Published By John Davies
Information provided by Terence Timperley, a family relation – from his article ‘A Mystery Untangled’, Journal of the Liverpool & South West Lancashire Family History Society (the “Liverpool Family Historian”, Volume 38 No. 1)
Charles Johnson, ne Flanagan, was born in 1869 at Widnes. He was the illegitimate son of Mary Flanagan and Richard Johnson. By today’s definition Charles had a ‘dysfunctional’ childhood. As a young baby he went to live with his father. His father was a widower – in 1871 he was living at Pleasant Street, Widnes, also there were 2 children from the first marriage. It is not known what happened to his mother.
Richard, his father, seems to have had little involvement. In 1879 Richard was summoned before the Local School Board. Education had just been made compulsory with responsibility placed on parents to ensure this. The Board had tried all means in their power to get Charles to attend school, and his father had been summoned several times before. He now denied that there was any liability for him to take charge of Charles any longer. He also stated that Charles was not a relation but was illegitimate and had been taken in by his daughter since a few months old and that he had taken charge of him after his daughter had been admitted to Rainhill Lunatic Asylum. It was also learned that Richard kept a house where 2 women of ‘the unfortunate class’ – a euphemism for prostitute – lived, The Bench also heard that Charles was not a ‘very good one, and he had begun to stay out at night’. The Bench ordered that Charles be sent to St. George’s Industrial School, Liverpool until he is sixteen. The Industrial Schools were set up in 1857 as residential schools for wayward or neglected children.
In 1887, age 18, Charles joined the Amy enlisting into 1 Bn Cheshire Regiment, He served in Burma and India where he spent the next 10 years and rising to the rank of Sergeant. In 1897 he returned to the UK posted to 3 Bn Cheshires. In September 1898 he married Ellen Maguire at Chester. They would live in Tranmere. In 1902 Charles served in South Africa. On his return to the UK he was posted to 1 Bn Cheshires, now with the rank of Colour Sergeant Instructor. His wife Ellen died in March 1907.
In October of 1907, after 21 years service, Charles was awarded the Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. Rather than be discharged he elected to continue his service and in 1908 transferred into 4 Bn Cheshires, a Territorial unit based in Birkenhead Charles. During this time he was living at Cheshire Regiment Territorial Drill Hall where he was battalion Colour Sergeant – territorial usually had a permanent ‘staff’ of a regular senior NCO. In April 1910 Charles married Catherine Williams, originally from Llanderfel near Oswestry. They would have 3 children – Ellen Irene, born 1911, Rita Veronica, born in 1912 and Charles Eric, born 1914.
In 1912 Charles left the army after 24 years service but then reenlisted at the outbreak of war joining his old regiment – The Cheshires. Given his age and army experience he was posted as instructor to 8 Bn Cheshire Regiment, a new service and Pals battalion – his role was to train the new and raw volunteer recruits. During the war he was posted to other Training and Reserve battalions in the Cheshire Regiment – ending up in 4 Bn stationed at Park Hall Camp. Oswestry. Around this time too Catherine and family moved to Oswestry to live at Bryn Teifi on Park Avenue. Charles also spent time posted at a prisoner-of-war camps in Wales – possibly too at Oswestry PoW Camp at Park Hall. In 1917 he was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major – the highest rank for NCOs. The next year he transferred to the Royal Defence Corps – this was probably a compulsory transfer rather than being discharged. The RDC was a home based regiment with many recruits being older or men unfit for combat. They were employed as security and guard duties inside the United Kingdom including PoW camps.
Charles was taken ill on the 14 July 1918 while on leave. He was admitted in an unconscious condition to Oswestry Military Hospital, where he died on the 16 July of cerebrospinal meningitis. He is buried Wallasey Cemetery, Rake Lane in a family grave, also interred are his first and second wives. In August 2015 the grave was marked by a CWGC Headstone. Charles is also commemorated at Widnes War Memorial, Victoria Park, in a recently installed memorial commemorating Widnes men omitted from the original memorial.
Below is a report of his funeral from The Border Counties Advertizer of the 24 July 1918.
THE LATE SERGT.-MAJOR JOHNSON
The funeral of the late Sergt.-Major Johnson, of the Cheshires, late of Park Hall Camp, whose widow resides at Brynteifi, Park Avenue, took place on Saturday last, the interment being made in the Rake Lane Cemetery, Wallasey. Deceased, who died on the previous Tuesday, at the Military Hospital at the age of 48, was very highly esteemed by his comrades of all ranks, and wide-spread sympathy is expressed to Mrs. Catherine Johnson, in her great sorrow. The chief mourners at the funeral were the widow and son (Charles Johnson), Mrs. Houghton, his nephew, Mr. Johnson, his two sisters-in-law, and friends from London. Many representatives of the Cheshire regiment attending to pay a last tribute of respect to their dead comrade. A number of beautiful wreaths were placed on the coffin having been sent, amongst others, from his sorrowing widow; the children; Mrs. Houghton, sister; Nephew, St. Helens; Sisters-in-law, Stockport; Mrs. Jackson, Castle Hotel; Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and family, Castle Street; Mrs. Hewson, Park Avenue; Lieut. Blythden, of the Cheshires, and Mrs. Blythden; Officers of the Cheshire Regiment, Chester Castle; Sergeants, Chester Castle; Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Princes Park, Liverpool.