Friday, March 21, 2008

Buddy Johnston

My Grandpa C died in 1982 at the age of almost 89 and this is a story that he used to tell me.

Grandpa was born in Edinburgh in 1893 and one of his best friends was called Buddy Johnston. Or possibly Johnson or Johnstone. Buddy must have been a nickname but if I ever knew his real name then I’ve forgotten it.

When he and Grandpa were mid-teenagers, Buddy emigrated with his family to Australia. The boys kept in touch by writing letters, though these must have taken a long time to go to and fro. Then in 1914 the war broke out and my Grandpa enlisted in the Royal Scots Regiment. That's Grandpa above. I never saw a photo of Buddy.
Buddy wrote that he too wanted to join the Royal Scots and fight for his homeland alongside Grandpa. So he set out by boat, going via Canada (not sure why). He started to cross Canada but on the way decided to enlist in the Canadian army instead. I suppose the journey on his own was just too difficult.

He landed in France with his Canadian regiment and was killed in their first battle. He’d be 22 or 23, much the same age as my son is now.
This sad story made a great impression on me and I’ve always wondered if anyone but me knew about him any more. For some reason I’m the only one in my family who remembers Grandpa speaking about him. I presume that Buddy wasn’t married and had no descendants. I have no idea if he had any siblings and if so, whether they or their children or grandchildren still talk about their Great Uncle Buddy, as I do sometimes about my Great Uncle Alex and his blue vases. (See post for January 5. That's Uncle Alex below, with his sister my Granny C and the aunt who brought them up.)

Anyway, here I am like the Ancient Mariner, passing on Buddy's story. I think he deserves to be remembered and celebrated – even if it’s in a bloggy world which he could never have imagined. Can I ask that you tell someone about him sometime, too?

Happy Easter, one and all.


  1. I found your blog via Mountainear - and am glad I did! Buddy Johnston does, indeed, deserve to be remembered even in a way he wouldn't understand. There must be so many stories, untold, now that the old ones have passed on.

  2. Such a thought-provoking post! I am sure Buddy rests well knowing he is thought of! I hope your son is still safe so far from you! I am glad to have found your blog and for the updates. Thank you!

  3. Very interesting Isabelle. And also interesting would be the many details to the story -- the reasons behind going to Scotland via Canada, joining the Canadian army, etc. And I often wonder what that generation would think of the internet -- so very different from their enormous world. Have a very Happy, Happy Easter!

  4. Wonderful pictures and story. It's a good thing you've done, remembering him. It's something we, the living, can do for those who are gone.

  5. War deaths are so well documented on various websites nowadays, you may well be able to find out some more about your Buddy Johnstone - particularly if you know a few more details such as approximate age or place of death.

    I find these types of stories absolutely fascinating - and I wish I had taken detailed notes as I listened to my grandfather tell stories about his youth.

  6. Oh - and by the way - have a great holiday!

  7. This is a lovely story. My grandmother was a Johnstone and lived in Edinburgh. That was my Mothers home city.

  8. A sad story, but it is nice to know his memory lives on. I too, wish I had listened more carefully to my Grandparents stories.
    Lovely flowers Isabelle.

  9. Such a waste of strong, handsome men, war. I love your old photos Isabelle! and your flowers.....Is it my imagination or does that first fellow look a lot like your son?

  10. We should all make time to remember the brave young people who gave their lives - or had their lives taken before their time.

    As part of a village history project 12 months ago we followed up the names of the young men on the village war memorial - gradually people began to approach us with crumpled photographs and 'the fallen' began to become personalities again. I found it incredibly moving - more so, because like yourself I have 3 young adult sons.

    You could try the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ( although without a first name and a correct surname it might be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

    Finally, Buddy J: 'Requiescat in Pace'

  11. I don't know why but I think it is important to try to touch people, living and dead, with our thoughts.

    The First World War is still an overwhelming tragedy, the pictures of the young men, so clear-eyed and innocent. I think there is just one survivir left inBritain now? The last French one just died.

  12. Just one of the stories about so many young Australians who died on the other side of the world fighting for a country other than their own. Every town in Australia - no matter how small- has a monument to those young men who died in the first world war.

  13. Such a touching tribute to a young man long gone but still in the memory of some.

    Hope your son and his girl are doing well on their trip.

  14. What a sad story about Buddy Johnston. His story is so interesting. It would be interesting to know why he ending going that very long way to try and enlist in Scotland and eventually joining the Canadian army. A salutory tale of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
    He should be remembered.

  15. I hope you had a lovely Easter, Isabelle and family. Aren't daffodils just so cheerful and lovely? Your garden must be looking nice.

    I hope someone knows Buddy, you never know.
    I can see a resemblance to your Grandpa C in yourself and two of the children. The dreamy eyes, and the gentle expression, you have that, as does K and Dr Boy.

  16. What a sad, but very interesting story of a small piece of your grandpa's childhood...and yours in turn. Poor Buddy. You've written a sweet memorial to him.
    There's quite a resemblance between your son and Uncle Alex. Both handsome men.
    I must try not to get so far behind on reading your posts. They're all so enjoyable! :)