Major Eric Johnston on the day of his wedding, 19th March 1941

Officers of the 1st Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, July 1942

The grave of Major Eric Johnston

Major Eric Francis Johnston


Unit : Support Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles

Service No. : 66181


Eric Francis Johnston was born on the 31st January 1915, the second son and fourth child of Frank and Lucy Johnston, of Belfast, Northern Ireland. He attended Campbell College from 1925 to 1933, where he was in the Shooting VIII from 1932-33, and was a member of the British schools shooting team that went to the Ottawa Bisley in Canada in 1932. He attended Sandhurst in 1934, and during the following year as a 2nd Lieutenant was gazetted to the 1st Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, whom he accompanied to Hong Kong and India. It is believed to have been whilst serving on the North West Frontier that he earned the nickname "Killer", when a sentry spotted what he thought was a sniper in a tree some distance from their camp. Johnston immediately borrowed a rifle and hit the man with a single shot, but tragically it was found that the supposed sniper was nothing of the sort.


On the 19th March 1941, Johnston married Elaine Violet Meredith Double in St. Albans; their son, Eric Bruce Cliff, was born in 1944 while his father was serving in Normandy. Johnston was promoted to Major in 1941, and on the 6th June 1944 commanded Support Company of the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles. He took command of "C" Company on the 8th July. At 19:30 on the 22nd August, "C" Company came under artillery fire near Deauville, and Major Johnston was fatally wounded.


The following obituary was published in The Times on the 17th January 1945:


Major Eric Francis Johnston, The Royal Ulster Rifles (6th Airborne Division), who was killed in action in North West Europe in August last, was the only surviving son of Mr and Mrs Frank Johnston, of Newcastle, County Down. Born in 1915, he was gazetted to The Royal Ulster Rifles, and served with his battalion in Hong-kong and on the North West Frontier of India. In 1941 he married Elaine, only child of the late Theodore W. Doubble and of Mrs. Doubble, of Harpenden, Hertfordshire; a son was born in June 1944. A brother officer writes:- "I was with him shortly before he was killed, and in fact I and my platoon owe our lives to his good judgement and excellent soldiering. He was a great soldier and gained the deepest respect of all his men. We, who knew him well, knew he was more than this - he was a great friend."


Shortly before his death, Major Johnston was attended by Dr. G. D. Beauregard, who wrote the following in April 1946, in response a request by Duc de Fitz James, President of the Trouville and Deauville section of the Association France-Grande Bretagne:


My Dear President,


You have asked me for a precise relation of the circumstances in which Major Johnston met his death.


Here is exactly all I know. On the 22nd. of August 1944, at seven o'clock in the evening, I was on my way home from my first aid station at the Deauville Orphanage, with my two nurses, Madame Deamoulins and my niece, Madamoiselle Naudin, when at about a hundred metres from my residence which, as you know, is situated at the corner of the rue Hoche and the rue Victor Hugo, we heard the noise of bursting shells quite near. Hastening our steps we perceived just in front of my house, four motionless bodies, those of civilians.


When I entered my house, I found the yard in front of my garage occupied by a Canadian Commando. There were four wounded men amongst whom was their commanding officer, a major whose extreme palor called for my first notice. With the help of my nurses, I took off his bloodstained clothes. He was suffering from an extreme wound in the left hip and it was obvious that a shell splinter had penetrated deeply and had caused an internal haemorrhage. I therefore confined myself to cleaning the wound, dressing it, giving the patient camphorated oil injections together with a slight dose of morphia. Meanwhile, in all haste, a messenger was dispatched to summon the stretcher bearers in order to take the wounded and especially this officer to the Deauville clinical surgery. An American ambulance, whose arrival was very prompt, took him away, but alas this unfortunate officer died on his arrival. With him was one of his men whose two legs were crushed. We amputated them the same evening. He also died, but the next day. They both are now asleep, side by side, in the British cemetery at Tourgeville, which we visited together, and their graves are dressed with the flowers of heartfelt gratitude of those for whom they fell. During the brief instants which were given to us to attend Major Johnston (I only knew his name a little time afterwards.) we admired his courage, his patience, his perfect courtesy in spite of his sufferings. Before us was a perfect gentleman, unmoved and calm while we were dressing his wounds, asking only for a cigarette and something to quench his thirst and, each time, thanking us with an affable smile as if he were in a drawing room.


This salvo of four shells, fired by the enemy from the heights of Trouville, had been brought about by the concourse of civilians who wished to bring flowers and refreshments to their liberators in spite of the formal interdiction, oft repeated, to show themselves in the streets during the fighting. This unusual gathering in a street which was under the raking fire of a German battery brought about the shell fire. The civilians were killed outright, many others among whom was my maid were wounded and three of them died a few days later.


Major Johnston's Commando was hidden from the enemy's view in the rue Hoche, but the shells bursting in the very intersection of the streets mowed down together both soldiers and civilians.


You have here, dear Mr. President, the assurance of my distinguished and very cordial sentiments.


Signed. Doctor Beauregard.


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