorkshire

Frederick J. Johnson, Son, -, Male, 2, -, Norton, Malton, Yorkshire

Nora E. Johnson, Daughter, -, Female, 1, -, Norton, Malton, Yorkshire

George Leonard Johnson was born in 1896, the fourth son of Edward and Mary Elizabeth (nee Taylor) Johnson who married in the winter of 1887 in the Malton area.

Edward was born in Market Weighton in 1860 and came to Malton between 1871 and 1881 as a groom working for Dr Young in Castlegate. After they married in 1887 they set up home across the river in Commercial Street, Norton where Edward worked as a groom and gardener, and by 1899 had two daughters and a son. Over the years they had twelve children though by 1911 four had died.

By 1901 the expanding family had moved to Mill Street and Edward was again simply working as a groom.

By 1911, they were living in a different house in Mill Street and Edward was working as a gardener.

1911 Census - 65 Mill St Norton Malton, Norton, Yorkshire

Edward Johnson, Head, Married, Male, Gardener Domestic, 50, Yorkshire Market Weighton

Mary Elizabeth Johnson, Wife, Married, Female, -, 48, Yorkshire Rillington

Hilda Johnson, Daughter, Single, Female, -, 22, Yorkshire Norton

Sam Johnson, Son, Single, Male, Drapers Apprentice, 18, Yorkshire Norton

Stanley Edward Johnson, Son, Single, Male, Corn Dealers Assistant, 17, Yorkshire Norton

George Leonard Johnson, Son, Single, Male, Grocers Apprentice, 15, Yorkshire Norton

Frederick Gordon Johnson, Son, -, Male, School Newsboy, 12, Yorkshire Norton

Nora E. Johnson, Daughter, -, Female, School, 11, Yorkshire Norton

Nancy Johnson, Daughter, -, Female, -, 3, Yorkshire Norton

When war was declared, George Leonard probably signed up with the 5th Yorkshires in the Autumn of 1914. Certainly, his name is not among those already signed up when war was declared, but he was with them when they first arrived in France in April 1915.

In 1915 the Battalion became part of 150th Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division. In early April the Division was warned that it would go on overseas service and entrainment began on 16 April, landing at Boulogne. The advance party left Newcastle on April 15th and arrived in France on the morning of 17th April and were joined by the rest of the Battalion on 18th.

After less than 24 hours in Camp they were entrained, arriving at Cassels at 6.0 am and marched twelve ‘hot and very tiring’ miles to billets outside the village of Steenvoorde, where they finally rested, for three whole days. On the 23rd they were on the move again, proceeding by Motor Buses to Vlamertinghe and from thence marched to A Huts at Ypres arriving just as the German army had attacked at Ypres, using poison gas for the first time. ‘As they tramped along the pave road, with Vlamertinghe and Ypres ahead, the boom of guns became even louder. Crowds of refugees were met, hurrying westwards with handcarts perambulators and almost any kind of vehicle laden with all the worldly possessions left to them’

That night they moved forward to the banks of the Yser Canal in support of 2nd Zouaves. The Battalion lined the Canal banks under the shelter of a ridge before daylight, the men shortly afterwards digging themselves into shelter holes. B Company, which was somewhat exposed, suffered minor casualties from overdropping bullets.

The following morning they had their first experience of shell fire, but over the next few days they were fully involved in the chaos of the Battle of Ypres and sustained heavy casualties – a true baptism of fire.

In May the battalion was moved to an open field in Brielen where they dug in and companies were rotated to Sanctuary Wood and Zouave Wood where they came under gas attack as well as shelling, continuing to sustain losses.

  By the 8th May, the Malton Messenger carried an article reporting that in order to enable speedy replacement of casualties sustained by the 4th and 5th Battalions the height requirement had dropped to 5’1”.

The end of June saw them billeted in farms near Dranoutre and in mid-July they were moved to the area of Armentieres and received reinforcements from England.

On the 19th Private George Leonard Johnson was killed in action.

He was buried in the Old Military Cemetery at Chapelle d’ Armentieres and is commemorated on the Memorial in St Peter’s, Norton and under the name of Leonard Johnson at Saville Street Methodist Church in Malton.