FELIX ROLAND JOHNSON
Felix Roland Johnson was born at his maternal Garling grandparents’ home, in London Road, Lexden, Essex, on 18 March 1917 – during the First World War. His family home was a stone’s throw away, in Halstead Road, Lexden. Father Roland was born in Stanway and mother Freda Mary was born in Lexden, both parishes being adjacent to Colchester, Essex.
Felix’s maternal grandparents, Edgar James Garling and wife Martha, kept the Lexden village bakery and post office. They also ran a local grocery on the same site. The Garlings were practising Methodists – Edgar was a Lay Preacher and Church Leader, as were many of his family.
Felix’s paternal grandfather, William Robert Johnson, was the Head Gardener at Stanway Hall, Stanway – as his father before him had been. Local Coal Merchant, Thomas Moy, owned Stanway Hall – the Estate grounds are now occupied by Colchester Zoo. The Johnsons lived on the Estate.
Felix’s father Roland also worked for Thomas Moy – as a clerk for the Moy Coal Merchant’s office. Roland had not been classed fit for active service abroad but served “at Home” – in an Essex Regiment Cyclist Battalion.
During Felix’s childhood, Lexden was a pleasant little village. There was only a cluster of houses round the church. For the best part of his primary schooling, Felix attended the small Lexden Church School. Today, Lexden has been completely incorporated into the town of Colchester, which possesses the description of being “one of the fastest growing districts in the UK” –sometimes the accolade has been “the fastest”!
In September 1928, Felix began his secondary school education at the Colchester Royal Grammar School, on Lexden Road, Colchester. At the end of his fifth year at the Grammar School, he passed the Cambridge University School Certificate Examination, with Honours – gaining credits or above in seven subjects.
But this was 1933, the height of the Great Depression. With his father’s job looking precarious, Felix decided not to remain at the Grammar School to study for the Higher School Certificate – instead, he left his school days behind him. In February 1934, Felix applied for a job as a Meter Reader and Collector for the Borough Accountant’s Office and was successful.
In 1934 Colchester Borough Council enjoyed much wider powers and duties than it does today. Amongst other things, it owned the Electricity Undertaking, which supplied electricity to an area way beyond the Colchester Borough.
There was no Council transport – occasionally, taxis were hired to take the staff out to some outlying places but, in general, Felix and his colleagues were expected to use their bicycles. Felix had a cyclometer fitted to his bicycle and recalled travelling 35 miles some days.
Felix carried on cycling until March 1935. At that point, he transferred to the Borough Accountants’ General Office as a Junior Accountancy Clerk. He was just 18 years of age and his pay increased from 15s. 0d. to £1 5s. per week.
The Borough Accountants’ General Office was male dominated – secretarial and clerical work was not done by women. As a result, Felix attended evening classes at the local Technical College on North Hill, Colchester, to learn shorthand and typewriting.
Felix’s ambition was to progress in his career – to become a municipal accountant. He decided to study book-keeping for a year at evening class and he spent two years preparing to take the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants Intermediate examination in 1939. But there was trouble brewing in Germany and a storm was gathering … and this is where Felix’s own words will continue the story, in the following chapters.
Staff members of Colchester Borough Treasurer’s Department. March 1939.
[N.B. Felix wrote staff members’ names down on a piece of paper, accompanying the photograph. Where there is a –, Felix wrote a dash; and where there is a (?), are unsure about interpreting Felix’s hand-writing. That said, the first letter of any queried name is believed to be correct. HAJ]
Back row downwards, left to right:
4th/Back Row: William “Bill” Newton; John Evelyn(?) Mills; Albert Edward Godbold; Mason; Bremner(?); Cyril Nicholson; S. A. Roach; Walling(?); Page; Geoff Underwood; Laurence “Laurie” Hazlehurst; Felix Roland Johnson; Poole; -; Leonard E. “Bert” Cresswell; Leonard H. “Len”Fisher; Gunn; Leggett.
3rd Row: Thomas (“Tom”) Hammond; G. Jones; ?Hodges; John W. Clarke; ?Pleasance; J. R. Tovell; K.A. Markland; Douglas G. Lambert; Henry(?) Williams; William H.(?) Marriage; L. Garwood; Arthur N.(?) Frost; Hawkins; D…..(?).
2nd Row: S. Clouter(?); Williamson; Alan J.(?) Leach; Stanley Eyres; Stone; Robert James “Bob”Mitchell; Herbert L. J. “Nut” Simpson; Kenneth Y. Oxborrow; Broom; E. Martin(?); Hillyard; James P. “Jimmy” Mehigan; –.
1st/Front Row: Hugh Geoffrey “Geoff” Knott; Sherman; Nunn(?); Arthur S. Jennings; Lewis James Barrell; Herbert Otto Cousins; Herbert Ewart Gunton; Irvine(?); Cracknell(?); Charles William Wybrow; F. A. “Fred” Cole.
Felix joined the Territorial Army on 3 May 1939 – in his words, he became “a lowly Gunner in the 2nd/339 Battery, 104 (Essex Yeomanry) Regiment, R.H.A., later to be re-named 413 Battery, 147th (Essex Yeomanry) Regt., R.H.A.” He was promoted to Lance Bombardier in the Summer of 1940. On 20 December 1942, after a reorganisation, Felix became part of the 191st (Herts. and Essex Yeomanry) Field Regt., R.A. – from that day, he became Battery Quarter Master Sergeant of the 532 Battery in that Regiment. For his action on 21 July 1944, he was awarded a Mention in Despatches.
Felix married Seattle-born Frances Elizabeth Barnett (of Orcadian parentage) during the War, in 1942 – she was a midwife at Colchester Maternity Hospital, on the Lexden Road in Colchester, Essex. During their married life, they carried out various voluntary charitable work.
Following on from his Army service, Felix became Joint Treasurer of the Colchester Branch of the newly formed Essex Yeomanry Association – in turn, he held the posts of Secretary, Chairman and President. Being a person who always liked to keep busy, he applied his accountancy skills for the benefit of many other organisations.
Being a Methodist stalwart, Felix was active on Colchester’s Methodist circuit – which included responsibilities for the Circuit’s finances and Senior Citizens’ Club. He became a Citizens’ Advice Bureau counsellor and an Executive Committee member for the housing charity Abbeyfield Society’s properties in Colchester.
After his Army Service, Felix returned to Colchester Borough Council and retired in 1979, as Assistant Borough Treasurer.
Felix’s hobbies included painting in oil, attending art classes and painting with friends; visiting his beach hut on Mersea Island; giving talks on his Army days; gardening; keeping an allotment; and travelling – the latter, of which, included reunion trips out with old comrades to old stomping grounds within England and France.
Felix died in 2013, he succeeded his wife by 10 years. Felix and Frances had a daughter in 1946 and a son in 1950 and, at the time of writing (2019), their Johnson dynasty consists of 2 children; four grandchildren; and eleven great-grandchildren.
The following chapters take you through Felix’s war experiences:
Site created by Heather Anne Johnson.