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59384 Private Harry Johnson – Wellington Infantry Regiment

Harry Johnson was born in Upper Hutt on 21st December 1879 the son of John and Sarah Johnson who farmed in Mangaroa, Akatarawa,  Upper Hutt. Harry was from a family of six with one older sister and four brothers[i].

The 12th May 1917 edition of the Hutt Valley Independent listed the results of the military ballot with H Johnson, Akatarawa, Mungaroa Riding and H Harris, Pahautahanui, Horokiwi Riding being two of the men from Wellington
selected.

Harry was a Brethren and the faith had taken the position of serving as non-combatants as distinct from conscientious objectors[ii]. While Brethren would refuse to bear arms they would serve as first aid or as stretcher bearers.  

Harry is listed as a farmer of Akatarawa with his next of kin his sister Mrs Sarah Poulson when Herb Harris and Harry Johnson both entered Trentham Camp on the 28th June 1917, 59366 Private H Harris[iii] and
59384 Private H Johnson[iv] were assigned to B Company, 30th Reinforcements.

During basic training both Privates were redeployed on 25th July 1917 to B Company, 29th Reinforcements, Wellington Infantry Reinforcements when they left New Zealand on 15th August 1917.

The Reinforcements arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on 2nd October 1917 and were transported by rail to the Sling Military Camp. Private Johnson was ‘marched’ into the 4th Reserve Battalion of the Wellington Regiment for training.

Training at Sling was brief and on 19th November 1917 Private Johnson was sent to France. . On 19th December 1917 Private Johnson was posted to 9th (Wellington East Coast Rifles) Company, 3rd Battalion, Wellington Infantry Regiment. New Year was spent in the rear areas in very cold and snowy conditions. On 7th February 1918 the 3rd Battalion was disbanded and the men distributed between the two remaining Battalions with Private Johnson on 11th March 1918 assigned to the 7th ( Company, 2nd Battalion, Wellington Infantry Regiment.

In  March 1918 the Germans launched their Spring Offensive and the NZ Division was moved forward to counter a
potential gap in the Allied Lines. The 2nd Wellington’s, as part of the NZ Division, were positioned along the  Hebuterne Road near La Signy Farm. There were periods of time spent in the front lines and in the reserve lines as the German Offensive slowly winding down.

By August 1918 the Allies were on the offensive and as the Germans retreated in stages towards Achiet-le-Petit they subjected the advancing 2nd Wellington Battalion and other New Zealand units to heavy shelling. It was during the
advance that Private Herb Harris was wounded on the 16th August 1918, as recalled by his nephew Wally Brown, Pauatahanui[v]:

‘Herb was a company runner and was hit in the neck by a German sniper. He was pulled to safety
by a man he had enlisted with in 1917, 59348 Private Harry Johnson. Private Johnson, because of
his religious beliefs, would not carry any arms so served as a stretcher bearer with the 2nd Wellington’s.’

Private Johnson remained in France but on 10th November 1918 was granted leave in England so would have
experienced the celebrations of the Armistice.

Private Johnson rejoined the Battalion on the 27th November 1918 and was among those who went into Germany with
the Army of Occupation.

Private Johnson returned to England and the Sling Camp on 10th March 1919 and then had to wait for transport to
be available for repatriation to New Zealand. Private Johnson left England on 29th May 1919 arriving in New Zealand
in July 1919. Private Johnson was finally discharged from the NZEF on 20th October 1919 ‘no longer physically fit for war service.’

Harry returned to the farm but also contact with Herb Harris of Pahatahanui the families became closer when Harry married Herb’s older sister Alice Harris on 30th August 1923[vi].


Standing Harry (2nd Right) with Alice and Herb on Harry's wedding day 


The couple continued to farm in the Akataraka District with the couple
still in the district when Alice died in 1956. 
Harry died on 19th November 1961 in Mangaroa his death reported by
his niece Hilda (nee Poulson) Whiteman[vii].

References
NZ BDM
Paperspast Online
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files
Harris family oral history
The Wellington Regiment (NZEF) 1914 – 1919: NZETC

Harry and Alice in later life 

Photos
Harry and Alice’s wedding 1923: Harris family
Harry and Alice later in life: Harris family

[i] NZ BDM
[ii] Plymouth Brethren: plymouthbrethrenchristianchurch.org
[iii] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 59366 Private Herbert Harris
[iv] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 59384 Private Harry Johnson
[v] Oral History: Wally Brown, Pauatahanui (Harris family)
[vi] NZ BDM
[vii] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 59384 Private Harry Johnson
​Wedding party 1923 Harry and Alice Johnson