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Johnston, Charles Melbourne (1892–1941)

by Warren Perry

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Charles Melbourne Johnston (1892-1941), soldier and company director, was born on 12 May 1892 in South Melbourne, son of Adolf Charles Johnston, a Swedish-born engineer, and his wife Bertha Selvince Taglinoi Mignonneete, née Turner, from South Australia. He attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1907-11 and at the outbreak of war in 1914 was a law student.

After two previous commissions in the cadets he was again commissioned in December 1914 as a lieutenant in the Senior Cadets, 3rd Military District. He was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force on 16 April 1915 as a second lieutenant and that day embarked from Brisbane with the 5th Reinforcements for the 15th Battalion, reporting for duty at Gallipoli on 2 June. From the outset he emerged as a leader and on 13 September he was posted to command 'C' Company as a temporary captain. His battalion was evacuated from Gallipoli on 13 December. In Egypt, on 20 January 1916, Johnston's rank was confirmed. In the reorganization of the A.I.F. he remained with the 15th Battalion, and embarked for France on 31 May. In northern France, on 10 July, he was promoted major and retained command of his company.

Johnston became brigade major, 4th Brigade, on 14 December and retained this post until February 1918 though on 6 July 1917 he was seriously wounded at Messines. From February to June 1918 he served temporarily in the 14th Battalion, at first as commanding officer and then as second-in-command. On 1 July, as a temporary lieutenant-colonel, he was appointed to command the 45th Battalion. He took part in the battle of Hamel in July and the battle of Amiens in August.

On 2 September Johnston was transferred to the 15th Battalion and from 21 October held the substantive rank of lieutenant-colonel. He took command on the night of 16-17 September, in time for the 15th's 'last fight, and their best' on the 18th when an outpost of the Hindenburg line was taken. He retained this command until the battalion was disbanded in March 1919. He embarked for Australia on 9 July as officer commanding troops on the Prinz Ludwig and on 13 November his A.I.F. appointment ended. His war service as an infantry officer in regimental and staff appointments was outstanding. He had risen from a junior subaltern to a lieutenant-colonel and, aged 26, had commanded battalions in action with distinction. For his services he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches three times.

After the war Johnston returned to Melbourne and became a manufacturer. On 15 March 1923 at the Presbyterian church in Mosman, Sydney, he married Winefred Amelia Wyllie; they had two sons. At the time of his death on 10 April 1941 in East Melbourne he was managing director of Pearlite Manufacturing Co. Pty Ltd, Burnley. Survived by his wife and sons, he died of hypertensive cerebro-vascular disease and was buried in Box Hill cemetery after a Presbyterian service. Major General C. H. Brand, one of his wartime brigade commanders, was a pallbearer.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Kiddle (compiler), War Services of Old Melburnians 1914-1918 (Melb, 1923), and Liber Melburniensis 1848-1936 (Melb, 1937)
  • J. E. Lee, The Chronicle of the 45th Battalion, A.I.F. (Syd, 1924)
  • N. Wanliss, The History of the Fourteenth Battalion, A.I.F. (Melb, 1929)
  • T. P. Chataway, History of the 15th Battalion A.I.F. (Brisb 1948)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 12, 14 Apr 1941
  • C. M. Johnston file (war records section, Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Warren Perry, 'Johnston, Charles Melbourne (1892–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/johnston-charles-melbourne-6859/text11881, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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