Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

John Templeton Johnstone - Rifleman 23/467

This page is dedicated to the memory of John Templeton Johnstone who died on 27th December 1915 in Cairo.

John Templeton Johnstone was born on 17th June 1892 in Wiamatuku, New Zealand, the only son of Samuel Johnstone and his first wife Agnes Templeton. He died on 27th December 1915 in a Cairo hospital, one of the many millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about his life until his untimely death aged just 23.

John's parents were both Scots who had emigrated to New Zealand, presumably in the hope of a better life. His father Samuel Johnstone was a sheep farmer in the Invercargill area of the South Island. John was only 6 when tragedy struck the family with the loss of his mother Agnes and his baby sister (also Agnes) in 1898. His father, Samuel Johnstone was left with 4 young children to support. Fortunately he remarried in 1901 (to Isabella Farnie McKenzie) and went on to have 6 more children.

The photo below shows John Templeton Johnstone and his 3 surviving full siblings, Mary, Grace and Jessie Johnstone. The photo was presumably taken around 1914/1915 after John had signed up but before he was sent to Egypt.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that he was a rifleman in the 1st Battalion of the 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade and that his service number was 23/467 and that he is commemorated at the Cairo War Memorial in Egypt. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here

New Zealand produced a list - an Alphabetical Roll of all those involved in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The details it gives for John confirm his father as S Johnstone of Thornbury, Invercargill, that his last residence was Thornbury, presumably with his father and stepmother and that he was single at the time he went to war. Although he was single, it seems he did have a sweetheart. I've found reference on a New Zealand military interest website of a "Sweetheart Badge" with John's initials, his service number 23/467 and his sweetheart's initials - L.S. 2018 update - I have just been given photos of the badge showing not only his service number, but both his and her initials. It is a lovely brooch and must have been treasured by L.S. It would be lovely to work out who L.S. was.

From newspaper reports it seems John volunteered in May 1915, after attending a recruiting rally. The clipping below is taken from The Southland Times of 26 May 1915.

The New Zealand Rifle Brigade only came into being on 1st May 1915, so John Templeton Johnstone must have been one of its earliest recruits. The prefix 23 to his service number indicates that he was in the first battalion - it seems likely that the 467 means he was the 467th recruit to join this battalion. I haven't been able to find much relating specifically to John Johnstone, but there is enough information on the New Zealand Rifle Brigade itself to be able to piece together a rough idea of his final months. The summer after his enlistment would have been spent training with the other recruits. On 10th October 1915 the battalions set sail from Wellington, New Zealand, bound for Egypt. They sailed via Australia to Africa, finally reaching Suez on 14th November 1915. The 1st Battalion would then have moved to camp on land and get used to their new surroundings. I had hoped to find the War Diaries for his regiment, but have yet to track them down. Supply of fresh water would always have been an issue, with one report indicating that much of it would have been canal water. Whether it was this water that contributed to John contracting dysentery will never be known, but by 22nd December John had been admitted to the New Zealand General Hospital in Cairo and was described as "dangerously ill, dysentery". Dysentery was a major problem in WW1 and many soldiers were struck down by it. If I can ever find the correct War Diary it might perhaps give details of when he first became ill and perhaps whether others of his fellow soldiers suffered with it too.

The following newspaper reports (reproduced thanks to the National Library of New Zealand show how the news was reported. First he is listed as dangerously ill just before Christmas - whether his parents got private notification of this or just read it in the newspapers, I don't know. Either way it must have made for a gloomy Christmas for the family. Then came the news that he had succumbed to the disease and died on 27th December 1915. This was not generally reported in the papers until January 1916, when he was listed with other casualties. The final newspaper cutting comes from a local newspaper and does at least give a hint of the man himself, giving his name as "Jack" and that he was a keen athlete.

The New Zealand War Grave Project have been doing a fantastic job of photographing the graves of New Zealand soldiers all over the world. The photo below comes courtesy of their website and it is lovely to see John's grave looking so well maintained 100 years after his death.

In researching John's final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a great site to start with to give you the basic details you would need to then start digging deeper:

The National Archives at Kew now hold a huge number of records, many of which are available online, but it is well worth a visit down there if you can make it:

Papers Past is a fantastic digitised collection of New Zealand newspapers made available thanks to the National Library of New Zealand:

The New Zealand War Grave Project preserves the memory of those soldiers who lost their lives in conflicts and includes not only photos of the graves but information, where they have it, for the soldiers:

If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at:

Nicky Rowberry 2018

Thank you for visiting my site. You are visitor number:

Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry