William Morton Johnson
2nd September 1881 – 2nd July 1916. Manchester Regiment (16th Battalion)
William Morton Johnson was an Altrincham man, a metal mogul, and a former Manchester FC player who was killed during the Battle of Albert, on the second day of the Somme offensive.
Johnson, born in 1881, was the son of the Chairman of Messrs. R. Johnson, Clapham & Morris. Ltd. Young William was whisked off to public school at a young age, attending Harrow, before going on to Trinity College, Cambridge. He then returned to Manchester to work in the family business, which he took over upon the death of his father. Johnson was said to love history and geography, and was a philanthropist, working with local orphans.
Like so many of his teammates, Johnson signed up as soon as he could upon the outbreak of war. He originally enlisted as a private in the Public Schools’ Battalion, but a man of his education could not be without commission for long, it seems, and he was quickly given a captaincy role in the 16th Manchesters.
1st July 1916. The 16th Manchesters went over the top on the southern edge of the assault (where the advance was most successful), and assisted in the capture of Montaubaun. Johnson, it is said, was the first of his company to enter the village. There he prepared defences for the inevitable counter-attack. When it came, in the early hours of the 2nd July, the garrison was able to ward it off. One officer credited Johnson for this success, for “his ability and foresight” that put the village “in such an excellent state of defence.” Johnson, however, did not survive the night. “He was buried where he fell with the men of his Company who died with him.”
William’s brother, Robert Lindsay Johnson, inherited the company from him, but Robert was himself killed in France a year later. Upon his death, Robert left a great deal of assets for the employees of the company, which his executors eventually used to open playing fields for the employees of the Moston works of Johnson, Clapham and Morris. On the site there was a cricket pitch, surrounded by football and hockey pitches, a bowling green and tennis courts. Nowadays the former fields are now the site of Broadhurst Park, home of FC United of Manchester.
This athletic family left a fine sporting legacy for Manchester.
William Johnson is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, Pier and Face 13A & 14C.
Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History
World Rugby Museum