Tag Archives: Grenadier Guards

Cyril Frederick Johnston (9 May 1884 – 30 March 1950)

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.

A head and shoulders photo of a man with a large moustache wearing military uniform. He is standing just inside the left hand end of an arch over a church doorway.

Cyril Frederick Johnston taken from the photo of the band which rang at South Croydon on 3 May 1919 (he is back, second from left in the full photo)

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.

Three-quarter length photo portray of a moustached man in military uniform.  The cap and collar badges are the flaming grenade of the Royal Fusiliers

Johnston photographed as a Royal Fusiliers officer © IWM (HU 116434)

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.

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Joseph Abbott (25 July 1874–27 September 1915†)

Joseph Abbott (see also his page on Lives of the First World War) was the son of Alfred Abbott and Amy nee Gibbs – their marriage was registered in the East Grinstead registration district in the second quarter 1874, and Joseph was born in Merstham on 25 July 1874, and baptised at St Katharine’s on 4 October 1874. By the 1881 census the family were living at 6 Orchard Road, Merstham, Alfred (28, from High Wycombe) was a general labourer, Amy, now 29, was originally from Worth in Sussex. By 1891 Joseph was a 16-year-old shop porter, and the family were now living at Monson Road, Redhill. By 1896 he may have returned to Merstham as there is a Joseph Abbott listed in the 1896 electoral rolls for the Reigate constituency living in Merstham.

Joseph married Lizzie Peers on Christmas Day 1899, and a son Alfred Joseph was born just four months later, on 26 April 1900 (it seems they had rather anticipated their marriage!). He was baptised on 27 May at which time the family were living at Bourne Road, South Merstham. By 1901 the couple and their son were living at Park Stile, Merstham. Joseph was now a labourer in the lime works. A daughter, Clara, was born on 5 November 1902 and baptised on 24 November 1902, their address was recorded as 6 Park Stile Cottages. Sadly Clara Abbott was just 8 months old when she died and was buried on 13 July 1903 in the churchyard of Merstham, St Katharine. Her address is given as 4 Quarry Cottages, Limeworks, Merstham. Another son, Jack, followed on 18 June 1904 (baptised 26 June 1904). He was followed by a daughter, Ivy May, on 29 April 1906 (baptised 24 June 1906), then two more sons, Albert Edward and James on 5 May 1908 (baptised 28 June 1908) and 21 February 1910 (baptised 24 April 1910) respectively. By 1911 Joseph was a lime burner, and the family were still living at 4 Quarry Cottages, Merstham (the same address is given for all the later children’s baptisms too, and in electoral register entries from 1905 to 915). The census details also tell us that the couple had had two other children who had died before the census was taken, one of these was Clara, the second still ahs not been identified, possibly she died before she could be baptised, and so was not buried in consecrated ground either (or the transcription of the records is such I have not tracked it down).

Joseph did not immediately rush to the colours immediately on the outbreak of war. It was around November 1914 that he enlisted in Redhill. 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards had been formed at Marlow around September, it’s not clear whether he was posted to that battalion immediately, or trained at a depot first. The battalion was posted to France on 15 August 1915, joining Third Guards Brigade, Guards Division on 19 August. Joseph’s medal card indicates he was with the battalion on arrival. Just over a month later they were in action. Joseph was killed on 27 September one of 342 casualties in the battalion’s attack on Hill 70 during the Battle of Loos. He made a soldier’s will, leaving everything to Lizzie. His Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry shows that she remarried quite quickly, and registration data shows that this was on 4 February 1918. She married a man named Arthur Wood, quite possibly the man who was living with his parents, 3 brothers and a nephew at 1 Quarry Cottages in 1911: his age and occupation in 1911 are consistent with the details in the marriage register.

While a small pension would have been paid to her while she remained a widow, such remarriages were not uncommon when women still had young children to provide for. There is no mention of Abbott’s ringing activities in the ringing newspapers before the war.

A year after his father had gone to France, Alfred Joseph Abbott entered the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class (he would have needed Lizzie’s permission to join up). He continued serving into the 1930s, and returned to service in the Second World War.

The present Merstham ringers rang a quarter peal on 25 September 2015 to commemorate the centenary of Joseph Abbott’s death.

Frederick George Woodiss (1890-1941)

Frederick George Woodiss is listed as a Banstead ringer, though it seems he actually only settled there after the war. He learnt to ring at Hersham where his father was one of the founder members of the band after a ring was installed in 1901. Woodiss seems to have been a devout man (far from always the case with ringers!), ringing in the first peal by a band of altar servers in 1932.

He was born on 7 September 1890 in East Finchley. His parents, George Woodiss and Emily Cousins had married at Holy Trinity, East Finchley, just under two years earlier, on 1 October 1888. Emily was 27 while George was jut 24. He was a signalman from Shepperton while her family was from the East Finchley area. Frederick was baptised at Holy Trinity on 28 September 1890, his parents’ address was then given as 20 Hamilton Road, and his father was stated to be working for the Great Northern Railway. By the 1891 census (on 5 April) the family were living at Oak Cottage, Shepperton. With them was Emily elder sister Louisa, a laundry maid (who had also been one of the witnesses at their wedding). Late in 1892 a brother, Edward Woodiss, was born. He was baptised at St Nicholas, Shepperton, on 27 November.

No further details of the family are known until the 1901 census (31 March) when they were living at 14 West Grove Villas, Hersham. Also in 1901 a ring of bells was first installed in St Peter’s, Hersham, the church having been built in the mid-19th century. Following his death, an obit for George Woodiss stated that he had been largely responsible for organising and training the band to ring the new bells (so presumably he had previously rung elsewhere). It’s not yet know when Frederick himself started to ring.

On 20 April 1905 Frederick began to work at the Regent Street office of the London and South Western Railway, on the recommendation of his father (still a signalman apparently, though no employment records have yet been traced for him). He was initially to be paid a salary of 8 shillings per week. He is described as being 5’6.5″ tall. He received increases of a shilling a week each of the next two years, but just after his second pay rise he “resigned for other employment” on 29 May 1907.

By 1911, Frederick and his brother Edward were living with his mother and aunt Louisa (listed as the head of the household) at 94 Cotterill Road, Surbiton. Frederick was now working as a bookkeeper for a newspaper proprietor. His brother was a correspondence clerk for a motor manufacturer (it may be noteworthy that John H B Hesse a ringer listed under Kingston on the roll, was involved in a motor business in Teddington). For some reason, George is shown lodging with the Hart family at 191 Amyand Park Road, Twickenham. It is not clear if this was a permanent separation (his obit does state he later moved to Twickenham), or if it was simply due to his signalling shifts (Amyand Park Road runs roughly parallel with the railway between the stations at St Margarets and Twickenham).

Some time after this Frederick moved to Woodmancote, Dursley, Gloucester. He was certainly there by 19 December as The Ringing World listed him as a Dursley ringer who was present at a meeting of the Wotton-under-Edge branch of the Gloucestershire and Bristol Diocesan Guild at Wickwar. It seems he returned home to enlist on 1 February 1915 when he joined the Grenadier Guards at Kingston, giving his address as 39 Douglas Road, Tolworth (not far from Surbiton where he had been living in 1911). A report in The Ringing World states he had joined the Royal Field Artillery – possibly that had been his original intention but as the recruitment registers show he was now 5’10.25″ it may be that the recruiter persuaded him to join the Guards instead. The additional details in the register describe him as an accountant, 148 lbs, 37″ chest, 2.5″ expansion.

Subsequent reports allow us to trace some of his progress through training. He was initially based at the Guards’ Depot at Caterham. While there he attended the Easter Monday (5 April) meeting of the Central District of the Surrey Association at Banstead (the first time he is known to have rung there). He attended another Central District meeting at Dorking in July. By August he was at the Chelsea Barracks, and also spent a little time at Marlow before he was posted to France on 20 October 1915, joining the 2nd Battalion, presumably as a replacement for losses at the Battle of Loos.

In the latter part of 1916 he was severely wounded. His battalion took part in two major phases of the Battle of the Somme, the Battles of Fler-Courcelettes (15-22 September) and Morval (25-28 September), so it seems likely that it was in one of those that he was wounded. The wound proved to be a Blighty one, by 17 November when a Surrey Association meeting resolved to send him best wishes for his recovery he was being treated in King George’s Hospital, Waterloo Road.

Although his record is not in the digitised collection on Ancestry, it should be possible to find more detail of his service as all the Foot Guards’ personnel records are still held at their respective Regimental HQs. However, there is a fee of around £30 to obtain them, and there are half-a-dozen guardsmen on the roll of honour.

By 1919 he was said to have recovered, and it was presumably around this time he settled in Banstead. According to his obituary he set up business in Banstead in the post-war years. In 1921 a new ring of bells was installed at Banstead (the previous bells were reputedly rather poor). Frederick was now the tower captain, the new bells were funded by the church warden, Captain F E D Acland. He was from a ringing family, but does not seem to have been a ringer himself. They were recast by Gillett and Johnston – Cyril Frederick Johnston of the firm also served in the Guards (as a lieutenant).

In 1922, Frederick married Edith L Martin in the Shaftesbury registration district. It is not clear how they met (one possibility is that is was during his long convalescence). Their first child was born in 1923. The Ringing World reported the birth of a son, but the birth of a daughter, Cecilia F, was registered. By 1924 the family had moved up the road to Sutton. Also in 1924 he suffered a broken collarbone and concussion when he hit a dog whilst cycling and was treated in Sutton Cottage Hospital. A second child followed in 1926, Megan L. Despite two daughters apparently being born, and no other children being traced, his obituary reports that he had a son and a daughter.

In 1932 he rang in the first peal by a band of altar servers. The ringers were from eight dioceses, and had travelled a total of about 2300 miles to come together for the peal attempt (and had done the same for a previous failed attempt). Since the peal was at Epsom Common, Frederick’s was probably the simplest journey. This suggests he was a devout man, and quite High Church too. A photo was published of all eight ringers in their servers’ cassocks and surplices, along with the parish priest who is in cope and biretta.

Frederick later worked in the City. Although the recruitment registers describe him as an accountant, I can’t find any trace of him in the roll of honour of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, or in their collection of obituaries and similar. He died on 11 May 1941. His funeral was at Sutton Parish Church. Sadly the wartime ban on ringing was then in full effect, so there could be no ringing to mark his passing. He had rung 149 peals (11 on handbells), though two were subsequently found to be false. He had almost single-handedly trained up the band at Banstead, and by the outbreak of the Second World War they were ringing Superlative Surprise Major.