Amid the mobilisation stories appearing in the Shipley Times & Express on 7 August 1914 was the following piece.The Shipley detachment of the 2nd West Riding Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, met on parade at the headquarters (Albert Road Council School, Saltaire) on Wednesday in response to the Royal Proclamation for mobilisation.The detachment consists of ninety-four officers and men with Capt Eames (Shipley) and Lieut Dixon (Bingley) in command.After the men had passed the medical test they were allocated to the various regiments with which they will have to serve, the allocation being made by Sergeant N E Walker.It is five years since the detachment was formed and since then excellent work has been done. The duties of the members will be to maintain a supply of pure water for the troops, to render first aid and to supervise the general sanitary arrangements.Among the 94 men listed was Private Frank Johnson and we are able to follow his experiences of the war through cuttings that appeared in the paper.
Frank had only signed up for the Territorials in May, recruited by Capt Eames, and the terms of his enlistment only committed him to serve in Britain.But on 2 October he appeared, second right, in a group of men based at Sandback Park on Lord Scarborough’s estate near Maltby, who have volunteered to serve at the front. They are expecting to go abroad in the next few weeks.We know nothing else until 21 May 1915 when the newspaper reproduced extracts from two letters Frank sent home to his parents.“Thanks very much for the cigs which are very welcome.“I went into the trenches last Friday evening and stayed until Monday evening. It is all right except just a little strain on the nerves. Whitaker and I were at a ruined farmhouse about twenty yards in the rear, supplying water for the men in the trenches.“On Saturday night the Germans fired on us with a maxim for about two hours and it was a trying time. We did not get hit and all is well.“We are going for another three days on Thursday night until Sunday. We have to be on guard at the water tanks during the night and a guard is put on during the day for the reserve troops who are in the dug-outs just behind the trenches. Singing“The men in the German trenches keep singing during the night and then our men commence doing the same. It is hot during the day but very cold at night.”In a later letter, Frank said: “I have been right in the firing line having gone with the doctor to attend to the wounded.“You cannot believe what it is like being under shell fire. We were shelled for six hours on Sunday night. Shells were bursting within a few yards of our dug-out. “I had a very narrow escape whilst attending to a man who had got hit on the arm. A splinter struck a man at my side on the nose but I am glad to say I got through without a scratch. I expect you were in chapel at the time, little thinking what we were going through.“We are now two miles behind the trenches having a rest. The Germans shelled the village this morning but with what result I don’t know yet.”Sadly, Frank’s luck ran out and two weeks’ later the following piece appeared:
The KOYLI regimental chaplain wrote to Mr and Mrs Thomas Johnson of Belmont Terrace Shipley to say that their youngest son, Frank, a private with the Shipley detachment of RAMC had been seriously wounded and had his left leg amputated.“I am writing these few lines for your son Frank and am adding a few lines for myself to let you know how plucky he has been and how well he is going on. He really has been splendid.“I know this news will be a great grief to you but if you were here and could see the much worse things that happen to these poor fellows, you would be – as I am sure you are – thankful it is no worse. He is being well looked after and I hope you will have him safe back in England before very long. AmputationFrank himself writes:- “I am very sorry to inform you that I have been severely wounded in both legs and through the amputation of the left leg my life has been saved. I am feeling much better myself now, so try not to worry about my leg, as I shall be able to get on all right. “Major Graham has been very good to me. I am at the 2nd London Casualty Clearing Station but shall be sent to England as soon as I can be moved. I will write and let you know where as soon as I know.”We learn more about how Frank sustained his injury in a letter Pte L A Punchard sent to his parents at 11 Castle Street, Shipley. Punchard is also in the RAMC attached to the 1/4th KOYLI. He said:-
“We have been in the trenches again and we know about it, I can tell you. We have had about fourteen killed and sixty wounded this last time. It has been awful. Shrapnel“I have had some of my “pals” hurt with bullets and shrapnel. Frank Johnson has been wounded in the legs. I fetched him in on the stretcher, afterwards taking him out of the dressing station and carrying him to hospital. He was asleep in a dug-out in the trenches when it happened. “It takes the heart out of you, I can tell you when your “pals” leave you like that. I had another “pal” killed the same day, a Wakefield lad, twenty-one years of age.”A report, the following week, said that Frank had been shipped back to England and was in a hospital in Norwich – little seems to have been done to try and get injured men to hospitals near their relatives. His parents received another letter from the chaplain:“I’m very glad to be able to let you know that your son has been sent down to the base and was very much better when he left here. Poor boy. I am sorry his leg had to be amputated about half-way down the thigh but the operation undoubtedly saved his life. He was such a good and plucky fellow and I hope you will very shortly have him with you again.”Frank was in the paper again on 1 October 1915:Pte F Johnson was given a hero’s welcome when he returned home to Belmont Street, Shipley.He had joined the 2nd West Riding Field Ambulance Territorials at the age of 18, a year before war was
declared and was sent to France in March, attached to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.He was with a group of men injured when a shell exploded in their trench around Armentieres. He lost a leg, another of his colleagues was killed and three more injured.Pte Johnson was now on a short leave after which he was going to the newly opened special hospital for the rehabilitation of amputees founded at Roehampton House.WeddingThe next time we hear of Frank is a report published on 26 January 1917:The wedding took place at the Providence Wesleyan Chapel, Shipley, on Wednesday of Mr Frank Johnson, the son of Mr T Johnson of Belmont Terrace, and Miss Marion (Marie) Lennon of 12 Market Street.Mr Johnson, who was in the RAMC when war was declared was called to serve with the Colours immediately. He was so badly wounded in the early stages of the war that his leg was amputated.He is now doing Army clerical work at York. He is only 21 years of age.His father was for a time the manager at Robson’s Ltd and is now in charge of an important munitions works.The bride was a member of the Providence Wesleyan Chapel choir.Mr Joseph Johnson, brother of the bridegroom acted as best man and the bride was accompanied by Miss Amy Shaw, niece, as bridesmaid. Mr Walter Cryer gave the bride away. The officiating minister was Rev David Ashby, Saltaire.