Private Holgar Robert Johnson

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Massachusetts.

2nd University Company, McGill, 1915

Holgar Robert Johnson was born on 11 October 1893 in Worcester, Massachusetts, the second eldest and second of the four sons of Peter John Johnson. His parents were Danish and had emigrated from Bønsvig in Denmark in 1892.[1] The family later lived in Woburn.

When war broke out Holgar Johnson was a student. Travelling to Montreal, he enlisted on 3 June 1915 and joined the 2nd University Company at McGill University and was allocated the number McG153. The university contributed hugely to the war effort raising no fewer than six reinforcement companies and the core of two general hospitals.[2] The 2nd University Company sailed from Montreal aboard the SS Northland on 29 June 1915 and arrived in England in July 1915 and was absorbed by the 11th Reserve Battalion. Johnson was posted to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in August 1915 and joined the battalion in the field at the end of the month. The first Canadian infantry battalion to serve in France, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was part of 8th Infantry Brigade in 27th Division until late in the year when it joined the newly arrived 3rd Canadian Division.

In late June 1916, Johnson fell ill with back pains and reduced vision and after initial treatment in France was evacuated to the United Kingdom where he was treated at Chatham Military hospital for lumbago. For the rest of the year was in and out of hospital being treated for various ailments, including influenza. Held on strength of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Depot, at the end of the year he was posted to the 7th Reserve Battalion and then 2nd Labour Battalion when it was raised in January 1917. On 7 March 1917 he was admitted to the Canadian Military Hospital, Eastbourne and finally diagnosed as having been suffering from nephritis. Recommended for discharge from the Army, he sailed for Canada on board the hospital ship SS Araguaya on 11 June. In July 1917 a medical examination in Canada determined that, in fact, he was suffering from a brain tumour and recommended his discharge. He was discharged on 31 December 1917.

Holgar Johnson died at Woburn on 1 September 1918 and was buried in Woodbrook Cemetery. His grave lies in the Soldiers Lot (Outside Circle, Section 3-B, Grave 2), which is in the eastern part of the cemetery.[3] The original grave marker has been replaced by a flat Commonwealth War Graves Commission marker in recent years. For his war service Johnson was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and the Victory Medal. His medals and memorial plaque and scroll were sent to his father and the Memorial Cross was sent to his mother. Private Holgar Robert Johnson is commemorated on page 437 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 18 September. He is also commemorated on the Woburn Memorial on Woburn Common.

1. (Back) Peter John Johnson (20 November 1864-8 March 1952) married Bertha Stockholm (21 July 1863-16 June 1937) in Denmark: Hermann Peter (30 July 1890-May 1975); Harry Nels. (22 May 1895-12 February 1979); Henry Christie. (17 October 1898-7 June 1960); and Gladys L. (Later O’Donnell) (1901-NK). All but Hermann were born in Massachusetts.

2. (Back) Notably McGill provided most of the personnel in No. 3 Canadian General Hospital, including Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a one-time lecturer at the college and the author of In Flanders Fields.

3. (Back) The Soldiers Monument was erected by in 1904. The bronze reliefs were sculpted by Cyrus Dallin.

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