Private Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson – 292107 – ACTIVE SERVICE (World War I)
On January 15, 1916 Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson completed the Attestation Paper for the Canadian Army (CA), Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He was 21 years, 7 months and 21days old when, as a single man, he enlisted for the duration of the War. Thomas Henry Maxwell was born in Lakefield, Ontario and gave his birth-date as June 24, 1894. On his Attestation Paper, Johnson indicated ”he did not presently belong to an Active Militia and that he had never served in any Military Force”. There is nothing on his File to indicate where he was educated or to what level. As far as his Trade or Calling, he lists Barber. Thomas Henry Maxwell was 5′ 5¼” tall, 35” chest (expanded) and his weight is not listed. He had a dark complexion, with brown eyes and dark hair. Thomas Henry Maxwell’s Medical Records indicate that he had no physical limitations and as such was deemed fit for Overseas duty with the CA, CEF. His next-of-kin was listed as his father, Mr. Robert Johnson of Pierson, Manitoba. Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson signed the Oath and Certificate of Attestation January 15, 1916, in Pierson, Manitoba. The Certificate of Magistrate was signed by the Justice on January 15, 1916. On January 17, 1916 the Certificate of Officer Commanding – Recruiting Area ”A” was signed, and Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson was taken-on-strength with the 222nd Overseas Battalion CEF. Private (Pte) Johnson was assigned Service Number 292107.
The 222nd Overseas Battalion began recruiting throughout the province of Manitoba, early in 1916 and was based in Winnipeg.
On November 13, 1916 Pte Thomas Johnson embarked from Halifax, Nova Scotia with the 222nd Bn CEF aboard the SS Olympic.
Pte Johnson disembarked England November 20, 1916. The Port where the Battalion disembarked is not indicated.
On December 27, 1916, while Pte Johnson was still with the 222nd Battalion in England, he completed a Military Will, which stated: I, T.H.M. Johnson, leave all my property both real and personal to my mother Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson of Pierson, Manitoba, Canada.
Pte Thomas Johnson was struck-off-strength from the 222nd Bn on December 28, 1916 on being drafted to the 44th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Cdn Inf Bn) [Manitoba]. He was taken-off-strength with the 44th Cdn Inf Bn, in the Field, on December 29, 1916 when he arrived at the Canadian Base Depot (CBD); Le Havre, France. He left the CBD for his Unit on February 6, 1917 and arrived at the 44th Cdn Inf Bn, in the Field, February 9, 1917.
The 44th Cdn Inf Bn was part of the 10th Cdn Inf Brigade; 4th Canadian Division.
There are no entries in his File from February 9, 1917 to April 12, 1917 when he was reported Killed in Action.
To track his movements during this time the War Diary of the 44th Cdn Inf Bn was used.
February 1917 – When Pte Thomas Johnson joined the 44th Bn, on the 9th, they were in Brigade Support at Carency, France. On the 10th, 6 Officers and 229 other ranks were engaged in training, at Chateau de la Haie, for a raiding party for an upcoming operation. At midnight of the 11th, the 44th Bn relieved the 47th Cdn Inf Bn in the Front-Line. Relief was complete by 12:30 AM. At 6:00 PM, the enemy opened up a very heavy barrage on the Bn position from Souchez to Chalk and also in the Zouave Valley. The barrage lasted 45 minutes, but didn’t result in any Bn casualties. The 12th was reported as ”situation throughout the day – normal”. During the morning of the 13th, the raid that the Bn had been training for was carried out successfully south east of Souchez. The raiding party with a strength of 870, drawn from the Bns in the 10th Cdn Inf Brig was lead by Lt Col R.D. Davies, Officer Commanding the 44th Bn. The raid penetrated German lines to a depth of 700 yards. It was reported that: ”All parties returned in good shape”. During the raid 1 German Officer and 52 other ranks of the 11th Bavarian Inf Regiment were captured and 196 killed. 41 dugouts were blown up, 7 mine shafts demolished, and 40 yards of wire was blown up. In total, Bn casualties were: 2 Officer killed and 5 wounded; 6 other ranks were killed, 125 wounded, and 15 were reported missing. On the 14th, the Officers and other ranks of the raiding parties were inspected by Sir Douglas Haig. The men now returned to their original Bns. The 15th to 17th were reported ”situation normal”, with minimal casualties. At 8:00 PM the 47th Cdn Inf Bn relieved the 44th Bn, which withdrew to Brigade Reserve at Chateau de la Haie. The Bn spent the 18th resting and cleaning equipment. The 19th to 21st was spent in training. On the 22nd, 400 other ranks were employed carrying gas canisters to the Front-Line. 68 other ranks reinforcements arrived. The 24th to 28th were reported as situation normal. Time was spent in trench maintenance. Chalk, Gabriel and Wilson Street trenches were completed and trench mats laid.
Trench mats, also known as duckboards, were wooden structures laid in the bottom of the trenches in an attempt to keep the feet of the men out of the water and mud and thus prevent trench foot.
March 1917 – On the morning of March 1st, gas was liberated on German Lines in front of the 4th Cdn Divisional Front, in two waves – one at 3:00 AM and one at 5:00 AM. Following this, 2000 men from the 11th and 12th Cdn Inf Brigs raided German lines on their Frontage. This raid was severely handled by the Germans, resulting in heavy casualties to the 12th Brig. The 10th Brig participated in the raid by sending out strong Patrols to the Enemy’s Front-Line to assess the effect of the gas attack. In the case of the 44th Cdn Inf Bn, a Patrol of 50 men under the command of two Officers moved forward and entered the German Lines inflicting casualties, but upon discovery that the position was strongly held withdrew in good order, as directed. During the 2nd to 6th, the men of the Bn were engaged in work parties. On the 6th, 12 other ranks reinforcements arrived. At noon on the 7th, the Bn commenced the relief of the 47th Cdn Inf Bn on the Front. ”A” Company on the right from Ersatz Valley to Amtheaume Trench, with ”B” Company on the left from Amtheaume Trench to Gabriel. ”C” and “D” Companies were in support. Two Officers and 55 other ranks, from the 85th Cdn Inf Bn, were attached to the 44th Bn for instruction. One Officer and 50 other ranks, from the Bn, who were assigned to the 10th Cdn Inf Brig returned to the Bn. On the 8th, trench maintenance was carried out. The enemy intermittently shelled the Support lines. Aerial activity was reported as normal. On the 9th, ”C” Company relieved ”A” Company on the Front, while ”D” Company relieved ”B” Company. Trench maintenance continued. Trench maintenance continued from the 10th to 12th. It was reported that it snowed on the 10th. Enemy continued to shell Support positions. On the 13th, the Bn was relieved by the 47th Bn and moved to Brigade Reserve, where it took up billets at Chateau de la Haie. The 14th was spent cleaning up, re-equipping, bathing, and pay parade. Three Officers and 85 other ranks were assigned to practicing for a proposed raid on German Front-Line, in conjunction with a similar party from the 47th Bn. The weather was described as misty and damp. The 15th was spent in foot drills and training in bayonet fighting. The raiding party continued to practice. Weather was cold and damp. The night of the 15th/16th, the raiding parties from the 44th and 47th Bns entered the enemy trench system between Kennedy Crater and Football Crater, south east of Souchez. Owing to strong resistance, from the enemy in the trench systems, the parties were unable to complete the task and had to withdraw. A few casualties were inflicted on the enemy. Raiding parties casualties were: two other ranks killed, two Officers and 15 other ranks wounded, and two other ranks reported missing. It was reported that very good work was carried out by the Bn covering party in Kennedy Crater, enabling the raiding parties to withdraw safely. On the 17th, Company Inspections were carried out, with Bn training during the day. Work parties were busy at night. The weather was reported as wet. The usual activity of Company Inspections and Bn training continued on the 18th. 49 other rank reinforcements arrived from the Base Depot at Le Havre and were attached to the Divisional School for training. The morning of the 19th, 54 replacements reported for duty from the Divisional Training School. In the afternoon, the Bn relieved the 47th Bn on the Front-Line. ”D” Company took over the Front-Line from Coburg to Gabriel. ”C” Company took over the Front-Line from Gabriel to Rabineau, while ”A” and “B” Companies were in support. Three Officers and 86 other ranks remained at Chateau de la Haie for training as a raiding party. On the 20th, the situation was reported as normal. Trench repairs were carried out during the day. Due to lack of space to accommodate the two Companies in support, 100 other ranks were billeted in the Arras valley. On the 21st, the enemy intermittently shelled the Front-Line and Support Trenches throughout the day, resulting in 5 casualties. Trench maintenance was carried out during the day, with work parties at night. The situation was reported normal on the 22nd, with little aerial activity. The weather was wet. Work began on opening up and deepening Wilson Trench which had been closed for three months. 39 reinforcements arrived from the Base Depot and were attached to the Divisional School for training. On the 23rd, work continued on the trench. Situation was normal, with some aerial activity reported. The weather was fine. Some men were employed carrying ammunition. Two casualties reported. Work continued on the trench, on the 24th, with wooden ”U” frames removed and trench mats laid down. There was intermittent enemy shelling of the Bn positions on the 25th, but no casualties were reported. During the evening the Bn was relieved by the 47th Bn and moved to Brigade Support at Carency. On the 26th classes in Scouting were formed and training commenced. The training of the special raiding party, also continued. From the 26th to 28th, Battle Platoon training was undertaken by the Bn. During the evening a large work party was engaged in repairing a trench that had been damaged by an enemy artillery barrage during the afternoon. Except for Specialist training, all other training was suspended on the 29th due to heavy rain. Both sides exchanged artillery fire during the day. Both sides continued to exchange artillery fire on the 30th. Work parties were sent forward to improve Front-Line trenches. Orders were received that the Bn should make preparations to move to billets at Bouvigy for ten days. There was a significant decrease in artillery activity on the 31st. The situation was reported as normal,
with very little aerial activity. A raid of enemy positions was carried out at night by parties from the 41st, 46th, and 50th Cdn Inf Bns, in which 4 enemy prisoners were secured.
April 1917 – On the evening of the 1st, the Bn moved to billets at Bouvigny, where they were quartered in the Chateau and outbuildings. 48 reinforcements reported from the Base Depot at Le Havre, and 49 reinforcements, previously assigned to the Divisional School for training arrived and were absorbed into the Bn. On the 2nd, the Bn was inspected and refitting of the Companies took place during the day. Parties, hitherto, detached as working parties and carrying parties to the Engineers and Artillery rejoined the Bn. Bn strength was reported as: 43 Officers and 1232 other ranks, the highest level since the Unit first arrived in France. In view of forthcoming operations, Platoons and Companies were reorganized. During the day, the enemy shelled Bouvigny and vicinity, resulting in one casualty. The 3rd was spent in Bn training schemes. Musketry (Rifle), bombing, grenade and machine gun sections training independently. The weather was reported as inclement and interfering with the training. On the 4th, Bn training was carried out over ”Tapes” at the Brigade Training Ground at Chateau de la Haie.
The reference to ”Tapes” was in reference to a special course laid out to replicate the ground over which a planned attack would take place.
The Bn training over the ”Tapes” for the attack continued on the 5th. Several Bn casualties were sustained from enemy shelling of the area. On the 6th, the final manoeuver was carried out at the training ground. There was ”nothing of importance” reported on the 7th. On the 8th, the Bn was in preparations for the move to the Front-Line to take up positions for the upcoming operations. The approximate strength of the Bn was shown as 24 Officers and 856 other ranks. The Bn marched off at 7:00 PM by Companies at 15 minute intervals. The Bn took over positions from the 13th Bn (British) Middlesex Regiment at Holloway Trench. During the day of the 9th, the Bn marched to accommodations at Souchez Tunnel. At 6:00 PM, the Bn moved over and took up a position in the area of the Music Hall Line behind the Battalions of the 11th Cdn Inf Brigade, whose attack had been held up in the neighbourhood of Hill 145. The War Diary indicates that on April 10, 1917, the 44th Cdn Inf Bn was engaged in operations against Hill 145 – Vimy.
What follows is an account of the operation, as recorded in App I – War Diary – Report on Attack on Hill 145 by the 44thCdn Inf Bn – April 10, 1917, as recorded in App I:
At 11:00 AM, on April 10th, orders were received, for the Bn, to capture and consolidate, as an outpost line, the eastern slope of Vimy Ridge lying beyond Hill 145. The Bn frontage was to extend from the left of the 42nd Cdn Inf Bn to the junction of Bessy and Banff Trenches. The Bn moved out from Music Hall Line, deploying into an Artillery Formation, crossing the Zouave Valley, and moving to an assembly position in the Beer and Beggar trenches.
An Artillery Formation was a standard Infantry Formation used to reduce the vulnerability of Units, to machine gun and mortar fire, while they were advancing. A Bn would advance, in columns of four, by Companies, across a 400 yard front, to a depth of 500 yards.
The assaulting Companies ”C” and “D” assembled in Beer Trench, while ”A” and “B” Companies, in support assembled in Beggar Trench. Assembly was complete by 1:45 PM, with very few casualties. At 3:04 PM covering Artillery fire opened a slow barrage on Bn objective along Banff Trench, continuing until Zero time. At 3:15 PM an intense barrage commenced remaining on objectives for 4 minutes. ”C” and “D” Companies moved out and formed under the barrage. When the barrage lifted, the attacking parties moved forward in good order. Throughout the assault, contact was maintained with the 50th Cdn Inf Bn on its left. At 3:21 PM ”D” Company reached the western edge of Bois de la Folie, ”C” Company entered Banff Trench at the same time and worked down to Blighty Trench. On the right, ”D” Company had some difficulty in clearing the woods. Mopping up parties were sent forward to clear out the enemy. Very heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy as they attempted to escape through the woods. By 4:15 PM, ”C” Company had established a post close to the junction of Blighty and Hook Trenches. After clearing the woods, a further post was established by ”D” Company was established at S.22.b.22.214.171.124 (map coordinates), thus completing the task assigned to the 44th Bn. Consolidation of the positions immediately began. 69 prisoners were taken. There is no mention of the number of enemy killed or wounded. Bn casualties were: 1 Officer and 14 other ranks killed, 4 Officers and 71 other ranks wounded, and 10 other ranks reported missing.
The 44th Cdn Inf Bn was now given the assignment of assaulting and capturing the ”Pimple” on Vimy Ridge.
Research indicates that the ”Pimple”, on the northern tip, was one of two high points on Vimy Ridge. Due to difficulties faced by the 4th Cdn Division at the start of the Battle, it was forced to delay its assault on the ”Pimple” to April 12, 1917.
Lieut. E.S. Russenholt, in his book Six Thousand Men published in 1932 would say of the assault: ”The men of the 44th moved out to the assault in a blinding snow storm. The expense of mud is well-nigh impassable – and slows down the advance to 20 yards a minute. The powerfully reinforced enemy garrison in the German Reserve Line has escaped the fury of the barrage in well protected dugouts – and now presents a determined resistance”.
In a War, where success was measured by a few metres, on this day, the 44th advanced a total of 4,095 metres.
What follows is an account of that operation, as recorded in App II – War Diary – Report on Attack on ”Pimple” area by the 44th Cdn Inf Bn – April 12, 1917.
In accordance with orders received from the 10th Cdn Inf Brig, the 44th Bn moved from the Maistre Line and Arras valley to assembly positions in our Front-Line, preparatory to the attack on the Pimple area. This movement was timed to allow Companies being in position by Zero minus 10 minutes. ‘Assembly Complete’ report was received at Zero minus 15 minutes.
Barrage was opened promptly at 5:00 AM and though somewhat thin was very well placed on enemy Front-Line. All parties moved out promptly, but owing to heavy ground conditions, the attack fell behind the barrage movement. The average progress of the Bn attack was approximately 20 yards per minute throughout. In spite of this, however, advance was carried out steadily and mopping up was thoroughly done.
Details of Company action:
Right Companies – ”D” Company, under Lieut C.G. Robertson passed over Enemy Line in good order. Some opposition was encountered. No enemy were found in the Support Line, but the Dugout Line was found full of men. Continuing on, due to heavy snow and poor light, the Company passed its objective by 250 to 300 yards. The Line was drawn back as soon as the exact location could be determined, but ”D” Company was still 150 to 200 yards beyond the objective. This position proved to be correct, when the enemy artillery attempted to range on the original objective. Positions were quickly established, as directed. Contact was quickly established with ”C” Company on the left, but not with the 73rd Cdn Inf Bn on the right, leaving the flank potentially exposed. Two Bn Lieuts attempted, at different times, to establish contact but never returned. Both were reported missing. ”B” Company moved forward, forming the third and fourth waves of attack on the right. Arriving at the Line Of Resistance digging in commenced. Contact was at once established with the 12th Cdn Inf Brig on the right and ”A” Company on the left. Great credit was given to Capt. Caldwell for excellent work done on siting and consolidating the Line. A good trench was in existence two hours after Zero Hour.
Left Companies – ”C” Company formed in good shape behind the barrage, moving out on the left of the Craters. Owing to crowding by other Bns, temporary disorganization took place, but Platoons were sorted out and the advance towards the objective continued. Positions were established and connection was made with ”D” Company on the right. ”A” Company moved behind ”C” Company direct on its position on the Line of Resistance and commenced work on digging in. The trench was well sited and was dug as directed, but later, owing to soft ground, a new trench had to be dug behind the first one, on a drier site. Great difficulty was experienced, as over 100 men of the two other Bns on the left had established a Line in the 44th Bn area, facing south. Situation in this immediate locality remained somewhat obscure throughout, except that the 44th Bn posts were pushed forward as directed. All positions taken up by Bn Companies, both Observation Line and Line of Resistance conformed with and achieved results aimed at by the Divisional Scheme as laid down. On establishment of the exact location of Bn Company positions, a Barrage Line was coordinated with the Artillery, so as to protect Bn Forward Lines. During movement to final objective on the right a party of 80 to 100 enemy ran out of dugouts near the quarries, and started for Givenchy. These men were taken by Bn Lewis guns of ”D” Company so effectively that not a single man reached Givenchy.
Pte Thomas Johnson, at the age of 23, was reported killed-in-action April 12, 1917 while with the 44th Cdn Inf Bn.
No specific reference is made in the War Diary as to the 44th Cdn Inf Bn casualties on April 12, 1917, but what is stated is that between April 11th and April 13th, 1917 the Bn casualties were: 1 Officer and 27 other ranks killed, 5 Officers and 77 other ranks wounded, and 2 Officers and 13 other ranks missing.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the first time that all four Canadian Divisions had fought together as a cohesive Unit under Canadian Command. The Battle started at 5:30 AM, Easter Sunday morning April 9, 1917 and lasted until April 12, 1917. The Historians agree that the success of the Canadian Corps in capturing the Ridge was due to a mixture of technical innovation, detailed planning, extensive training and powerful artillery support. The success was also due to the incredible bravery, sacrifice and discipline of the Infantry, which allowed the advance to continue in spite of heavy losses. Although the victory was swift, it came at a high cost: Battle casualties were 10,602 with 3,598 killed
Private Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson’s name appears on page 264 of the First World War Book of Remembrance in Ottawa. His name is on the Vimy Memorial, in the District of Pas-de-Calais, France since he was never found.
His Memorial Plaque and Memorial Scroll were dispatched to his father, Robert Johnson of Pierson, Manitoba. The Memorial Cross was sent to his mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson of the same address as the father. There is an entry that states, Pte Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson was not eligible to receive: the 1914 – 15 Star, the Victory Medal, or the British War Medal.
Note: The compiler of this Military History reviewed the requirements to be eligible to receive the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He determined that Private Johnson does qualify to receive the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
The Military File also notes that he was ineligible to receive the War Service Gratuity.
Based on his Military File, Private Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson served a total of 1 year, 2 months, and 28 days with the Canadian Expeditionary Force: 9 months and 28 days in Canada, 1 month and 15 days in England, and 3 months and 15 days in France.
An excerpt from an article in Maclean’s by Barbara Ameil, September 1996:
”The Military is the single calling in the world with job specifications that include a commitment to die for your nation. What could be more honorable”.
THOMAS HENRY MAXWELL JOHNSON
Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson was born in Lakefield on June 24, 1894, son of Robert Johnson and Elizabeth McKibbon. Thomas received his education in Lakefield and by 1906 Robert and Elizabeth Johnson were living in Pierson, Souris District, Manitoba with their three youngest children. Thomas was working as a barber and on January 15, 1916 both he and his older brother, James Theodore decided to enlist and serve their King and Country. Sadly on April 12, 1917 both Private Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson and Private James Theodore Johnson were killed in action in France. Their names are on the Vimy Memorial, in the District of Pas-de-Calais, France since they were never found.
THE THOMAS HENRY MAXWELL JOHNSON FAMILY OF LAKEFIELD
Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson’s paternal grandparents were George Johnson born in 1828 and Elizabeth Fairbairn born in 1834. They were married on February 1, 1853 in St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church and farmed in Smith Township. They had a family of 10 children. George passed away on February 24, 1910 and Elizabeth died on July 4, 1924; both are buried in Lakefield Cemetery.
Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson’s maternal grandparents were William John McKibbon born in 1829 and Sarah Davidson born in 1829. They married on March 11, 1853 and resided in Lakefield. They had a family of at least eight children. William passed away on April 6, 1899 and Sarah died on November 30, 1903; both are buried in Lakefield Cemetery.
Thomas Henry Maxwell Johnson’s parents were Robert Johnson born in 1856 and Elizabeth McKibbon born in 1857. They were married on March 26, 1879 and farmed in Douro Township and by 1892 the family was living in Lakefield and Robert was working as a teamster. Robert and Elizabeth Johnson has a family of eight children: William George; James Theodore; Robert; Elmer; Melville Emory; Edith Irene; Thomas Henry Maxwell and Charles “Edwin” Johnson. By 1906, Robert and Elizabeth were living in Pierson, Souris District, Manitoba with the three youngest children.