Tag Archives: Australia

Thomas Colwell Johnson

Thomas Colwell Johnson was born in 1897 of mixed heritage, with an American mother and an English father. He joined Westminster School in 1912 and was admitted to Rigaud’s. Upon leaving the school, he travelled extensively, taking full advantage of his dual heritage and spending much time in the United States, as well as in South America and Europe. In the early autumn of 1914, he travelled to Australia, and it is here that he volunteered to join the war effort.

He enlisted as a Private in the 1st Battalion Australian Imperial Force, and was sent to Gallipoli, were he served until wounded. He was sent to Egypt to recover and from there to the Western Front. He was wounded once again in July 1916, and was again invalided until he recovered. His courage earned him a special mention for gallant conduct in 1918, and a few months later he once more braved the Western Front. It was here that he died in action, passing way on 18th September 1918.

Members of the Australian Imperial 1st Battalion at Gallipoli, 1915
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Geoffrey Richard Dudley Gee

Geoffrey Gee was born in Summergangs, Pinjarra, Western Australia to Raymond Gee and his wife Annie Matilda Alderson. His father was English and at some point before 1888 had emigrated to Perth, where he was Head Master of Hales School for a year.

Geoffrey was sent to school in England, joining Ashburnham House in September 1909. He was made an exhibitioner in 1910, and a King’s Scholar in 1911. Outside of term time he lived with his paternal aunt and her husband, Dr Bernard Ley, in Earl’s Court.

Geoffrey was very successful in a range of school activities. He was athletic, winning the school fives ties and was a runner up in the gymnastic competition (losing out due to a ‘lack of symmetry in some exercises’). He played cricket and football for the 1st XIs, earning full pinks after his performance in the Charterhouse football match, although ‘he dribbled much too close on to his forwards and only passed moderately’. In his final cricket season it was commented that he had ‘persevering temper, and both with bat and with ball did better than some of his critics expected’.

Gee was academic as well, winning the Phillimore prize for translation and speaking regularly at the school’s debating society – opposing a motion to restrict the franchise in this country. He performed ‘very creditably’ in the 1913 Latin Play. In his final term at the school, Election 1915, he was made a monitor.

Although Geoffrey won a place at Christ Church, Oxford, he joined 3rd Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment straight after leaving the school. He went out to the western front in August 1916, but was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in January 1917 as an observer.

Geoffrey went up in his aeroplane near Ypres on 4th June 1917 and was never seen again. His name is on the Arras Flying Service Memorial in the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery.

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Sir Herbert Archer Croft

(c) National Trust, Croft Castle; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Sir Herbert Archer Croft painted posthumously in 1921 by William Carter.
Courtesy of The National Trust, Croft Castle.

Sir Archer Croft was at the School as a boarder in Rigaud’s from April 1882 to Christmas 1884. The Times printed the following notice upon his death:

Captain Sir H. Archer Croft, Bart., 1st Herefordshire Regiment, reported missing on August 10 in Gallipoli, and now believed to have died of his wounds, was born on September 5, 1868. The eldest son of the late Sir Herbert Croft, 9th Bart., of Lugwardine Court, Hereford, and Georgiana Lady Croft, he was educated at Westminster, and joined the 4th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry with a view to entering the Grenadier Guards, but he went out to Australia instead to manage some family property there, sheep farming.

Within three days of the declaration of war he enlisted as a private in the 1st Herefordshire Regiment (T.), offering to raise a company of 150 men, which he did within a week, personally recruiting 100 himself. He was gazetted second lieutenant two weeks later, and Captain in November, 1914.

Sir Archer was a Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for Herefordshire, High Sheriff in 1911, and a member of Herefordshire County Council. He gave a great deal of his time to public work in his county, especially in connection with the Herefordshire General Hospital.

As the tenth baronet (creation 1671) of Croft Castle, Hereford, Sir Archer was the head of one of the few families in England who can trace a direct male descent from a time before the Conquest, being descended from Bernard de Croft, who lived in the time of Edward the Confessor. In Domesday Book this same Bernard is mentioned as holding the lands of Croft, which his descendants inherited until the close of the eighteenth century, when the property was sold. Since the days of the Crusades, when Sir Jasper Croft was created a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre by Godfrey of Boulogne at the taking of Jerusalem, A.D. 1100, the Crofts have continuously served their king and country as soldiers. Members of the family have fought in most of the English wars, notably, at the Battle of Agincourt, in the Wars of the Roses, in which the Crofts were prominent Yorkists, in the Civil Wars, in which they were staunch Royalists, in the various campaigns in Scotland, France, and Flanders, and more recently at Quatre Bras, where the seventh baronet was wounded and mentioned in dispatches when serving as a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards.

You can read more about Sir Herbert Archer Croft here: http://www.thetrench.co.uk/page6.html

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Thomas Stapleton

On the 11th of January 1890, Thomas Stapleton boarded a ship and set off to make a new life for himself as a farmer in North Queensland. Three years after leaving Westminster in 1885, Stapleton had enrolled at the Hollesley Bay Colonial College. This was a college that provided young men who were intending to emigrate with practical training to prepare them for their new lives.


Stapleton spent only 5 years in Australia. A series of bad seasons, the spread of cattle ticks and rabbits were making the agricultural conditions difficult. He returned to England, only to emigrate again in 1896, this time to South Africa.

In the Boer War, he served with the Border Mounted Rifles as a Trooper, and as a Sergeant in the Natal rebellion. So by the outbreak of war in 1914, Stapleton was already an experienced soldier. He enlisted as a rifleman in the 1st battalion of the Rifle Brigade on the 13th October and was sent to the Western Front in November.

On the 19th of December 1914, the 1st Rifle Brigade was involved in an attempt to take the ‘Birdcage’ — a fortified German strongpoint east of Ploegsteert Wood. The attack failed — partly because British heavy artillery were firing short of target — and there were heavy casualties. Thomas Stapleton was among them.

The British Cemetery at Ploegsteert Wood
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