This is the sixth in the series on the men who rang in the officers’ peals of 1919, Johnston rang the seventh bell at Putney. He is also listed on the Surrey Association roll of honour as a Croydon ringer.
Johnston probably needs the least introduction of all the members of the original band. He was born on 9 May 1884, the son of Arthur Anderson Johnston, partner in what was then the firm of Gillett, Bland & Johnston. Arthur was the nephew of Arthur Anderson MP who founded P&O, and Arthur worked for P&O until the death of his uncle, when he bought into the then firm of Gillett and Bland. Prior to his joining the firm had been involved only in clockmaking, but following the death of Bland in 1884, bell founding was added, initially purely for clock bells.
Cyril was educated at Whitgift School, Croydon (where he rose to colour sergeant in the school’s cadet corps), and then joined his father in the firm in 1902. He was then formally apprenticed to his father for four years until 1907, when he became a partner. By that time he had already been making initial experiments with tuning bells, and was increasingly involved in promoting projects of recasting or augmenting rings. On the night of the 1911 census he was staying in Wimborne Minster, presumably in connection with the recasting, rehanging and augmentation of the ring there that year.
Following the outbreak of war he seems to have initially tried for a commission in the Motor Transport section of the Army Service Corps. By the time he was actually gazetted to the Horse Transport section on 26 September 1914 he had already joined the 1st Public Schools’ Battalion (later to become 18th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers) as a private on 3 September – all ranks of these battalions had been pupils at public schools. He was then commissioned as a second lieutenant in the same battalion on 27 October. The four Public Schools Battalions trained around Epsom. On 2 June 1915 Johnston was promoted to lieutenant, on 26 June the battalion was formed into 98th Brigade with the other three Public Schools Battalions. In July Johnston began to have health issues, and began to have extended periods of leave, this meant he did not go overseas with the battalion in November 1915, and was transferred to 28th Battalion, one of two reserve battalions for the Public Schools’ Battalions.
Eventually he was diagnosed with a hernia, which he blamed on ringing a 2 ton bell in 1913, he was operated on by the famous abdominal surgeon Sir Arbuthnot Lane on 13 December 1915. Although the operation was a success, the amount of time he had spent on leave meant that he was required to relinquish his commission on 2 March 1916. However, his recovery continued, and on 18 May 1916 he was recommissioned, now in the (socially) elite Grenadier Guards. He joined the 3rd Battalion in France on 26 September 1916. On 22 October his father died suddenly after playing golf at Mitcham Common. He was granted leave to return home for the inquest and funeral but had returned to the front by the time of a Surrey Association meeting at Streatham in mid-November.
Johnston & Gillett had begun contributing to the war effort quite quickly, initially making ammunition boxes. Their existing strengths in brass founding and making clocks were soon turned to the manufacture of artillery fuzes. At some point after the death of Arthur Johnston, it was decided that Cyril could make a greater contribution to the war effort by leaving front line service as a subaltern, and being released to the Ministry of Munitions to return home and run the foundry’s war work. Initially he remained a serving officer, receiving army pay and allowances, but in early 1918 he was one of a number of officers who were actually working in other roles to be demobilised (to save the army money). The final formal relinquishment of this second commission did not come until 7 February 1921.