Ronald Henry Keith Johnson was born on 25th October 1893 in Winkleigh Court, Winkleigh, and moving 8 years later to live in the Old Parsonage. He was the son of Squire Ronald Johnson and his wife Ada. Ronald Frederick Godolphin Johnson had been born in 1862 at Cross in Little Torrington, a house now classified as an historic building. He had followed in his father’s footsteps and become a solicitor, his father being Master of the Rolls. After graduating from Oxford, Ronald moved to London where he married Ada Elizabeth Stone early in 1887 in Marylebone. The couple soon moved to Windsor where their first child Olive was born early in 1890. A year later, Evelyn Alice was born in Kingswear, Devon. Within weeks, the family had moved again to Hawkesley House near Leominster, where sadly, Olive was to die soon after the census in June 1891. After Evelyn, Grace was born in 1892, in Monkland, Hertfordshire. Ronald Frederick was now a Magistrate, and is described as living on his own means.
By 1893, the family had moved again. Ronald Henry Keith was born at Winkleigh Court on 25th October that year, followed by Lawrence Frederick, also born there in the summer of 1896. After a short stay boarding in two separate houses in Dalton, father with Ada and Evelyn, and mother with Grace, Roland and Lawrence, the family finally moved into the Old Parsonage at Winkleigh in 1901, a house that had belonged to Ronald’s father, John Johnson, and had been left empty, obviously in need of renovation. Winkleigh Court was now let, and the move may have been to facilitate their father’s move to live in Ashreigney, leaving the rest of the family at the Parsonage. He died in March 1908 at the age of only 44. Evelyn has not yet been identified in the 1911 census, but in that year her two brothers were at different boarding schools being prepared for their expected roles in life. Lawrence attended the ‘Tamworth Agricultural and Colonial College’ in Tamworth, while Roland was educated at Cheltenham College. Their sister Grace was at a private mental health nursing home in Charlton, near London. Their mother remained at the Parsonage with an elderly servant, Annie Passmore, and a young man, Richard Chambers, who was boarding there.
Ronald Johnson is listed on the Winkleigh Roll of Honour, commissioned into the Devonshire Regiment. A great deal more needs to be known about him in order to put together the story of his war, and it is to be hoped that further research at the National Archives will give us what we need. The story at present is rather disjointed: the military records of officers gazetted to the Territorial Army are kept at the National Archives, Kew, have not been put on line, and can only be read there. Meanwhile, the archive web-site ‘Forces War Records’ records two entries for Lt. Johnson. He was gazetted first on 17th 6th, but /December 1915 into one of the Battalions of the 6th Devons Territorials, possibly the 3rd/6th, a training battalion. (See additional information here on The Devon Regiments in the war.) However, pre-dating his gazetting we have an item of news from ‘The Western Times’ dated 19th March 1915 relating to the funeral of William Chambers, a farmer and father of the Richard Chambers living at The Old Parsonage, in which 2nd/Lieutenant R .Johnson of the Duke of Cambridge’s Light Infantry sent a wreath in tribute. A similar report in the ‘North Devon Journal’ dated 25th March 1915 refers to him as Lieutenant, and indeed the medal card shows that was a full lieutenant in the D.C.L.I. Roland could have either been ‘attached’ to the D.C.L.I. (in which case he would have remained officially in the Devons) or more likely ‘posted’ which would indicate a change of regiment. Only the records can show what happened here but his medal card clearly shows that he served in both regiments, possibly being promoted from second to full lieutenant while in the D.C.L.I.
The D.C.L.I. was closely linked to the Devons. The 1st/4th Territorial Battalion of the D.C.L.I. were part of the same 130th Brigade of the 43rd Wessex Division which included the 1st/4th, 1st/5th and 1st/6th Devon Territorial Battalions and with them the D.C.L.I. went out to India in September 1914. We know from Captain Atkinson’s masterly account of the Devon Regiment in the war, that 2nd/Lieutenant R.K.Johnson did not go out to India with the 1st/6th Battalion at that time. Their training battalions were also closely linked.
Although Ronald was almost certainly in the OTC at Cheltenham College, he was not necessarily automatically given a Commission on enlistment, (though most Public School men were in the very early days) and there may have been a period of officer training. There are times when either an ‘attachment’ or a ‘posting’ from the Devons to the D.C.L.I. might have occurred, if Ronald had been posted on commissioning to the 3rd/6th Battalion of the Devons (a reserve and training battalion). This battalion was formed at Barnstaple on 25th March 1915, moving first to Bournemouth. The 4th then absorbed the 5th and 6th, and moved to Hursley Park near Winchester on 1st September 1916, Bournemouth in October 1916, Sutton Veney in March 1917 and Larkhill in early 1918 before leaving for Ireland in April 1918. The 3rd/4th Battalion of the D.C.L.I. had a very similar history. It was formed in Bodmin in March 1915 (coinciding with the report concerning the Chambers funeral), moved to Bournemouth in October 1915 and on to Hursley Park (Winchester) in spring 1916. Having absorbed the 5th in September 1916 it moved to Bournemouth in October, Sutton Veney in March 1917, Larkhill in October 1917 and then to Ireland in April 1918. Clearly there were a number of occasions when officers could be required to transfer between the two battalions.
Some time following the end of the war, ‘Forces War Records’ reveals that Ronald was gazetted for the second time, on 17th April 1919 into the 96th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery, 383 Battery. (An R.F.A. brigade, the equivalent of an infantry battalion, consisted of 4 batteries.)
The two Devon Yeomanry battalions (Royal North Devon Yeomanry and 1st Devon Yeomanry) were amalgamated in June 1920 to form the Royal Devon Yeomanry. After the war only 14 Yeomanry regiments were retained as horse cavalry, and so the new R.D.Y. while retaining its name, was transferred to the Royal Artillery to form the 11th (Devon) Army Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. In 1921 it was renumbered as 96th (Devonshire Yeomanry) Army Brigade, RFA. Roland thus continued to serve with the Territorials, presumably locally, but only his records will show when he finally applied for his discharge. He was awarded the Victory and British war medals serving in the Devonshire Regiment.
Ronald finally married, on 3rd July 1934, to Violet Myra Steele, born in Winkleigh, the sister of Commander Steele V.C. The ‘Western Times’ of 6th July 1934 gave a full report of this outstanding wedding in the village, with the church beautifully decorated and a lavish reception held in marquees in the gardens of The Old Parsonage. Attached is the photo that appeared in the paper, showing Ronald Johnson looking far from well. However, he lived until 1968, dying at the age of 75 in Barnstaple hospital. There were no children, and it seems that the family died out.
16 July 2011