Anzac Day 2017 – Re-dedicating Johnson Oval

May 10, 2017

One of the highlights of the Anzac Parade was the re-dedication of the Johnson Oval — named in memory of Gunner Jack Johnson (ON 1913) — as a war memorial a hundred years after his death in the First World War.

John ‘Jack’ Johnson attended Newington College from 1910 to 1913. A keen cricketer, rugby player, athlete and Cadet, he was described in The Newingtonian as ‘deservedly one of the most popular boys in the School … beloved by masters and boys alike.’ After enlisting in 1916 he served with the Artillery on the Western Front. He was severely wounded during a German bombardment of his battery’s position at Ypres and died on 23 October 1917.

Wishing to establish a perpetual memorial to their son, Jack’s parents funded the construction of a new oval, saying ‘it was just the kind of thing he would have delighted to see done.’ Previously a rough field, unsatisfactory for cricket or football matches, the construction involved extensive excavation, levelling and drainage works and provided the College with ‘a football area of full size’ for the first time. Jack’s parents also erected a brass memorial tablet in his memory, joining the others already on the walls of the Prescott Hall. These tablets now line the Chapel Walkway.

The College was honoured to have Jack’s niece, Dr Valerie Havyatt, and her sons Geoffrey and Warwick Havyatt, to represent Jack’s family for the re-dedication of the Johnson Oval. The formal act of re-dedication was the unveiling of a plaque by the Deputy Chairman of the College Council, his Honour Magistrate Greg Grogin (ON 1976). At a morning tea for guests after the Parade, the Headmaster, Dr Mulford, presented the plaque to Dr Havyatt. A fully weatherproofed version will be installed on the Johnson Scoreboard.

Jack Johnson was a member of the College’s Cadet Team who were the Commonwealth Champions in the 1912-13 Cadet Competitions. Each member of the team was presented with a gold medal at a parade at Newington in March 1914. Following the re-dedication ceremony, Dr Havyatt generously presented Jack’s medal to the College, received on our behalf by Major Rodney Wood, Commanding Officer of the Newington College Cadet Unit.

Dr Havyatt, with her sons, also honoured Jack Johnson’s memory by laying a wreath at the Memorial to the Dead and, after the Parade, placing a poppy by his name on the 1914–18 Honour Roll at the entrance to the Founders Building.

Finding Dr Havyatt and her family was a result of good fortune. Back in 2002, she visited the College and sent us a copy of an article that she had written about Jack. Re-discovering the article in the Archives this year, we were able to track down the family, despite changed contact details, thanks to a family tree attached to the article.

In many ways, Jack Johnson’s story epitomises the impact of the War on so many young men: keen to do his duty, despite the awful risks, his young life cut short by the cruel lottery of war. Unlike our other Fallen, however, Jack is remembered in a name that we use every day, now dedicated again a century later.

Lest we forget.

 

Mr David Roberts
College Archivist