The early life of Private George Johnson named on St Michael's Church war memorial is not confirmed; there are several men named George Johnson who were born in the Macclesfield area in the late 1880s or early 1890s.
He may be the George Johnson who was born in Macclesfield in 1888, illegitimate son of Mary Ann Johnson (daughter of gardener Samuel Johnson) who was living at 52 Pinfold Street in 1891. Mary married Thomas Banner at Christ Church, Macclesfield on 31 December 1894. In 1901 the family lived at 27 Newton St, Macclesfield; twelve-year-old George (listed under the surname Banner) was working as a cork cutter and he had a younger half-brother, Arthur Banner, aged 5. This George Johnson joined the 4th Cheshire Regiment militia on 26 June 1905. He stated that he was born in the parish of Christ Church, Macclesfield, his age was 17 years 1 month, and he was employed as a farm horseman at Hodgehill Farm, Siddington. His next of kin were his mother, Mary Banner of 46 Brown Street, Macclesfield and his older brother, William Johnston (sic) of the corn mill, Siddington.
In the 1911 census George was recorded as a Lance-Corporal, born Macclesfield and aged 20, living at Hillsborough Barracks, Sheffield with the 2nd battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers.
George married Rebecca Holland in Sheffield on 8 November 1913. By this time he had left the Army and was working as a plate-layer. His full name was recorded in the marriage register as George Harold Johnson; he was said to be 25 years of age and his father was stated to be Samuel Johnson, a deceased sailor.
The couple's son, Arthur, was born in Penistone in August 1914.
George was recalled to the Army soon after the start of the war and was drafted overseas on 12 September 1914. He was killed in action on 10 January 1915.
A brief report of George's death in the Penistone Almanack stated that George and his wife lived in Oxspring and had one child. He previously worked at Penistone steelworks. It adds that George had previously been wounded in the left knee during the battle of the Marne, and that he had been back in the line for two months.
George's death was reported in the Sheffield Independent on 1 February 1915:
PENISTONE SOLDIER KILLED - Mrs Johnson, of Oxspring, Penistone, received official intimation on Saturday that her husband, Private George Johnson, of the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, had been killed in action on 10th January. Private Johnson was previously wounded in the battle of the Marne, and after recovering he returned to the front during the latter part of October. He leaves a widow and one child, which was born on the day he was recalled to the colours.
His death was also reported in the Sheffield Daily telegraph on 2 February 1915:
SHEFFIELD SOLDIER'S DEATH - Lance-Corporal George Harold Johnson (26), of Oxspring, who was in the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed in action in France on January 10. He formerly lived in Sheffield and married a Sheffield young woman. On the outbreak of war he was working at the Penistone works of Messrs Cammell, Laird and Co. He was called up on August 6, and only the previous day had seen the birth of his firstborn, a son. Deceased's father was in the navy, and was drowned in a storm at sea some years ago.
In 1920, some years after George's death, Rebecca married Alexander McDonald in Sheffield.
Lance Corporal George Johnson has no known grave and is commemorated on Panel Ref. 8 and 12 of the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for L/Cpl George Johnson, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
In Macclesfield, L/Cpl George Johnson is commemorated on the Town Hall and St Michael's Church war memorials. He may also be the 'D. Johnson' commemorated (out of alphabetic sequence) on the Park Green war memorial.
The floral tributes laid when the Macclesfield Park Green War Memorial was unveiled on 21 September 1921 included one with the words "In loving memory of Lance-Corporal G. Johnson, from his dear mother and brother."
Elsewhere, he is remembered as George Johnson on a memorial in the Lady Chapel, St John's Church, Penistone, and as George Arthur Johnson on a new WWI memorial plaque at St Aidan's Church, Oxspring, dedicated in 2017. The reason and evidence for the middle name of Arthur is not known.
GRO (England & Wales) Index: Births, Marriages
Yorkshire Parish Marriage Registers (Find My Past): St John’s Church, Sheffield
Census (England & Wales): 1911
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Lives of the First World War website
Macclesfield Courier: 24 September 1921
With grateful thanks to the Barnsley War Memorials Project (http://www.barnsleywarmemorials.org.uk) for their assistance.
Research by Rosie Rowley, Macclesfield.