Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

In the 1850s Ernest's grandfather David Johnson left the Royal Navy and opted to spend his retirement in Portsmouth. He had been born in Scotland in 1814 and probably joined the navy in the 1830s. At some point in the early 1840s his ship visited Plymouth where he met and married his wife Ann who had been born there in 1822. David and Ann spent much of the following decade in the Pembroke Dock area in Wales where their five children were born, Ann in 1844, Charles in 1847, William George in 1851, Richard in 1853 and Mary Jane in 1857. Then David left the navy and the family moved to Portsmouth.
The 1861 census records that the Johnson family had taken up residence at 6 Kilmiston Street but by the time the 1871 census was called Ann was describing herself as a widow and working as a schoolmistress. She and the children were then living at 21 Guildford Street, Fratton.
Three years later in 1874 Ann's son William George left home to marry Ann Coles. The 1881 census found them at 10 Town Street, Landport with four children, Ada (b. 1875), William (b. 1876), Charles (b. 1879) and James (b. 1880) whilst in 1891 the census recorded them at 32 Cottage View, off Arundel Street, with another four children, Edward (b. 1883), Lily (b. 1886), Ernest (b. 1888) and Walter (b. 1890). After this a further two children were born, Annie in 1892 and Ellen in 1895, making a total of ten. In the 1911 census Ann declared that she had given birth to eleven children but that only eight were still alive at that time.
The 1911 census also noted that William and Ann had moved to 29 Malta Road, Buckland with four of the children, that William was working as a plasterer's labourer and Ernest as a draper's assistant. Seemingly Ernest's ambitions lay further afield as within the next couple of years he had joined the Royal Navy. Little is currently known of Ernest's naval career except that in January 1917 he was serving as a Ordinary Seaman aboard HMS Simoom which was part of a flotilla monitoring the movement of German destroyers in and out of Zeebrugge. In an engagement on the 23rd Simoom was hit by a torpedo which caused her magazine to explode. Most of her crew were rescued but 47 men, including Ernest Johnson, lost their lives.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) lists Ernest Johnson, Ordinary Seaman (J/56026), Royal Navy, HMS Simoom, died on 23/01/1917, age 29. Commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, (Panel 25). Son of William and Ann Johnson, of Portsmouth.
Ernest Johnson is also commemorated on the Cenotaph in Guildhall Square. He is not listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War', Section X.
Tim Backhouse
February 2015