Saturday, 1 July 2017

14184 Pte David Johnson, 15th DLI - KiA 1st July 1916

Around the top edge of the colossal Lochnagar crater at La Boiselle on The Somme, there is a modern-day duckboard track. And screwed into this track are small brass plaques bearing the names of men who lost their lives on the Somme.

I stood at Lochnagar a year ago today, on the 100th anniversary of the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, and I took a photo of the area around my feet where I was standing. Looking at those photos again today, I see that one of the men commemorated there was David Johnson of the 15th Durham Light Infantry who had been killed in action on the 1st July 1916.

On this day, the 101st anniversary of David Johnson's death, and that of nearly 60,000 of his fellow soldiers on that awful day, pause to remember their sacrifice, and reflect on the individual lives lost.

David enlisted at Jarrow on the 7th September 1914. Born at Hebburn, he was 18 years old, the son of Robert and Sarah Ann Johnson of 14 Oak Street, Jarrow. He remained in the UK, training with the 15th Battalion (a K3 Kitchener battalion)  until the 10th September 1915 when he sailed with the battalion, part of the original contingent, for France. The battalion formed part of the 64th Brigade in the 21st Division and David's first action would have been at the Battle of Loos when the division sustained nearly 4,000 casualties for negligible gain. David came through this action unscathed but his luck ran out on the 1st July 1916. 

Soldiers Died in The Great War records that 137 men of the 15th DLI lost their lives on the 1st July 1916. David at least has a known grave and is buried in Gordon Dump Cemetery, not a million miles from where I was standing a year ago. The Google map below shows that he literally does lie in the corner of some foreign field. Note the chalk outlines of old trench lines, still scarring the landscape a century later. 

David does have papers which survive as badly water-damaged pages in series WO 363 (available to download from Ancestry and Findmypast) and these show that his mother accepted his medals and memorial plaque. It's clear that David had also spent time in hospital in April 1916 but was obviously fit enough for front-line service by July. His name would later appear in a list of men killed in action; this from The Newcastle Journal, published on the 16th August 1916.

The same day his name also appeared in a roll published by The Times newspaper which listed the names of 4733 men.

If a photo survives of David, it does not appear to be in the public domain, but he is remembered at Lochnagar, at Gordon Dump, probably in a local church at Jarrow and now, 101 years after his death in action, here on this blog.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, 


  1. I'm currently researching my Grandfather, 14182, Private Thomas Courtney, 11th Battalion, Essex Regiment.
    I'm curious to know how his and Private Johnson's service numbers could be so close when one enlisted in Jarrow and one in Essex? My Grandfather served in the Boer War, but I don't know which regiment, he lived in Devon at the time, so I'm guessing he had a four digit number then, so would this help to explain their allocation of similar five digit numbers.
    Thanks for any information you can provide.
    Ian, Gold Coast, Australia.

  2. Each regiment had its own regimental numbering series (plural) and so there would have been many, many duplications. By the looks of things, there were four, possibly five, men called T Courtney who served with British regiments in South Africa during the Boer War, but his regimental number then would have had nothing to do with his later five-digit number. My guess is that he served out his first poeriod of service and then re-enlisted during WW1.

  3. Thanks Paul, I did a National Archives search using just the service number and of course you're right, there were lots of 14182's in various regiments.
    I think I've since narrowed him down re the Boer War service, looks to be Thomas Courtney, No.9658, 3rd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, Attestation Date: 08 Aug 1896. The only anomaly seems to be he's down as 18yrs 1mth old (DOB 25Sept1878), when it should be 17yrs 11mths, I'm wondering if the clerk at the time added a month instead of subtracting one, haha.
    I'll see how I go and I might email you regarding your paid services to see if I can confirm my info and pursue it further.
    Thanks, Ian.

    1. OK, good to hear you're making headway, Ian. You know where I am if you do need any help. Paul