James Ernest Johnson, Trimmer 172TS, Royal Naval Reserve H.M. Trawler “Whooper”
Died at sea off Lowestoft 30th June 1916, aged 39
James Ernest Johnson was born in Macclesfield on 14th January 1877, the son of James Johnson (a silk power loom weaver) and his wife Sarah Ann (a silk piecer), of Macclesfield. In 1881, four year old James Ernest was living with his parents at 57 St George’s Street, Sutton, South Macclesfield. He was later known as Ernest.
By the time of the 1891 census, Sarah Ann was living with Emanuel Scragg, and 14 year old Ernest was listed as Emanuel’s stepson, living at No. 1 Court 2, Higginbotham Street with his mother, stepfather, brothers Samuel (15), Percy (8) and half-sisters Annie (2) and Alice (3 months).
On 16th July 1896 Ernest attested with the Cheshire Regiment, receiving service number 5270. His service records show that he had previously served with the 4th Cheshire Regiment and Militia Reserve. He was described as 20 years of age, 5 feet 5½ inches tall, and weighed 143 pounds, with a 35 inch chest, a fresh complexion, grey eyes and golden hair. Ernest named his mother, Sarah Ann Johnson, and his younger siblings Percy, Fred, Annie and Alice, all of 49 Parsonage Street, Macclesfield, as his next of kin.
Ernest progressed through the army ranks: he was promoted to Lance Corporal on 24th November 1897, Corporal on 1st July 1898, and Lance Sergeant on 2nd August 1899. He served with the army in the South African war of 1900-1902 and was awarded the South Africa medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Johannesburg. He left the army in 1904.
As James E. Johnson, Ernest married Teresa Adelaide Tubby (known as Adelaide) at Lowestoft in early summer 1915. In late 1917, after Ernest’s death, Adelaide married Ernest Elwick.
Ernest joined the Royal Naval Reserve on 7th August 1914 at Grimsby; he gave his address as 41 Harold Street, Grimsby. His service records describe him as 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a 38½ inch chest, fresh complexion, grey eyes and a scar on his left cheek. He served on H.M.T. Whooper, which was employed to carry out minesweeping in the North Sea. The ship was built in 1914 by J. Duthie Torry Shipbuilding Co, Aberdeen, for the Cygnet Steam Fishing Co Ltd, Fleetwood, and registered at Fleetwood on 18th July 1914. In December 1914 the ship was requisitioned for war service as a minesweeper.
Ernest was killed, along with the captain and another seven crew members, when the ship struck a mine off Lowestoft on 30th June 1916; his body was never recovered.
In Lowestoft, Ernest is commemorated on the list of names contained within the Lowestoft war memorial: the names are not inscribed on the memorial itself. His name is also listed on the programme produced for the unveiling of the memorial; unfortunately his name is incorrectly spelled ‘Johnston’.
Locally, Ernest is commemorated on a private gravestone at grave ref. A. 259 in Macclesfield cemetery, on which is inscribed:
In loving memory of
Sarah Ann Scragg
widow of the late James Johnson
born Dec 21st 1853, died Feb 29th 1924
Hushed blessed are the dead who in Jesus arms do rest
Also of her beloved son
(Minesweeper) Ernest Johnson
blown up at sea by enemy’s mine near Lowestoft
1915 aged 37 years.
The path of duty is the way to glory.
Also Percy Johnson
died December 8th 1936 aged 54 years
(Note the memorial mistakenly gives the year of death as 1915).