No. 6728, 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
Killed in action on Sunday 9 May 1915 (aged 19)
No known grave
Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium (Panel 9)
Newtownards and District War Memorial
Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) Roll of Honour 1914 – 1919 for
Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church Newtownards
Nephew of Lance Corporal Robert Johnston (No. 6359)
In some records his surname is spelt Johnstone.
Robert Johnston is commemorated on Newtownards and District War Memorial as Robert Johnstone Jun.
Robert Johnston was born on 19 May 1895 in Mill Street, Newtownards and he was a son of John and Agnes Johnston (nee Auld) who were married on 3 December 1892 in Second Newtownards Presbyterian Church. John Johnston, a tinsmith from Newtownards, was a son of Robert Johnston, a tinsmith. Agnes Auld (aged 20) from Newtownards was a daughter of William Auld, a carpenter.
The Johnston family lived at 33 Mill Street, Newtownards.
John Johnston worked as a tinsmith and he and Agnes had at least seven children:
William John (born 18 October 1893 in Mill Street, Newtownards)
Robert (born 19 May 1895 in Mill Street, Newtownards)
Margaret (Maggie, born 26 March 1900 in Mill Street, Newtownards)
James (born 29 October 1902 in Mill Street, Newtownards)
Ann (Annie, born 26 October 1905 in Mill Street, Newtownards)
Agnes Cahoon (born 31 July 1908 in Frederick Street, Newtownards)
Andrew (born 30 May 1912 in Mill Street, Newtownards)
These children were all baptised in Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church Newtownards.
Prior to the outbreak of the Great War Robert Johnston and his brother William John worked in a factory – Robert as a cage-carrier and William John as an oiler.
Robert Johnston enlisted shortly after the outbreak of hostilities and, after serving for a time with the Royal North Downs, he was drafted to the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles then in France.
During the time that Rifleman Robert Johnston was on active service he and his mother Agnes exchanged letters on a regular basis. She became anxious when one of her letters to Robert was returned by one of Robert’s comrades. In a covering letter dated 12 May 1915, Lance Corporal Hoey informed Robert’s mother that Robert had been wounded at Rouge Bancs and he did not know whether Robert had been taken to hospital or not. Agnes Johnston commissioned a letter to be written and sent to the Infantry Record Office in Dublin but they were unable to provide any information as to his whereabouts.
In June 1915 Rifleman Robert Johnston (No. 6728) was posted as missing in action and in May 1916 it was officially confirmed that he must be presumed to have been killed in action. Robert’s mother placed a For King and Country notice in the Newtownards Chronicle and it contained the verse:
Although he lies somewhere in France,
And his grave we cannot see,
As long as life and memory lasts
We will remember thee.
His warfare o’er, his battle fought;
His victory won, though dearly bought;
His fresh young life could not be saved,
He slumbers now in a soldier’s grave.
At the time of Rifleman Robert Johnston’s death his brother, Bugler William John Johnston, was serving with the 18th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles at Clandeboye having been invalided home from the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (No. 17966). William John Johnston enlisted on 17 September 1914 at Clandeboye Camp and was discharged from the Army after one year and 362 days, on 14 September 1916. It was noted in his attestation papers that he had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and red hair.
William John Johnston and Bessie Cassidy were married on 8 January 1916 in Newtownards Parish Church of Ireland Church (St Mark’s). William John Johnston was a Private (No. 17966) in the 18th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles stationed at Clandeboye and he was a son of John Johnston, a tinsmith. Bessie Cassidy of 123 Mark Street, Newtownards was a daughter of William Brown, a labourer.
William John and Bessie Johnston (nee Cassidy) had at least one child:
Robert (born 18 November 1916 in Mill Street, Newtownards; named after his uncle)
Rifleman Robert Johnston’s father, John Johnston (No. 7347), having also been invalided home from France was serving with the 4th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles at Carrickfergus. Private John Johnston then served with the Army Service Corps (No. M/380693).
Rifleman Robert Johnston’s uncle, William Auld – a brother of his mother – had also been invalided home after being wounded in the Dardanelles while serving with the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (No. 10859). Private William Auld then served with the Labour Corps (No. 587659) and was discharged from the Army on 21 June 1919.
It was reported that three other uncles, brothers of his father, were on active service at the Front.
Another uncle who was a brother of his father’s – his uncle Robert Johnston (No. 6359) – was killed in action on the same day and in the same place that Rifleman Robert Johnston (No. 6728) died.
Their bodies were never recovered, and they are both commemorated on the same panel of the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium and on Newtownards and District War Memorial – as Robert Johnstone Sen and Robert Johnstone Jun respectively.
Robert Johnston Junior is also commemorated in the PCI Roll of Honour for Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church Newtownards.
Robert Johnston Junior’s father, mother, sisters and brothers placed an In Memoriam notice in the 19 May 1917 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle and it contained the verse:
He sleeps beside his comrades
In a hallowed grave unknown;
But his name is written in letters of love
On the hearts he left at home.