Dunhurst 1905, Bedales 1908-1913, Lieutenant 21st Squadron Royal Flying Corps: formerly 2nd Lieutenant R. F. A.

Andrew was a true Bedalian, having arrived at the Junior School aged eight in September 1905, moving up to Bedales three years later and leaving at the end of the Summer Term in 1913.  He has an interesting family background.  His father’s maternal grandparents, Thomas Fowell Buxton and his wife Hannah née Gurney, were Quakers and active campaigners for the abolition of slavery and social reform; Hannah’s sister, Elizabeth Fry, was the campaigner for prison reform.  Their daughter Priscilla married Andrew, a Scottish MP, and their eldest son, another Andrew, became MP for part of Essex and later 1st Chairman of the new Essex County Council.  Andrew’s father, Fowell Buxton, was something of the black sheep of the family.

Fowell was at a very small school in Lowestoft in 1851; I’m not sure about his further education but around 1858 he purchased a commission in the 25th Regiment of Foot (the King’s Own Scottish Borderers) and served in Gibraltar.  About 1862 he transferred to the 100th Foot, the Royal Canadian Regiment (which explains why a photograph of him exists in a Gallery in Montreal) but when it was posted to Malta, he transferred to the 3rd Dragoon Guards who were in India and there he contracted several severe illnesses.  In 1864, Fowell ‘sold out’ of the army and decided to try his luck farming in Uruguay where he bought an estate called Arazati.

On 16th August 1869, in Buenos Aires, Fowell married Alice Douglas, the daughter of a Scot who had taken his family to the Argentine.  The couple had two sons and a daughter born in South America before they returned to England around 1875.  Alice was not in good health so her sister Margaret, who lived with the family, seems to have been responsible for bringing up the children.  A second daughter was born in 1888.  Alice died in mid-1891 and within a year Fowell had married again.  His second wife was Julia née Chalmers and they had two children, Andrew born in 1897 and Priscilla, born in 1902.  Settled in Surrey, Fowell had named his house Azaraty after his estancia in Uruguay, albeit with a slightly different spelling.

Fowell’s younger son from his first marriage, Edward, born in 1872, had become a well-known calligrapher.  A protégé of Lethaby, he became a lecturer at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and at the Royal College of Art and a tutor of Eric Gill.  He was well acquainted with the Gimsons and Barnsleys and it could have been this connection that brought Andrew to the recently established Junior school at Dunhurst. 

There is little evidence in The Record and The Chronicle of Andrew’s life at Bedales but, writing after his death in 1917, the Editor of The Chronicle commented: “Never very strong physically he was, as were many of his fellows at the Lower School in those years especially, full of initiative and invention, and his eight years here were years of steady development.”  Three references in The Chronicle back this up.  Having been awarded a small cash prize in the Prize Work Show of 1909 Andrew spent it “on aeroplane materials”.  In 1913 he was awarded three stars for “an Electrical contrivance” and the same a year later for “Parts of engine and Magnometer.”  In his last two years at school he was a member of the Fire Brigade and soon after he left The Chronicle reported in “News in Brief”, “Congratulations to Johnston on his taking part in a speed trial on Brighton Front, on his Douglas…”.  

Andrew’s father, Fowell Buxton Johnston, died on 22nd May 1914 but this does not seem to have disrupted his plans.  Instead of volunteering as a private soldier on the outbreak of war Andrew prepared for a conventional military career.  In October 1914 the ‘O.B. News’ relayed the information that “A Johnston is working for the entrance exam, to the R.M.A., Woolwich, on Nov. 24th.”  He was successful and entered the Academy in December 1914 to train for The Royal Field Artillery.  He was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the R.F.A. in October 1915 and shortly afterwards came down to see his old friends at Bedales and took part in a light-hearted debate on 23rd October.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to consult Andrew’s file in TNA: when I have done so I will expand this piece about his military career.  All I know is that by December 1915 he was on his way to Egypt and then transferred to Salonika in June, whence he was invalided home in July 1916.  By Christmas he was back with his battalion, possibly in France, and then in July 1917 returned to the U.K. to train for the Royal Flying Corps as an observer.  His training complete, Andrew was with the 21st Squadron of the R.F.C. by September.  According to the obituary in ‘Flight’ magazine: “he took part in several fights in the air, in one of which, with three other machines, he encountered 15 Germans.  On his last flight he had been up as an observer for three hours, and when preparing to alight seems to have been caught in an eddy.  The machine plunged, and Lieutenant Johnston was killed instantly.”

Andrew now lies buried in Dozinghem Military cemetery, Vleteren (his first grave may have been elsewhere, near his place of death).  The original marker from that grave, based on a cross from the wooden propeller of a plane (possibly the one that caused his death) now hangs in St. Mary’s Church, Halesworth Suffolk; it is shown in the photograph (taken by Andrew MacDonald) at the head of this tribute.

The brief obituary of Andrew in The Bedales Chronicle concludes “He was half brother to Mr. Edward Johnston, whose book on writing, illuminating and lettering has been helpful to so many Bedalians” (currently we don’t have a copy of this 1913 publication but, when found, we intend to add it to our stock).  Andrew is commemorated in Bay 5 of the Bedales Memorial Library.

Sources:  The Bedales Archives: assorted genealogical websites: websites “Victorian Wars Forum” & “Returned from the Front” (thereturned.co.uk)