Private Albert Johnson

Date of birth: 4 August 1899, Lower Wilmot, Tasmania
School: West Devonport State School, Tasmania
Occupation: Farmer
Height: 5' 7", Weight 124 lbs
Next of kin: Father, J S Johnson, West Middle Road, Devonport, Tasmania
Enlistment date: 8 October 1917, Devonport, Tasmania, aged 18 years
Regimental number: 8008
Unit name: 12th Battalion, 27th Reinforcement
Embarkation: Embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, HMAT A71 Nestor, 28 February 1918
Rank: Private
Fate: Killed in Action 25 August 1918, Cappy, France
Place of burial: No known grave
Commemorated: Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France

Frank MacDonald Study Tour 2017

As Private Albert Edward Johnson was killed in action with no known grave, forever missing, he would have never been given a funeral service and eulogy. Private Johnson's great-great-granddaughter, Samantha Davis, decided to present information about Private Johnson in the form of a eulogy when she visited the Western Front as the tour leader for the Frank MacDonald Study Tour in 2017.

Alby's Eulogy from the perspective of his older brother

Some of you know him as Bert, some of you know him as Alby, but I simply know him as my brother. My little brother. My brother who is my best friend. My brother who is my partner in crime. My brother who joined me in giving our parents grief. My brother in arms.

Alby was born in 1904 to Mum and Dad, Jabeth and Sarah, in Lower Wilmot, Tasmania. I remember thinking when he was born that he was kind of strange looking and that he cried a lot. But this didn't bother me. He formed a connection from the start.

Growing up we were very close, some would say inseparable. Some people even thought we were twins. In the early years you would find us down in the Eastern Paddock of dads' farm, swimming in the dam, making muds pies, all while we had our 3rd amigo, Nelson, our dog, by our side.

When we were going through school, I had a tough time with others kids. I remember one particular occasion when Alby came to my rescue, fists and all. The other kid never stood a chance. It was at that point I knew I had an ally for life.

Alby always wanted to be like me, I'm not really sure why. He would follow me around, copy everything that I would say and do. He was my shadow. This was frustrating at times but none more so than when he followed me to the enlistment office. I tried to walk fast, really fast, even ran to get away, but he somehow kept up. I find myself reliving that day, taking a different route, running that little bit faster, not even going at all.

Is it my fault he is now here with us today?

As I sat over the other side of the hall, watching Alby fill out the paper work, I took comfort in knowing that they would get to his date of birth and realise he was only a 17-year-old boy and send him on his way. A boy. He was only a boy for god sake. He didn't even have whiskers, yet he was trying to sign up to play with men.

Where his age and innocence wouldn't matter. Signing up to go to a place that would eventually take his life. I still don't know what he told the man on the enlistment desk that day, or who he pretended to be. I just remember him running up to me saying I am know number 8008.

It was then off to the Brighton Army Camp for both of us. Leaving everything we knew behind. The security of home life, the smell of mum's cooking, all just for an adventure of a life time. The news that would come in each night of more lives lost on the battlefields just seemed so far removed and didn't correspond with what, in my mind, we were about to go into.

After only a few months of training this is where we parted ways. I went with the 40th Battalion and Alby with the 12th Battalion. When I shut my eyes I can still remember our last embrace. Everything was a friendly competition for us and I remember Alby whispering in my ear that he would beat me home. We both swapped our penny chains, shock hands and agree to swap back when we return home to the farm.

I was the first to embark. Alby left our little island home a few months later on 28 February 1918. Alby had only been on the battlefields for six months before the dreaded date of 25 August 1918.

Alby's Battalion was on the left bank of the river Somme near the village of Chignolles. They had received orders to attack and advance towards the enemy. At 4pm that day my brother, with his comrades, advanced from Garenne Woods to Earl Woods. I know that particular ground. I heard soldiers in the trenches talk about it being 'as flat as a billiards table', with no cover. Murmurs had also started that the war was coming to an end. I knew if Alby got through this battle he would all but be home. Home back on the farm, home to a hot meal, home to swap our pennies back, home to Nelson.

But this turned out to be a fantasy. The battle that day took my brother's life and took it so badly that he now doesn't even have a grave.

But today is not about being sad. It is about honouring and remembering a boy that was and setting him free.

You can now rest in peace my brother, my friend, my partner in crime. Your shadow will always be with me like you are right by my side.


Photos: Private Albert Johnson and Samantha Davis.