Lieutenant Colonel G.C. Johnston
2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles
I had the honour of a visit from General Currie, one I did not at all appreciate, as he at once proceeded to reduce me to a nervous wreck by putting me through a whole catechism of questions as to where I was to go, and what I would do with my company in the event of the Huns breaking through the front line. At this point, when I was thoroughly uncomfortable, the Bosche commenced to shell the hill and some shrapnel, coming through the roof, wounded one of our batmen, Hawkins, broke a window and ended the interview, much to my relief.
(G. Chalmers Johnston, 2nd CMR in France and Flanders, 18)
George Chalmers Johnston was born in London, England on 21 April 1874. A general agent in British Columbia with the 30th B.C. Horse, Johnston enlisted as a captain with Lieutenant Colonel J.C.L. Bott’s 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles. After their first tour of duty in the trenches in October 1915, Johnston described the soldiers, “Weary, unshaven and plastered with mud as they were, they looked a very different lot … but in those few days in the line, green troops as they were, they had found themselves and laid the foundation for the traditions and success in action which have made the reputation of the battalion second to none in the war.”
Through the heavy fighting of summer 1916, Johnston recorded:
trench warfare is trying and a strain on the nerves, but when you add to it the danger of hostile mining, knowing that at any moment you may be blown into space without any chance of hitting back, why, a man would be a hog who would want to stay in such a place any longer than necessary.
He received the Military Cross “[f]or conspicuous gallantry under heavy shell fire. He reorganized his defences after heavy losses had been suffered and set a fine example to his men.” He replaced Bott, who had been court martialed for drinking, at the end of November 1916 and remained in command of the 2nd CMR until demobilization. By the end of the war, he was also three times mentioned in dispatches and received the Distinguished Service Order and Bar.
After a full two years in command and following the armistice on 11 November 1918, Johnston recorded:
I cannot say that there was any great rejoicing over it among the fighting troops. I think we realized even then that, while we had beaten the enemy to the point of surrender, another two or three months of, for us, comparatively easy warfare would have completely broken him up beyond repair as a fighting machine
In 1931, a committee of 2nd CMR veterans attempted to write an official history of the regiment but soon realized the task too extensive. Instead they asked Johnston to publish his personal war diary, “which had been loaned for the use of the Committee and which in itself constituted a most complete record of the activities of the Unit.” He had been with the 2nd CMR from the beginning to the end, a rarity for any commanding officer during the war. Johnston agreed and the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles in France and Flanders was published in 1932.
Johnston died on 29 September 1956.