Nurse’s effort remembered

Part of the Memorial Plaque at St Peter's Church Wallsend.
Part of the Memorial Plaque at St Peter's Church Wallsend.

As part of the project, researchers have been visiting churches, photographing memorial plaques to the dead of the Great War 1914-18.

This is a very good source of information in gathering a list of the total number of casualties.

Among 171 names on the plaque at St Peter’s in Wallsend is that of Isabella G. Johnson, only the fourth woman to be identified as a casualty in North Tyneside among more than 3,000 on the project’s database. Our researchers were quickly on the case.

The first place to search for a casualty is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. However, we failed to locate anyone of that name. This meant she did not have a war grave registered.

The search shifted to the National Archives. In one file was a mass of information about Isabella Graham Johnson, of South Terrace, Wallsend, and she was a nurse. Contained within the file were official documents, copies of telegrams and letters to and from her family. It is a real treasure trove of information.

‘Isa’, as her family called her, was born in September 1877, in Willington Quay, the daughter of Robert and Ann Johnson. Her father was a boat builder of the wooden variety, a very skilled trade. By the 1891 census two daughters have become schoolteachers, Isa is about to enter nursing and son Robert is a blacksmith.

When war comes Isabella, who is a midwife and district nurse, joins the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) as a staff nurse. Starting in Newcastle, she is transferred to the 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester.

The records contain a letter from her matron: “Miss Johnson never settled down in 2nd WGH. She did not like Manchester, and did a great amount of grumbling at having been transferred. Her work was good and she was very trustworthy. Miss Johnson went abroad July 1915.”

An earlier letter from Matron Woodhouse describes her as “exceedingly kind to the patients and a good nurse”.

We next find her on the RMS Aquitania, a luxury liner converted into a hospital ship, on her way to Gallipoli. She would later serve in Malta, Egypt, Cannes and Nice.

In November 1917 she resigned from service and the following month married her late sister’s husband Israel Redshaw, a ship’s plater, from Thornaby-on-Tees. However, barely a year later Isa died of myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord, at the age of 44.

A letter after the war from Israel to the TFNS enquires about her medal entitlement. She was entitled to the British War and Victory medals, but Israel was writing in 1924 for them. The outcome is unknown.

If you have any information on casualties contact www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into our office in the Linskill Centre, North Shields.