Keith Johnson 1943 to 2014
29th March 1943 to 12th January 2014
Address delivered by Graham Rose
Keith Johnson was the first child of Albert and Hazel Johnson and he was born in Coventry in March 1943.
Because of its importance in the Johnson family story and the influences his parents had on Keith’s life, I want to dwell for a moment as to why Albert and Hazel ended up in Appleton – and thanks to Rosemary Kitto I have the story.
The Bofors Gun, a fully automatic anti-aircraft cannon, was one of the most popular medium-weight anti-aircraft systems during World War II. During the night of the 14th and 15th November 1940 the Coventry factory in which Albert Johnson worked, received a direct hit by four bombs but fortunately they did not damage the precious "barrel" machines. Lord Nuffield, who owned the factory, decided to move the factory to a safer place, and chose a 15 acre site in Tubney Woods. The Hush Hush factory, as it became known locally, was built with conifer trees planted in pots on the roof to camouflage it from aircraft.
At first two dormitories were built to house essential staff and later eight bungalows were built in The Ride and these housed workers. As essential workers Albert and Hazel and Keith – then his younger brothers, Brian, Ian and Graham – were born and housed in one of the bungalows.
Albert Johnson was one the very few essential workers to be transferred to Tubney Woods. He was the foreman and second in command of the factory during the war and Hazel Johnson worked in the office. They produced 200 gun barrels a week on two twelve hour shifts – 8:00 to 8:00 – and worked seven days a week. 300 were employed in the factory.
The challenges of moving from city-life in Coventry to life in the wilds of rural Oxfordshire must have remained with them all their lives.
I am only three years younger than Keith and knew him and the Johnson family from the moment my parents came to Appleton in 1964 – with me as a 17-year old and just starting my apprenticeship at the Pressed Steel in Cowley. I have known Keith and his family, on and off, for 50 years! “Mrs J” or Hazel Johnson, worked for my parents and she became a third granny to my two children. “Mr J” worked at Pressed Steel where he was regarded as a highly-skilled tool maker.
Back to Keith: he attended Appleton School, walking each day from and to Tubney Woods, as they did in those days, and then to Botley School.
It was in 1959 when the Johnson family moved to 20 Oaksmere here in Appleton. This came about through the kindness of Mrs Edgington: Pete described it to me last week: “We children had all left and mum was in this four-bed roomed house so she agreed to swap 20 Oaksmere with their Tubney Wood bungalow”! At this stage Keith was aged 15 and his youngest brother, Graham, aged 2.
Keith’s first job was working for Morrells Brewery in Park End Street.
Keith then joined the army, the Royal Green Jackets, in September 1970 aged 27 and remained in the army for 9 years, demobbing in 1979. Because I think it says much about Keith I will read you his “Assessment of military conduct and character”.
Military conduct: exemplary. Character: “A really excellent and safe driver who has been the commanding officer’s driver for nearly five years. He is an intelligent, enterprising, hardworking and very responsible man, with a mature and pleasant personality who has loyally given 9 years first-class service to the Royal Green Jackets. He will be a sad loss to the Regiment and the Army, but without a doubt will be a great asset to anyone who employs him in civilian life.”
Having completed tours of military duty in Northern Ireland, Keith was due to go again – and that is what prompted his resignation from the Army. He had been shot at, had a scar on his thigh and had witnessed some ghastly horrors which he seldom talked about.
More recently Keith was very proud and honoured to have laid the Royal British Legion wreath at the Appleton War Memorial in memory of those from this village who have laid down their lives for this country.
When Keith left the army he went to work for the Royal Mail in the sorting office at the Beckett Street, and he worked there and then in Abingdon, from 1979 until his retirement in 2008. He suffered a back injury at work in 2001 and this gave him back pain for the rest of his life.
On the personal front: sadly he was married and divorced twice with children Karen born in 1965 Kevin in 1967 from his first marriage and Natacha born in 1992 from his second.
Keith moved into 28 Oaksmere – just around the corner from his parents, when it was built in the late 1960s having spent his early years renting a bungalow in Eaton Road.
On the sporting front, Keith loved his cricket and his golf. He would frequently wonder up to the Appleton Sportsfield and watch a game of village cricket. One of my memories is an Appleton Cricket match when both Keith and I played in the same team as our respective fathers!
Roger Mitty tells me that Keith had been a regular player for the Cumnor Cricket Club in their Sunday team and was an accomplished wicket keeper. After his playing days were over he would seen supporting the Cumnor Saturday league team. Roger also told me that Keith was at some time passionate about Indian food and that a gang of Cumnor cricketers would travel to their favourite Indian restaurant in Faringdon for a sumptuous Indian curry!
Keith loved gardening and he was very proud of his onions, drying them out in his front garden for all to see! Runner beans were also grown in such quantities they could be shared with friends and neighbours!
Keith was a complex character: he would fall out with people for such silly reasons; he would then make it up would become best of friends again. You always knew where you stood with Keith – he certainly spoke his mind! Know-one will now ever know how much Keith was affected by his times in Northern Ireland. He was there on Bloody Sunday. Keith was no angel, but I would suggest most here today are no angels!
As I was thinking about Keith and the Johnson family this morning, the one theme that kept going through my mind was loyalty. I was honoured to have spoken at Mrs J’s funeral and I want to quote a piece from my piece about her because I think it relates to Keith as well: -
"Mrs J was a resolute person with strong views on what was right and wrong and never failing to express her views most clearly. This went down well in the Rose household because, I believe, we share this characteristic. Another of her characteristics was loyalty. My mother remarked this week when I asked for her memories: “Woe betide anyone in the village with criticism of the Rose household in front of Mrs J!”
Keith found in later life the joys of owning an open-topped MGB which be bought in 2012.
Alison at the Plough said a nice thing last week: “Keith and Natacha had a Christmas meal here at the Plough and he said it was the best meal he had had in years”.
Did many of us know he was suffering ill health? Although I would often see Keith around the village it came out of the blue for me to learn he was very ill at The Churchill Hospital. I guess the only good thing is that he was only in hospital for 16 days. He died quite suddenly – but if he was in pain … thank God.
Our condolences go to his children, Karen, Kevin and Natacha and to his family and friends.
Au revoir et bon chance, mon ami!
Pictures of the Johnson family at Tubney Woods sent by Chris White, a son of Joan, Hazel Johnson's sister!