Dad part of true band of brothers
CHIDLOW resident Annette Ryan said her dad Alfred Laurence Johnston was a humble man who rarely spoke of war or any of his achievements.
“He didn’t like to talk about the war and when he did it often brought tears to his eyes,” she said.
“He said that war was a terrible thing with no winners.”
Born in 1898, Dr Johnston grew up in Greenmount and attended Guildford Grammar School by train or pony and cart.
He lied about his age and enlisted in World War I to serve with four of his brothers.
Mrs Ryan, a retired nurse, said her dad’s decision was also partly due to the sudden death of his father in a shooting accident.
“He wanted to do his bit for the country along with his brothers – the five boys came back, so none of them were killed,” she said.
She said it was nearly not so after a shell landed near Dr Johnston as he drank from his water bottle on his 18th birthday.
“It was a dud – and the best birthday present he ever had,” Mrs Ryan said.
Dr Johnston rode the lead horse in a team of draught horses pulling Howitzer field guns through muddy fields.
A soldier in 103rd Howitzer Battery in France, he also occasionally helped fire the gun by pulling the ripcord trigger.
“He also had a helpful mule named Horace,” Mrs Ryan said.
By World War II he had a medical degree from Melbourne University and a Fellowship with England’s Royal College of Surgeons.
“That’s where he met mum (Lesley Elphick); she was at uni learning violin,” Mrs Ryan said.
The two married in 1939 and Dr Johnston first saw his eldest daughter Lesley-Frances when she was two years old.
“They got demobbed at Rottnest and mum came to meet the ship and she had my sister in a little bonnet… Dad cried when he saw her,” she said.
He had enlisted in the Second 3rd Field Ambulance at Gaza as a Captain and Major.
He served on a troop ship with two other doctors from 1940 to 1941, taking supplies and reinforcements to the Middle East and bringing back wounded Australian, British, Rhodesian and Italian soldiers and prisoners-ofwar.
“Because they carried troops, the ship had no Red Cross protection later became a and came under enemy fire,” Mrs Ryan said.
Dr Johnston learnt fluent Arabic while in the Middle East and took his beloved cello with him.
“Cellos are a huge instrument and it went everywhere throughout all of World War II,” she said.
“I’m sure it was a great comfort to him as he loved to play.”
Alfred’s brother, Captain Edgar Johnston, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery as a pilot in World War I and was director of Civil Aviation in World War II.
Another brother, Sidney, was in the 10th Light Horse Brigade and served at Gallipoli.
Once home, Dr Johnston worked as a doctor in Claremont, where he raised his children Lesley-Frances, Laurence, Jennifer, and twins Harley and Annette.
“We lived in Claremont on the river where he had his surgery in Victoria Avenue… we had horses, chooks, ducks and everything else but we also had all those things on an orchard called Wilura in Mundaring,” Mrs Ryan said.
Dr Johnston died in 1977 aged 79.
Mrs Ryan will commemorate Anzac Day with a gunfire breakfast at Chidlow Village Green, morning tea and exhibition at the Village Hall and lunch at Chidlow Tavern.
Annette Ryan reflects proudly on he r father’s wartime achievements.