Ernest Edward Johnson was born in 1885, the only son of Edward and Jane Johnson, at Heaton, near Newcastle upon Tyne. Edward Johnson was a joiner when Ernest was young, but the family left the north-east before the turn of the century, and Edward and Jane set up a small business as bakers and confectioners in Harrogate.
It seems that Ernest always intended a career in the Church and to that end joined Hatfield Hall at Durham University in 1908. He was awarded his B.A. in 1909 as well as being made a deacon at York. Whilst at university, he played both cricket and football for his college and acted as secretary of the college Fives Club. He was also a contributed to debates at the Debating Society, for example speaking against the motion “That, for the physical improvement of the race, vegetarian diet is better than animal diet” (25 March 1908).
He was appointed Curate of St Anne’s, Sheffield, in 1909, followed by the curacy of Wath-on-Dearne in 1912. In 1916, he received his M.A. and in March of that year, he was chosen to be the First Curate-in-Charge of St Luke’s, Rossington, near Doncaster. The South Yorkshire Coalfield was expanding at this time with the local colliery becoming operational in 1915. To house the Rossington Colliery community, the South Yorkshire Coalfields Extension Committee funded a new planned village of circular design. St Luke’s church was “an integral designed element”, echoing the shape of the village and situated on the innermost road. Its central position within the development would indicate that the church was intended as a focus of village life and the Rev Ernest Edward Johnson, together with his wife, Elsie, and their young family, fully endorsed that aspiration. He entered into village life enthusiastically. Together with duties at St Luke’s, he worked as a painter on buildings in the new development before taking a job in the colliery itself. The management apparently offered him a ‘soft job’ in the colliery offices but this was refused as Johnson preferred to work at the coal face. He declared his intention to work underground ‘until the Germans are beaten’ and his experience in the pit led to his nickname of the ‘Miner Parson’. At the same time, his reputation grew within the cricketing community of South Yorkshire.
Eventually, the war intervened and Johnson, who joined the Army Chaplain’s Department (which assessed him as “manly, bright, mod”), was attached to the 15th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. The unit was involved in the 100 days offensive – 8 August-11 November 1918 – and took part in the Pursuit to the Selle. In an action described as “the first open warfare since 1914”, house to house fighting took place in villages to the north of Le Cateau, where the Fusiliers were welcomed as saviours by the local French.
Having survived the privations of war until the Armistice, it is ironic that Johnson should succumb to pneumonia. The influenza epidemic was particularly deadly in Autumn 1918 – unlike typical ‘flu, it disproportionately killed young healthy adults. It seems likely that he contracted the illness, and which developed into pneumonia leading to his death on 1 December, 1918. He was buried at Le Cateau Communal Cemetery, France. A short obituary was published in the Durham University Journal (vol. XXII, no. 2, p.74). Johnson left a widow and two children, Frank (b. 1912) and Elsie (b. 1915).