Private Charles Johnstone

Pakenham & District War Memorial & Pakenham Upper Roll of Honour

Born: c.1876 - Cope Cope, Victoria

Enlisted: 6 November 1916 - aged 41 

Unit: 37th Battalion, 7th Reinforcement  (SERN: 3086)

Served: England

Died: 29 January 1936 - Pakenham, Victoria

Charles was the son of Robert Johnstone and his wife Catherine Smith. As a young man, he resided for many years in the Birchip and Stanley districts. He moved to Pakenham around 1911, when he settled on a property in Army Road, which he cleared and planted as an orchard (1). His sister was Mrs Grace Constable of Pakenham East (2). Around 1915, Charles was hospitalised in Melbourne, suffering from bronchitis and asthma. He was advised to move to the warmer climate of northern Victoria because of his health (2a). Charles was 41 years old when he enlisted on 6 November 1916. He was assigned as a private to the 37th Battalion 7th Reinforcement at Royal Park, then sent to Broadmeadows Army Camp north of Melbourne. Several other Pakenham Upper men had enlisted around this time, including Alexander Priest, Donald Black, Roy Smart and Charles Warner. A special farewell was organised at Pakenham Upper which only Charles (listed as “C. Johnson”) and Donald Black could attend. Frank Wisewould chaired the event, presenting Charles and Donald with wallets and reading a letter from Ted Cook who had enlisted back in 1914. In it, Ted said he hoped to “soon shake hands with some of his old friends at the Front” (3). Charles embarked for England in February 1917, travelling on the HMAT Ballarat, together with Don Black. They had their first taste of war when the Ballarat was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the Cornwall coast on Anzac Day 1917. Fortunately, no one on board was killed (4).

 

In England, Charles was marched into the 10th Training Battalion at Durrington, There, he caught a cold and was subsequently dogged by bronchitis and asthma again. Further investigation found that Charles’ chest was “emphysematous” and his heart sounded feint. Doctors recommended Charles be discharged as permanently unfit for both general or home service. On this basis, Charles was returned to Australia and discharged in Melbourne on 26 December 1917. He later qualified for the British War Medal (5). Charles was welcomed back to Pakenham Upper in late June 1918, together with Privates Ted Cook and Bertram Mullett, who had also returned from the War. Charles’ name was listed in the Pakenham Gazette as “E. Johnstone” (6). His name appeared on the Pakenham Upper Roll of Honour as “C. Johnston”.      

 

After the War, Charles returned to his Pakenham Upper orchard. He regularly competed with his apples at district  agricultural shows (7). However, Charles experienced poor health again in the 1930s, and died in January 1936, aged 60. In his obituary, the Pakenham Gazette described Charles as “quiet, kindly and unassuming by nature, he soon won the respect and high regard of all who knew him” (8). 

 

Sources:

(1) & (8) Pakenham Gazette 31/1/1936 p. 3

(2) (2a) & (5) NAA B2455 JOHNSTONE CHARLES 

(3) Dandenong Advertiser 30/11/1916 p. 2

(4) HMAT Ballarat (1917) p. 49

(6) Pakenham Gazette 5/7/1918, p. 2

(7) Dandenong Journal 9/4/1931, p. 7 ​

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