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Lt Col Walter Russell Johnson - why was he interested in this murder?


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corisande
A strange case this one. I research British Army deaths in Ireland and one of these was a murder of one Royal Marine Yates (click for my notes on Yates) , by another Royal Marine  Helmore (click for my notes on Helmore)
 
I had left it a "just a murder" and dug no deeper. But have recently had an email from Nicola who has researched the murder click for her notes 1 and click for her notes 2. And it turned out to be more complex than two soldiers having a fight.
 
1920 Jul 7.  Yates was murdered in Ireland. There was no question that Helmore had shot Yates
 
1921 May 6  Helmore was tried for murder, sentences but in May 1921 Helmore's sentence for murder commuted to life imprisonment and he was sent to Maidstone Prison. He was eventually released and died in Ireland in 1974
 
1921 Aug . A letter arrived at the Admiralty from a London law firm: R Voss & Son asking for copies of the court martial paperwork. They had been instructed by a Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Russell Johnson to look at the case again and make sure that all the facts had been considered. The reason given by Voss & Co was that Helmore had served under him and was well known to him. However, there is no evidence of this. Helmore was 13 when the war broke out, so it is unlikely that he joined the army in the period between August 1914 and October 1918 when he joined the Marines.
 
So my question is why  was Lt Col Walter Russell Johnson interested enough to instruct solicitors to investigate the case
 
I have (fairly) thoroughly researched Lt Col's life but never got to, as it were, the bottom of his interest
 
 
WR Johnson's record has a number of questions that his officer file does not answer, nor can I find answers in LG. Can anyone help with any of this
 
1. 1916, Johnson was sent back to England from the front after his commanding officer deemed him unfit to command. I cannot find why
 
2. 1918 Sep 18 Awarded DSO for an action at Ephey (Gazetted in 1919 Jul 30)
 
3. 1918 Nov. he felt he was passed over for promotion and unsuccessfully appealed to the King to be reinstated.  Again why?
 
4. 1919 Jun 25 to 24 Oct 1919 . Comdt. on the Lines of Communication (CLZ).—Lt.-Col. W. R. Johnson, C.B.E.,D.S.O., 7th Essex R., T.F., {Substituted for the notification in the Gazette of 19h Feb. 1920.) He appears to be back at Lt Col. And though I am sure he got CBE I cannot get its award anywhere      Thank you we have that now, see post #3
 
5. He served in North Russia and later  Military Secretary to the High Commissioner of Mesopotamia in Baghdad.
 
6. 1920 May 4. The KING has approved the grant of temporary commissions in the Indian Army Res.of Officers to the following officers, with effect from the dates specified: —To be Captains.Walter Russell-Johnson, D..S.O. 4th May1920, but to rank from 4th Aug. 1918. He was a temp Lt Col, substantive Major at that point having been promoted Major 3 Jun 1915
 
7. 1920 Jul Helmore sentenced for murder of Yates in Ireland . Then 1921 Aug . A letter arrived at the Admiralty from a London law firm: R Voss & Son asking for copies of the court martial paperwork. They had been instructed by a Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Russell Johnson to look at the case again and make sure that all the facts had been considered. The reason given by Voss & Co was that Helmore had served under him and was well known to him. However, there is no evidence of this. Helmore was 13 when the war broke out, so it is unlikely that he joined the army in the period between August 1914 and October 1918 when he joined the Marines.
 
In Helmore's statement is the implication that Yates and Helmore were involved in a homosexual relationship and ultimately the break up of this relationship was the reason for the murder . Voss submitted that had the full facts been known at the court martial Helmore would have been found guilty of manslaughter only on the grounds of justifiable homicide. The Admiralty refused to accept this, and so Voss persevered with investigations and got a statement another messmate of Helmore's called Smith that Lt Col Johnson had tracked down. Smith confirmed that he believed there was a homosexual relationship. The Admiralty then decided decided that Helmore’s sentence would be reviewed after he had served five years. Assuming good behaviour this meant he should have been released in around 1926. There is no note on the court martial paperwork to confirm the date he was eventually released.
 
Helmore went on to live with another of the Marines in the case, and died there many years later
 
8. And the real whammy
1923-court.jpg
 
Nothing in LG to suggest he had resigned his commission. Was this a dark area the Army ignored?
 
My conclusion is that he was having/had a relationship with Helmore, and Helmore contacted Johnson when the chips were down. Difficult to know if it was blackmail or love. But the cutting indicates that Johnson was probably bisexual
 
Any further light on the whole matter gratefully received
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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FROGSMILE

I cannot help you with the details that you seek, but for what it’s worth I totally agree with your tentative conclusions and think that you are onto the nub of the matter.  I strongly suspect that all of the misfortunes of the officer concerned will ultimately be down to his sexual pecadilloes.

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London Gazette 3 Feb 1920 his CBE. Courtesy of Ancestry.

CBEJohnson.png

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corisande
Posted (edited)

Ajsmith. Thank you very much for the gazetting of the CBE, I tried and failed with that

 

Frogsmile. Yes, it looks more and more as if he was a very good officer, both in the field and on St5aff, but must have lapsed back to his old habits repeatedly

 

It is interesting that his ups and downs in rank have, by and large, avoided publication in LG

 

His move to a L/C in East Surrey Regt in autumn 1923 would have been difficult to hide, but apparently it is hidden. He was obliged to resign his reserve commission to become an OR, and that should have been gazetted, then when he left East Surreys, he should have got the  reserve commission back and that should have been gazetted.

 

[edit] HarryBrook  has now found that  return to the ranks in his post #15

This is the gazette for his resignation on enlisting in the ranks (16 February 1923) https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32898/page/472

[/edit]

 

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FROGSMILE

How ignominious to go from Temporary full Colonel to Lance Corporal in an infantry battalion post war.  This case reminds me on the surface of it of individuals like T.E. Lawrence and Maj General Sir Hector McDonald.  The British Army was utterly remorseless in its pursuit of those engaged in or suspected of ‘unnatural practices’ (of any kind whatsoever).

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FROGSMILE
5 minutes ago, corisande said:

Ajsmith. Thank you very much for the gazetting of the CBE, I tried and failed with that

 

Frogsmile. Yes, it looks more and more as if he was a very good officer, both in the field and on St5aff, but must have lapsed back to his old habits repeatedly

 

It is interesting that his ups and downs in rank have, by and large, avoided publication in LG

 

His move to a L/C in East Surrey Regt in autumn 1923 would have been difficult to hide, but apparently it is hidden. He was obliged to resign his reserve commission to become an OR, and that should have been gazetted, then when he left East Surreys, he should have got the  reserve commission back and that should have been gazetted.


I don’t think he would automatically have got a reserve commission back.  My recollection is that he would have to apply for it and that his application might be turned down.

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corisande
4 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:


I don’t think he would automatically have got a reserve commission back

 

He is in 1939 Register and has claimed "RARO not yet called up". If nothing else he seems to be very truthful, virtually everything checks out

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FROGSMILE
2 minutes ago, corisande said:

 

He is in 1939 Register and has claimed "RARO not yet called up". If nothing else he seems to be very truthful, virtually everything checks out


Yes, I understood that, but might he not have applied again? I don’t think that a commission’s ‘automatically’ returned once resigned, as something to discredit an individual might have occurred in the intervening period.

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corisande
46 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:

but might he not have applied again?

 

If he were to have applied for a restoration, wouldn't that have been in LG ?

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FROGSMILE
35 minutes ago, corisande said:

 

If he were to have applied for a restoration, wouldn't that have been in LG ?


If he made an application and was successful (not a given) then ordinarily I would expect to see it recorded, yes.  However, I suppose errors and omissions were made at times...

The other thing is I’m not sure if it would be referred to as a ‘restoration’, I’m unclear whether it would just appear as granted a commission...

There’s also the consideration of seniority.  If an officer resigns his commission then presumably he forfeits his position seniority wise, so on the surface it would seem unlikely to get a restoration that put you back in front of others, who had been continuously serving without a break.

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HarryBrook

Lt.-Col. Johnson relinquished his commission on 30 September 1921 https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32688/supplement/3501

 

and was placed on the Regular Army Reserve of Officers, in the rank of Major, on 6 March 1924 https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32920/page/2429

 

Edit to add:-

 

The award of the Territorial Decoration 13 October 1920 https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32274/supplement/2552

 

He had been placed on the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers on 30 September 1922 https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32751/page/6909

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corisande
3 minutes ago, HarryBrook said:

Lt.-Col. Johnson relinquished his commission on 30 September 1921 https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32688/supplement/3501

 

Harry

 

Thanks for those LG. I have had substantial problems in following him in LG

 

The problem with the above (which has him relinquishing his commission is in LG of 2 May 1922) is that it was overturned by a later Gazette which states "7th Bn., Essex B. — The announcement regarding Lt.-Col. W. E. Johnson, C.B.E.,D.S.O., T.D., which appeared in the Gazette of the 2nd May 1922, is cancelled" . So he did not relinquish his commission on 31 Sep 1921

 

7 minutes ago, HarryBrook said:

was placed on the Regular Army Reserve of Officers, in the rank of Major, on 6 March 1924 https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32920/page/2429

 

But is found to be put in RARO as a Major on 6 Mar 1924. There is nothing about him being reduced to Major in LG between these two announcements

 

He had been promoted substantive Major in Jun 1915, and seems to have been a substantive Lt-Col by Sep 1918 when he won his DSO (I cannot get that promotion in LG). So something must have happened to get the demotion

 

 

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corisande
Posted (edited)

The LG entries appear to refer to an earlier "problem" that he must have had

 

1920 May 4. The KING has approved the grant of temporary commissions in the Indian Army Res.of Officers to the following officers, with effect from the dates specified: —To be Captains .Walter Russell-Johnson, D.S.O. 4th May1920, but to rank from 4th Aug. 1918.

 

1924 Mar 6. RARO - Walter Russell Johnson, C.B.E., D.S.O.,T.D., late Lt.-Col., T.A. Res., to be Maj. 6th Mar. 1924, with seniority 26th July 1918.

 

I would guess that they refer to the same event, and presumably a court martial, though I cannot find one at that time

 

[edit] and I now can add from Harry's post #14

 

1918 Jun 5. 7th Bn., Essex Regt.—Maj. W. R. Johnson to be Lt.-Col.., with precedence as from 8th June 1918. 5th Dec. 1918. [/edit]

 

He seems all over the promotional ladder during this 2 month period

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HarryBrook

The effective date for his promotion to Lt.-Col. was 5 December 1918 https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/31048/supplement/14406

 

Edit to add:- This is the gazette for his resignation on enlisting in the ranks (16 February 1923) https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32898/page/472

 

I must admit I did not check on for the cancellation of the relinquishing of his commission notification published in the 2 May issue of the Gazette.

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corisande
Posted (edited)

Thanks Harry

 

One day I aspire to be as good as you with LG :thumbsup:

 

I have edited my post #13 to reflect this info & I have updated OP to make it easier to follow

 

 

Edited by corisande
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HarryBrook

His death as reported in The Times may be of interest; an obituary published on 13 January 1940 and notice of his funeral on 15 January 1940.

 

His 1942 probate record reads - Walter Russell Johnson, D.S.O., C.B.E., T.D. of Box No. 187, Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, South Africa died 9 January 1940 at sea. Administration Llandudno 20 October to Fanny Russell Johnson widow. Effects £238  2s  10d in England.   

Johnson, Walter Russell, obit The Times 13.1.1940.JPG

Johnson, Walter Russell, funeral, The Times 15.1.1940.JPG

 

Edit: I see you have this after clicking on his life story in post #1.

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FROGSMILE

Some important factors that might assist you with the chronology in this case.  The TF Reserve of Officers, the Indian Army Reserve of Officers, and the Regular Army Reserve of Officers were all separate lists.  There was a distinct pecking order between them and they related specifically to the type of commission that an officer had been granted.  An officer was placed on the e.g. Regular Army Reserve of Officers automatically if he had left the active list, but was still of military age.  He remained on that list until be reached the age for retirement in accordance with his rank (i.e. he would stay on the list longer if he had reached General rank). Finally, if an officer was beyond retirement age, but fit and able, he could apply to join the relevant Reserve of Officers and, if considered useful because of his experience, he could be accepted on the list under a separate category.  

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corisande
8 hours ago, HarryBrook said:

His 1942 probate record reads - Walter Russell Johnson, D.S.O., C.B.E., T.D. of Box No. 187, Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, South Africa died 9 January 1940 at sea. Administration Llandudno 20 October to Fanny Russell Johnson widow. Effects £238  2s  10d in England.   

 

The things I got from his death were that

 

1. He did intestate

2. His widow applied for letters of administration

3. He was not a rich man, Though I suppose his effects in Africa would not have been included here

 

The signs were that he ha been separated from his wife for some time

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corisande
5 hours ago, FROGSMILE said:

The TF Reserve of Officers, the Indian Army Reserve of Officers, and the Regular Army Reserve of Officers were all separate lists.  There was a distinct pecking order between them and they related specifically to the type of commission that an officer had been granted.

 

Can you help me here. Looking at his record as we have it - click for my current version of his record - can you say which list he is on & when

 

And in particular, how ought I to interpret the LG entry below

 

"1924 Mar 6. Walter Russell Johnson, C.B.E., D.S.O.,T.D., late Lt.-Col., T.A. Res., to be Maj.6th Mar. 1924, with seniority 26th July 1918."

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FROGSMILE
3 hours ago, corisande said:

 

Can you help me here. Looking at his record as we have it - click for my current version of his record - can you say which list he is on & when

 

And in particular, how ought I to interpret the LG entry below

 

"1924 Mar 6. Walter Russell Johnson, C.B.E., D.S.O.,T.D., late Lt.-Col., T.A. Res., to be Maj.6th Mar. 1924, with seniority 26th July 1918."


I don’t underestimate how difficult this is to piece together.  I have read carefully your excellent chronology that has clearly been painstakingly compiled from a range of sources, not least newspaper reports, into a kind of mosaic making up his life.  I can see nothing that shows him as having any other kind of commission beyond one as an auxiliary, army officer, with the Territorial Force.  As always with a wartime career he was then promoted via a range of temporary, and acting wartime appointments, with occasional changes in substantive rank usually running several stages behind the rank he was actually functioning in.  This was quite normal and intended to ensure that any seniority and concomitant pension rights were not accelerated too quickly in such a way as likely to become a future burden on the public purse.  By the end of the war he seems to have just about reached the substantive rank of captain, acting major and temporary lieutenant colonel (but all as a TF officer).

Where things get more difficult is in determining whose books he sat upon as a reserve officer during those periods where he was not on the active list (i.e. actually serving).  First of all it’s important to note that all three lists constitute an overarching Reserve of Officers, two for Britain and (then) Ireland (divided then as now into regular and auxiliary categories) , and the other for the Government of India.  From the gazette entries he seems to have been initially on the Territorial Force Reserve Officer element (i.e. auxiliary category) as would be normal for a TF officer.  He seems subsequently to have applied for and obtained (he had no prior connection) a place on the Indian Army Reserve of Officers (IARO), a course of action taken by many WW1 veterans.  I can only assume that there was some pecuniary advantage to this, and it would be useful to see if any kind of retainer might have been paid to officers of military age.  The 1920s was a period of sharp reductions in military spending and it might be that it was financially expedient for some of the reserve to be the responsibility of the Indian Government.  It’s not clear to me after that whether he then made a further move  onto the Regular Army Reserve of Officers, or the TF again.  The precise categories must have been listed somewhere, but as to the rationale behind his movement between these lists of Reserve Officers, I cannot see sufficient information to determine why they occurred.

 

NB.  It’s significant that when taken onto the IARO it was as a captain and it seems to me that that had been his ‘substantive’ rank with the TF.  When it states that a Lt Col relinquished his commission it does not mean that that was necessarily his substantive rank.  It was common for an officer to retain the title and status of the last rank that he held, but that his substantive rank was a lesser one.  This was especially common after WW1 and then again after WW2.

 

As regards the LG entry "1924 Mar 6. Walter Russell Johnson, C.B.E., D.S.O.,T.D., late Lt.-Col., T.A. Res., to be Maj.6th Mar. 1924, with seniority 26th July 1918." - I would interpret that as an officer from the TA Reserve (of officers) who had been for a period inactive, taken back onto the active list (and thus to be paid as such), but in the rank and role of a Major (he had been found a specific job at that level).  This was common post war when the army was much reduced and so with fewer officers of senior rank.

 

Afternote:  Looking at this officers life in the round I think that he had been a closet homosexual whose dalliances with women, including the birth of a child, were a smokescreen to cover his real proclivities.  The fact that in 1940 he was living alone in Northern Rhodesia and his wife was in Exeter speaks volumes.

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corisande

Frogsmile

 

Thank you very much for your explanation, it is very helpful - if you find it difficult to understand, then it is no wonder that I do !

 

So if I look at his Indian Army Service, this seems to have been to enable him to work as " Military Secretary to the High Commissioner of Mesopotamia in Baghdad. " This is the job designation that appears in all his life histories (cut and paste is the curse of the modern historian)

 

I can find no reference to him or this job which appears to have been based in Bagdad

 

1920 May - appointed to IARO

1921 Jul arrives back in UK by ship from Basra

1922 Apr arrives back in UK by ship from Basra

 

Can anyone help with " Military Secretary to the High Commissioner of Mesopotamia in Baghdad. "

 

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FROGSMILE
57 minutes ago, corisande said:

Frogsmile

 

Thank you very much for your explanation, it is very helpful - if you find it difficult to understand, then it is no wonder that I do !

 

So if I look at his Indian Army Service, this seems to have been to enable him to work as " Military Secretary to the High Commissioner of Mesopotamia in Baghdad. " This is the job designation that appears in all his life histories (cut and paste is the curse of the modern historian)

 

I can find no reference to him or this job which appears to have been based in Bagdad

 

1920 May - appointed to IARO

1921 Jul arrives back in UK by ship from Basra

1922 Apr arrives back in UK by ship from Basra

 

Can anyone help with " Military Secretary to the High Commissioner of Mesopotamia in Baghdad. "

 


Yes, I think that you have interpreted that perfectly.

 

It seems likely to me that he was either known to the Commissioner of Mesopotamia in Baghdad, and appointed on the basis of mutual regard (perhaps even sexual connection), or someone else was pulling in a favour on his behalf and getting him the appointment.  Military Secretaries were (and still are) ‘personal appointments’ that have to be agreed with the senior personage concerned.  The military secretary appointment dealt with the career management of all army officers within the Baghdad command, liasing with Horse Guards accordingly and was also the personal military staff officer of the Commissioner. 

 

PS.  As regards Pte Helmore RM, is there any link with the Archangel expedition?  I suspect that scrutinising his postings and comparing them with the whereabouts of Russell-Johnson at the same time will lead to the linkage between them.  There was significant Royal Marines involvement (including a mutiny) in North Russia.

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corisande

Again thanks  to HarryBrook another piece to the jigsaw

 

 

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FROGSMILE
43 minutes ago, HarryBrook said:

He was promoted to the rank of Lt.-Col. on the Regular Army Reserve of Officers, effective 6 June 1926 https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/33173/page/3969


That seems to me to have been a reward in culmination of all the service that he had given during and post war, not least in North Russian and as MS in Baghdad.  It is clear to me that he was a highly competent and efficient officer whose career was almost certainly blighted by his sexuality.  Although he did not receive the promotion that he might have expected (hence his appeal to the king) he did receive honours (CBE DSO) and also moved up the pecking order in the Reserve from TF to IARO to the ultimate mark of ‘professional’ approval, the RARO.

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