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Robert Johnston VC

Robert Johnston VC

b. 13/08/1872 Laputa, County Donegal, Ireland. d. 24/03/1950 Kilkenny, Ireland.

Robert Johnston (1872-1950) was born on 13th August 1872 in Laputa House, Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland, the son of Robert Johnston, Queen’s Consul. He was educated at King William’s College, Isle of Man, and joined the 5th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers from 1890-1894.

By this time, he was also an international rugby union player, making two appearances from Ireland in 1893. He made his international debut on 4 February 1893 in a 4-0 defeat against England at Lansdowne Road. Then on 11 March he played in a 2-0 defeat against Wales at Stradey Park . Two of his brothers were also Ireland international players. In 1896 Johnston was a member of the British Lions squad for their tour to South Africa. He was part of strong Irish contingent, being one of nine Irishmen selected. The others included Tom Crean, Louis Magee, Jim Magee, Larry Bulger, Jim Sealy, Andrew Clinch, Arthur Meares and Cecil Boyd. He played in three of the four tests against South Africa.

Following his Lions tour, he would return to South Africa in 1899 for the outbreak of the Second Boer War. He would serve between 1899-1901, and would be dangerously wounded at the Siege of Ladysmith. He received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps, and the King’s South Africa Medal for his service in the campaign. He was part of the Imperial Light Horse, under the command of Colonel Chisholm and Majors Karri Davis and Sampson.

He was gazetted for the Victoria Cross on 12th February 1901, for his actions at Elandslaagte on 21st October 1899. At a most critical moment, the advance being momentarily checked by a very severe fire at point blank range, two Officers (Mullins and Johnston) very gallantly rushed forward under this heavy fire and rallied the men, thus enabling the flanking movement, which decided the day, to be carried out.

Johnston received his VC from King Edward VII at St James’ Palace, London on 25th July 1901. He then returned to South Africa where he was Commandant at a concentration camp at Middelburg. In 1903, he was appointed District Commissioner on the Eastern Transvaal. In 1911, he joined the Irish Prison Service. He was Commandant of the Prisoners of War at Oldcastle from 1914-1915, and was appointed Governor of Maryborough Prison in 1915. He became a Resident Magistrate in 1918.

Johnston retired to County Kilkenny after a long career in the prison service. He died in a nursing home in Kilkenny, aged 78 on 24th March 1950 after a short illness. He was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Inistioge, County Kilkenny. His medals are not publicly held.