Rayner Harvey Johnson 27 September 1918

A Surrey boy, Rayner Harvey Johnson was born in Surbiton, in January 1897 and lived in Ditton Hill just south of the Thames. He arrived in Grafton House in May 1911, leaving in the fateful summer of 1914, aged 17. He played House rugby alongside John Hebblethwaite and Stewart Ridley, both killed within four days of each other in 1916. He played House cricket with Freddie Butcher and Eddie Stevens, two more war victims. Neither Grafton team enjoyed success. 

After Oundle, he went to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, won a commission in the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and arrived on the western front in June 1915. By February 1916, he was Observation Officer for his battery and promoted to the rank of Captain by December of that year, and acting Major less than two months later. The Commanding officer of his brigade commented that Rayner Johnson “was the best officer I had.” His gallantry was noted by the Australians in July and August 1917, at Passchendaele. 

The 1st Anzac Corps recommended him for an award in the following terms: “For such a young officer (he was 20) he has shown great skill in handling his guns and men, and considering the losses sustained by the battery, and the conditions involved, this Officer’s organising powers have proved of high value.” 

Rayner Johnson was duly awarded the Military Cross in January 1918 but was killed on 27th September 1918, one of four Oundelians to die that day on the Western Front. Aged just 21, he was making a forward reconnaissance for his battery when he met his death. He was universally respected by fellow officers and by the men. One officer commented: “When we learnt we were to have a new Major, we wondered whether we should get a man who would lead us in a way worthy of the past history of the Battery. It soon became evident that we had got our work cut out if we were to be worthy of the Major we got.”

He was buried at Louverval Military Cemetery in Doignies, ten miles south-west of Cambrai. “He being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time” is inscribed on his headstone, and in his local church, St Mary’s, Long Ditton, his grieving parents raised a plaque with a heart-felt tribute ending with these words: ‘A devoted son and brother, a true friend and a gallant soldier. “As the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” ’

C Pendrill
Yarrow Fellow