Friend from France
Miss Johnson was known to thousands of Australian soldiers during the “dark days of the war” when they were on brief leave from the front line during World War One.1
Known as the “Dinkum Diggeress” Miss M Johnson an Irish lass, served in France during WWI as a recreation tour guide attached to the British Army and Navy League Club.2
Miss Johnson filled her role visiting the sites in Paris and was “guide and companion on riding excursions, at swimming parties and tennis and entered into the boys’ relaxation and enjoyment in a manner that was much appreciated” by the diggers.3
In 1923 Miss Johnson visited Australia to renew acquaintances and had travelled over 20,000 miles by the time she reached Queanbeyan and Canberra where she was “pleasantly and surprisingly impressed” and was “enraptured” with the “love Australians have for their country” and “wherever their lot in life had destined their abode” – “both admirable characteristics”.4
The Queanbeyan Age reported that the diggers formed a gang-way for the arrival of the Governor-General Lord Foster to lay the front tablets of the Soldiers’ Memorial and Miss Johnson was placed amongst them and their “interesting conversations.” 5
Mud and blood
Queanbeyan man Ancel Johnston (no relation to Miss Johnson) met Frank ‘Weddy’ Wedlock, a barber from North Sydney when he enlisted – they were mates until the “mud and blood” of Passchendaele in France, in 1917, during WWI when “Weddy copped a blighty” and was hospitalized in England.6
When Weddy returned to the 45th battalion he and Ancel were separated and lost contact. 7
Ancel wrote in his autobiography that “after every action, mateships are interrupted and one chums up with someone else who has also lost a cobber and so it goes on, leaving one with a spirit of self dependence, taking things as they come – depending on no one in particular, but thankful after each action to find that you are still plugging along”.8
Price of rations
“At times you secretly hope that you might cop a bullet or a piece of shrapnel in a less vital spot – just sufficient to get away from the hellish business for a spell”.9
The troops daily ration was a loaf of bread for three men, but when times were tough and rations could not get through a loaf was shared between eight or ten men.10
As rations were ordered several days in advance it was a “gruesome fact,” wrote Ancel, that after heavy fighting “rations increased” for those left alive.11-12
Footnotes / Resources
1.“Miss Johnson’s Impressions – Queanbeyan and Canberra.” The Queanbeyan Age, April 20, 1923.
2. “Diggers’ Friend – Miss Johnson in Queanbeyan.” The Queanbeyan Age, April 13, 1923.
4. “Miss Johnson’s Impressions”.
6. Johnston, Ancel Kidmore. Ancel Johnston Townsman. Queanbeyan & District Historical Museum Society, 1981, pp12-15.
12. Connee-Colleen, © Queanbeyan Outlook, (228) “Friend from France.” The Queanbeyan Age, April 23, 2010. p-13.
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