Ernest Owen Johnson (1875-1917)
Labourer, Osborne Gardens
Ernest Owen Johnson was born on 25 September 1875 to Alfred, a dairyman, and Emily Johnson. In 1881 they were living at Beech House in Arreton on the Isle of Wight. Ten years later Ernest was employed as an agricultural farm servant to William Cheverton at Staplers, Durton Farm, Arreton. On 10 August 1898 Ernest married Caroline Plumbley at Ryde and in 1901 they were living at Whippington with their two children, Ernest George and Harry Alfred. The village became the centre of the royal estate supporting Osborne House and Barton Manor. The farms, school, almshouses, forge and cottages were rebuilt when they became part of the Queen's estate and Prince Albert had a 'model farm' built at Barton. Queen Victoria took a close interest in 'her people' in Whippingham, providing for them in sickness and in health. By this time, Ernest was employed as a cattleman, possibly at Barton Manor. In 1911 Ernest, his wife and six children were living at Queen’s Cottages, East Cowes and he was working as a garden labourer for the Office of Works at Osborne House.
On 17 August 1916 Ernest, who was only 5 feet 3½ inches tall, was drafted into the Royal Naval Division (RND), which was originally made up of Royal Naval Reservists who could not be found a ship to serve on, and a couple of days later attached to “A” Reserve Battalion at Blandford Camp in Dorset. On 19 March 1917 Ernest embarked for France to join the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division’s Base Depot (by then transferred from the Royal Navy to British Army control) at Calais and was subsequently drafted into Drake Battalion on 11 April. Throughout the summer, Ernest suffered with a contagious bacterial infection to his legs that meant several trips to hospital and the Base Depot for recuperation. He was finally back in his battalion on 10 November 1917 at the end of the Second Battle of
Passchendaele. From 20 November, there began the Battle of Cambrai. The 63rd Naval Division held its front with all three brigades, the 188th were on the right, the 189th in the centre and the 190th on the left. Official reports stated that, “At 6.30 a,m. on the 30th December the 63rd Division’s front was heavily bombarded for fifteen minutes followed by an infantry attack, with Flammenwerfer detachments. British fire took toll of the Germans, but at many points he entered the forward trenches, where the defenders had suffered heavily from the German bombardment. Corner Trench, Welsh Trench and Welch Support were lost by the 188th Bde. The 189th Bde. had both flanks penetrated, with the Germans entering Ostrich Lane on its right and Battery Lane on its left, where the 7/Royal Fus. of the 190th were driven in losing Eagle Avenue. At 8 a.m. the Germans advanced up a sunken road into the northern side of the salient pressing back the 1/4/K.S.L.I., the left battalion of the 190th Bde. Counter-attacks by the 188th & 189th Bdes failed to regain their part of the line”. Drake Battalion did suffer during the barrage and subsequent action; their war diary records that “no signs of our “A” Coy have been seen since morning of attack”.
Able Seaman R/42 Ernest Owen Johnson died that day and his remains are buried at Flesquières Hill British Cemetery, Cambrai, France, in grave V.C.13.