Stone for VC recipient ‘is in the wrong place’

The commemorative stone was installed in Widdrington Station last month.
The commemorative stone was installed in Widdrington Station last month.

A call has been made to move a commemorative stone, that marks an act of outstanding bravery during the First World War, currently in Widdrington Station to a neighbouring parish.

Widdrington Village Parish Council says ‘a mistake has been made’, pointing to research that states the Victoria Cross recipient was born in 1882 at what was then Widdrington Colliery.

It also claims he was James Johnson and not James Bulmer Johnson, with different parents to those mentioned in the order of service for a ceremony last month that also included the new memorial garden on land just outside the Co-op in Widdrington Station.

The order of service said James Bulmer Johnson was born in Stobswood on December 31, 1889, and Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council says the tribute should stay where it is because it was a Government office that awarded the commemorative stone to the parish.

According to Val Seddon, Widdrington Village Parish Council chairman, the same Government office got in touch with the parish council in September to say that someone from Northumberland County Council would be contacting the parish council to discuss a commemoration for Second Lieutenant Johnson, but no-one from the county council got in touch.

She added: “Somebody has made a mistake and all we’re looking to do is to have the mistake put right.

“We believe that the stone should be moved to the parish where he was actually born and placed next to our war memorial and we have started the process by asking to have a meeting with our local county councillor, Scott Dickinson.

“We would like to settle the matter amicably if at all possible.”

Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish chairman Shelly Willoughby said: “We were informed a few years ago about the commemorative stone, but since then no-one from Widdrington Village Parish Council has spoken to us about any so-called mistake or asked to sort out the issue ahead of the ceremony.

“I’m also angry at comments we’ve seen that the location of the memorial garden is not a fitting place. It’s better to have the stone in a central location rather than being tucked away in a churchyard.

“And we’ve received many positive comments from residents about our memorial garden. There were about 100 people there at 6am on Sunday to hear the piper as part of the Armistice centenary.”

On October 14, 1918, south west of Wez Macquart, France, Second Lieutenant Johnson repelled frequent counter-attacks and for six hours, under heavy fire, held back the enemy.

According to the order of service, James Bulmer Johnson was born in Stobswood on December 31, 1889. His parents were William and Jane Johnson (nee Bulmer).

He enlisted with the Northumberland Fusiliers and became Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion.

Ulgham resident Norris Atthey has done his own research and agrees with Widdrington Village Parish Council that the Victoria Cross recipient was a Mr James Johnson, with no middle name, who was born on January 28, 1882, at Widdrington Colliery – his parents being Robert and Elizabeth.

Mr Atthey said: “There is no record of a James Bulmer Johnson ever being born in Northumberland and there is no evidence of a marriage between a William Johnson and a Jane Bulmer as claimed on the service.

“A crucial piece of evidence is his attestation record.

“With information supplied by the Curator of the Household Cavalry Museum and the 1911 census, James Johnson (no middle name) did not enlist on October 13, 1914, into the Northumberland Fusiliers, but on that date into the Royal Horse Guards with the rank of Trooper and a Regimental number of 1836.

“He declared his age as 25 years and 285 days, occupation clerk, religion Presbyterian and his father’s name as Robert and living at 103 Hugh Gardens, Benwell, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

“The 1911 census shows that address for James Johnson aged 29 with father Robert and mother Elizabeth.

“James, with his two sisters, give Widdrington as their place of birth and James is a Porter at the infirmary.

“The Royal Horse Guards became The Blues and Royals and with their sister regiment, The Life Guards, now form the Household Cavalry.

“A simple check with Northumberland Fusiliers Museum and The Household Cavalry Museum would have confirmed these details and that there is no record of a James Bulmer Johnson.

“I can’t believe that Northumberland County Council did not check these facts and it should now recognise that the commemorative stone needs to be moved to Widdrington Village parish.”

No-one from the county council or the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was available for comment.