Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

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Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

I knew of the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields long before FC United of Manchester went slicing into the earth around it. Located on Broadhurst Park, in Manchester’s Moston, I always recall the red brick cycling track within a fenced compound adjacent to the passing St. Mary’s Road. Discovering the Western Front Association website, I recently read about Ronald Johnson. Together with a profile on the Friends of Broadhurst Park, I started clicking left, right and centre.

Like many that saw battle in the horrors of The Great War, Captain Ronald Lindsay Johnson (picture courtesy of the Altrincham Guardian) died in action. He was just 28-years old. His shares at Johnson, Clapham & Morris engineers were put to use in creating a sports ground. Initially for employees it became a public ground in the 1930s following Johnson, Clapham & Morris’s move to Trafford Park. It has since seen cricket, football (notably Moston Juniors F.C.), school sports days, car boot sales, fun fairs and life.

I can still recall the damp earthly smells of the ground that measured around 8-acres, sandwiched between a primary school and number 335 St. Mary’s Road. The recreation area was in memorial to Captain Ronald Lindsay Johnson and opened on the 17th June 1922 (or 1925), with Ronald Johnson’s mother present. The cycle speedway track was unique to the area – and existed long before the Manchester Velodrome was created in anticipation of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. I wonder if any cyclist transitioned from there to the often named ‘medal factory’ in Clayton.

By 2011, F.C. United of Manchester were offered the land and their 4,400-seater stadium (for £6.5 million) followed. The name Broadhurst Park was naturally fitting, following a brief period as the Moston Community Stadium. The all-weather pitch has seen a Benfica B team all in a stone’s throw from what was once Moston Hall, and residence to local industrialist Sir Edward Tootal Broadhurst. The park itself a World War One donation to recognise victory.

The New East Manchester and Manchester City Council development, once the home of a metal working and fabrication business team, had been resisted by local residents. The loss of public open space coupled with inadequate parking provision seemed to be the main problems. 2,226 letters of objection (mostly locally sent) were beaten back by 5,635 letters (many outside of Manchester) of support. Manchester Council plodded on with a success at the Court of Appeal in March 2013. The covenant on the land has always been recreation – and for the people of Moston. The one thing I find upsetting is that there isn’t a plaque or statue to honour that for almost 90 years these fields held a different name – but perhaps it hasn’t been made yet, or notified well.

Significant contribution was made by the Football Foundation Community Facilities Fund, Sport England, F.C. United Community Shares scheme, fundraising, Manchester City Council loan and the Football Foundation Football Stadia Improvement Fund amongst others. F.C. Ted (see the link for reasoning about the name) moved in eventually. At an Annual General Meeting of FC United, 10 April 2014, the Ronald Johnson Ground was one of seven names proposed for the new ground. Sadly, the historic Ronald Johnson Playing Fields seemingly vanished. F.C. United played Benfica B to mark the date of Man United’s 1968 European Cup Final, the day Ronald Johnson ceased to live.

Ronald_Lindsay_Johnson

Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

Family: His parents were William Henry Johnson, died 1914 and Agnes Morton Johnson née Brown. Brother, William Morton Johnson, educated in Cambridge, died July 1916 (in military action, aged just 34 years old). Mother, opened the playing field in June 1922. Ronald was the youngest of six children.

Raised: Woodleigh on Bradgate Road in Dunham Massay

Studied: Summer Fields School, Eton. BA Classics (posthumous MA awarded), @ King’s College, Cambridge.

Lived: Australia, 1912 until August 1914 (at the Sydney branch of Messrs Johnson, Clapham & Morris)

Partner/Chairman: Johnson, Clapham & Morris’ Wire Works (engineers)

Served: As a junior in the Cadet Corps; then Officer Training Corps at Cambridge. Enlisted (2nd October 1914) in the 23rd Division [103 Brigade RFA], Royal Field Artillery. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Rank: Acting Captain and Divisional Trench Mortar Officer (DTMO). Entered the theatre of war from 27th August 1915 (landed Boulogne).

Medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal

Responsibilities: co-ordinating the targeting and positioning of mortar batteries

Notable events: Survived a rifle bullet to the ear, 19th September 1916. Evacuated by H S Dieppe (hospital ship) but returned to service by 11th December 1916.

Cause of death: Pre-Battle of Messines (Flanders, Belgium) preparations. Hit by a German shell, near Zillebeke Lake by ‘Hill 60’. He died in transit on the way to the Field Hospital near Brandhoek.

Place of Rest: Brandhoek Military Cemetery, Belgium (Plot II, Row D, Grave 1).

Commemorated: Dunham (St. Mark’s) war memorial and the Kings College, Cambridge War Memorial.

Other than the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields, he was honoured with the naming of the Johnson Chemicals Labs, Adelaide University, Australia. He is also mentioned in the Cambridge University Book of Honour.

Further reading:  Who was Ronald Johnson ? (David O’Mara, Western Front Association (WFA))

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