George Frederick Johnston: [Heath 1906–1912]

George Frederick Johnston was drowned in a torpedoed ship on the way to Egypt.

He was born on , the only child of Richard and Lily Johnson. His father was a Provision merchant and they lived at 11 Holly Grove, Parkinson Lane. He attended Heath from to leaving to become an articled clerk to a chartered accountant.

Service history: he enlisted on at Halifax not long before his 19th birthday. His height was 5' 9½", his weight was 119 lb and his physical condition was described as ‘Fair.’ He was an articled accountant with testimonials from Edgar Bairstow, Chartered Accountant, 22 Commercial Street, Halifax, and J E Hoyle, 14a Crossley Street. He was No. 215836 Army Service Corps (preference for Army Pay Corps).

It sounds like he enlisted under the Derby Group Scheme which was a sort of voluntary conscription. This most likely took place in the ‘York Café’ in King Edward Street (on the first floor of the building which became the Halifax Building Society Branch on Commercial Street). Certificate of the attesting officer has ‘garrison service home’ stamped over it. He was mobilised on .

Fate: he embarked the SS Transylvania at Southampton on which proceeded to Marseille from which it departed on for Alexandria, escorted by the Japanese destroyers Matsu and Sakaki. The following day the SS Transylvania was struck by torpedos fired by the German U-boat U-63 about 2.5 miles south of Cape Vado near Savona, in the Gulf of Genoa, and, though the Japanese destroyers sought to rescue as many people as possible, George Johnston was among the 275 missing, presumed drowned at sea.

He was posthumously awarded the British War Medal.

Map of the coast from Marseille to Genoa showing Savona
Map of the coast from Marseille to Genoa showing Savona

Halifax Courier Centenary Series 

Local men on torpedoed troopship

RMS Transylvania had been torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean off the coast of north-west Italy by a German U-boat on while carrying Allied troops from Marseilles to Egypt. 412 lives were lost. She had been launched in 1914 as a passenger liner for the Anchor Line (a subsidiary of Cunard) with accommodation for 1379 passengers. In 1915 she was commandeered by the Admiralty who fitted her out as a troopship capable of carrying 3060 officers and men.

She was carrying several men with local connections whose stories appeared in the Halifax Courier over a number of weeks in and . All were either Royal Engineers (RE) or members of motorized section of the Army Service Corps (ASC). This week there was a report of at least four local men on the stricken ship. Three of them were Sapper Arthur Bedworth RE, Private Gerald A Rothera ASC and Private Oscar Jagger ASC who were all survivors. The fourth one, Private George F Johnston ASC, was reported drowned.

Six other names would appear in other Halifax Courier editions linking them to the RMS Transylvania. Four of them were survivors: Sapper George Blight RE, Lance Corporal Clifford Douglas Rushton ASC, C Atkinson (unknown details) and Private Lord (unknown details). The other two were reported drowned: Albert Harris RE and Norman Wright ASC (born Halifax but lived in Manchester). RMS Transylvania had been escorted by two Japanese destroyers the Matsu and the Sakaki who with fishermen from the Italian coast were able to rescue most of the service personnel. Unlike the Second World War Japan was an ally of Great Britain and a number of her destroyers came under the command of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean for escort duties. 60 nurses were also on board and, as was the custom, they were disembarked first and survived.

With thanks to David Millichope