Who was Canon Alan Douglas Johnson?
After leaving Cambridge, Alan attended Ripon Theological College in Yorkshire. His time there qualified him to receive the Theological Associateship of King's College (AKC) and meant he could be ordained as a Priest.
After he left Ripon in 1908 Alan was ordained as a Deacon and began to work as a Curate at St Paul's Church in Astley Bridge, near Bolton in Lancashire. In 1909 he was ordained as a Priest by the Bishop of Manchester, Edmund Knox. Later that year he moved to Ashton-under-Lyne and became Curate of St Gabriel's Church. He continued to hold this position until the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. As he was a graduate of Cambridge University Alan became eligible for the title Master of Arts (MA) in 1911. When William senior died on the 19th February 1914 Alan acted as one of his father's executors.
In the early months of the First World War the Army expanded massively. It would need more than the 117 Chaplains on its strength at the outbreak of war. Ultimately almost 3500 Chaplains would serve in the Army, and Alan would be one of them. He was appointed as Temporary Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class (equivalent to the rank of Captain) on the 14th December 1914. At the time he lived at 'The Mallinsons' on Curvier Lane in Ashton.
Alan was born on the 18th September 1883 in Bowdon, Cheshire. His father was called William Henry and his mother was Agnes Morton. He had 7 siblings in total: Gladys, Lorna and William Morton were older and Ronald Lindsay and Enid Mary were younger. We don't know the names of his other brothers and sisters, although Arthur Laurence Johnson was certainly related to him. One sibling had died by 1911. The family were members of the Church of England.
William senior was a director of the metal working and engineering company Richard Johnson, Clapham and Morris. Shortly before Alan was born, in 1881, the family lived on Firs Road in Bowdon. They must have been quite well-off, as they employed 2 nurses, a housemaid and a cook. By 1901 they lived at 'Hoodleigh' on Bradgate Road in Dunham Massey, near Altrincham in Cheshire.
Alan did not live with his family at this time. He was a pupil at Eton College, near Windsor in Berkshire. This was a boarding school, so Alan will have lived there during term time. After he left Eton Alan entered Trinity College at Cambridge University in 1903. After 3 years he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) with 2nd Class Honours in the Classical Tripos. In this degree Alan had studied the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and it is likely that he learned at least some Greek and Latin. He also spoke French and German.
As a Chaplain Alan was only engaged by the Army for 12 months at a time. He signed a contract on the 1st August 1915 and left the UK 2 days later. He was sent to the Dardanelles to join the British forces fighting against the Turks in Gallipoli.
We don't know much about Alan's service in Gallipoli. We believe he was based aboard the hospital ship Franconia, which moved wounded soldiers between Gallipoli and British hospitals on the Greek islands of Mudros and Lemnos. Alan's main job will have been to conduct religious services such as church parades for the soldiers. He is also likely to have said the last rites and conducted funerals for soldiers who did not survive their injuries. Another important role for Chaplains was to act as a source of friendship and support for soldiers, regardless of their religious beliefs.
When Gallipoli was evacuated in January 1916 the British withdrew to Egypt. Alan landed there on the 18th. He was attached to the 54th (East Anglian) Division. This unit spent 1916 in Egypt helping to defend the Suez Canal from a Turkish attack. In early 1917 the Division began to advance into the Sinai. They had reached the border with what was then Palestine by March. The British suffered 2 defeats during late March and mid April 1917 in the 1st and 2nd Battles of Gaza. They were not able to advance until the victories at Beersheba on the 31st October and the 3rd Battle of Gaza in early November.
At some point in the spring of 1917 Alan carried out an act of great bravery. He was awarded the Military Cross in the London Gazette of the 16th August. We believe this act took place during the fighting around Gaza:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During several days' heavy fighting it was due largely to his efforts that the wounded were tended and brought in, in the face of great difficulties.
An officer who served with Alan during this time described his actions: 'Armed with only a walking stick and red cross armband the padre worked all night to bring in the wounded. Many of us owe our lives to him. He continued all the next day....The last time I saw him he was returning to render more assistance to the battalion'.
Alan served with the 54th Division for the rest of the war. They took part in the British advance northwards through what is now Israel and the West Bank during 1918. By the end of the war with Turkey on the 30th October they had reached Beirut, now the capital of Lebanon.
In February 1919 Alan was attached to the 1/4th Battalion of the Essex Regiment, which was part of the 54th Division. We don't know whether he had always served with this unit, or if he had spent time with other battalions in the division. He returned to the UK for the first time since 1915 on the 16th August. Alan was released from the Army on the 14th September.
Although Alan had survived the war unharmed the same was not true of his brother William. He became a Captain in the 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and was killed on the 2nd July 1916 on the Somme. His name is listed on the Thiepval Memorial in France, on Pier 13 Face A or Pier 14 Face C.
On the 30th September Alan was appointed Vicar of Christ's Church in Ashton-under-Lyne. The local Territorial Army (TA) unit was the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, and Alan must have developed a close bond with its members, because on the 28th January 1921 he joined the TA and became the 9th Battalion's Chaplain.
Like all members of the TA Alan kept his home and civilian job. He trained with the battalion during evenings and weekends, as well as at an annual training camp lasting around 2 weeks. Alan became extremely popular with the men of the battalion during his time with them.
Alan was promoted to Chaplain to the Forces 3rd Class on the 13th August 1927 and became the Senior Chaplain to the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. He was now responsible for 9 separate battalions across the North West, but made sure to keep in contact with the 9th. He attended their annual camps in 1928, 1929 and 1931.
On the 27th September 1931 Alan was promoted again, to Chaplain to the Forces 2nd Class. He was made the Senior Chaplain to the Forces in Western Command. This covered an even larger area, including Herefordshire and Shropshire, all of Wales, Cheshire, Liverpool, Cumberland and Westmoreland as well as his old area around Manchester.
Despite being responsible for such a large area, Alan did his best to hold regular Sunday morning Church services at the Manchester Regiment Depot in Ladysmith Barracks, Ashton. These were not compulsory, but a large number of soldiers attended, many out of respect for Alan.
As well as tending to the current members of the 9th Battalion, Alan made sure to keep in contact with its Old Comrades, through their Association (the OCA). He attended as many reunions and events as he could. In February 1930 he took part in the unveiling of the 9th Battalion War Memorial in their Drill Hall in Ashton, and in October 1933 he dedicated the 7th Battalion's new war memorial in Whitworth Park, Manchester. His service to the TA was recognised on the 3rd May 1935 when he was awarded the Efficiency Decoration.
When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 Alan was assigned to Western Command Headquarters in Chester. He served as a Staff Chaplain at this headquarters until he reached retirement age. He was forced to leave the Army on the 27th September 1943.
Alan returned to Ashton and Christ's Church, where he had been Vicar throughout his TA service. He continued to hold this position until his death. In 1954 his Curate at Christ's Church became the 9th Battalion's new Chaplain. Alan also stayed involved with the Manchester Regiment. The Regimental Chapel in Manchester Cathedral had been bombed during the war. After it was rebuilt the first Remembrance Day service was held on the 11th November 1952, with Alan leading the service.
Alan never married, and he was close to his sister Gladys, who had also stayed single. On the 30th November 1954 they both sailed to Australia. They arrived in Sydney, spent time in Adelaide and returned to the UK 6 months later from Fremantle near Perth. We don't know where else they visited.
In late 1957 Alan was admitted to Ashton General Hospital. He died on the 27th December, aged 74. His funeral was held on New Year's Eve. Over 1000 people paid their respects. He was buried in the churchyard of his beloved Christ's Church. As his obituary in the Manchester Regiment Gazette said: 'It is difficult to express in words...the high esteem in which he was held by all who had the privilege of knowing him'.
Alan's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in April 1989. Christ Church Infant School on Elgin Street in Ashton was extended and rebuilt in the late 1960s. It opened on the 18th July 1970 and was named Canon Johnson Church of England Primary School after Alan. It was considered 'fitting that his memory should be perpetuated by naming this school which he dreamed of, and planned for, after him'.