Nowell Campbell Johnstone

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Lieutenant-Commander Nowell Campbell Johnstone Royal Navy, Retired (3 December, 1886 – 30 June, 1937) was an officer in the Royal Navy.

His career would be marred by drink and unmet potential.

Life & Career

Born in Windsor Cottage, Bodmin, Johnstone was the son of a Royal Navy Captain. He was to become a Physical Training instructor during his time in the Navy.[1]

He was appointed first to Sutlej and then to Crescent, where he assisted the navigator. Johnstone started his naval career off with a bang in Crescent when the Admiralty recognized his services in helping to rescue the crew of S.S. Clan Monroe when she wrecked on 2 July, 1905 off South Africa.[2]

He was next appointed to the destroyer Kale on 9 October, 1907 and was there only briefly before being appointed to Arun. However, Commander Alan C. Bruce, his commanding officer in Kale, reported that the young Sub-Lieutenant was "unsuitable for a destroyer." This caused the appointment to Arun to be cancelled in preference to one in the battleship Ocean commencing on 14 November, 1907. In January, 1908, Captain Dundas reported that Johnstone's conduct was "satisft since joining Ocean. Not brilliant, but tried to do his duty well. Ability rather below average." Dundas was superseded by Captain Francis William Kennedy who opined in January, 1909 that Johnstone had improved and was good enough to be made his Lieutenant.[3]

Johnstone was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 30 June, 1911.[4]

On 6 October, 1913, he was admitted to Haslar Hospital and diagnosed with gonorrhea and discharged on the 18th. However, on 18 July, 1914 he was readmitted for up to three months observation, suffering from neurasthenia.[5]

Great War

The war seemed to prompt his doctors to think him instantly better, as the three months allowed at Haslar were cut right off on 31 July when he was found fit. He was appointed Lieutenant in Command of the destroyer Vulture on 16 August, 1914 and would fight in her until January, 1916. On 30 March, 1915 he was in Chatham Hospital with conjunctivitis, remaining there until April 7th.[6]

On 30 June, 1915 he earned the appreciation of the Admiralty for his conduct in handling the mining of the destroyer Lightning.[7]

On 28 April, 1916, he was discharged from his two months in command of P25 and went to the Admiralty. To this point, his habits had appeared temperate and responsible, with one evaluator spelling it out, "teetotaler." However, in May, a dismal report from Captain Ellison indicated that Johnstone "appeared to be suffering from effects of constant drinking & quite unfit for command." He was to be subjected to quarterly reports on his sobriety as a check. On 3 May, Johnstone was appointed to join Canterbury. He received a favourable report on his sobriety in August 1916 from Canterbury's captain, Royds, but his issues with drink were not over.[8]

On 12 November, 1916 it was recorded that Johnstone had had to be cautioned about his wine bill at the end of August and that it had been reduced to 2/- a day, which improved his performance. But on 2 December, he was Court Martialed for "willful disobedience" and "ordering a wine steward to enter a glass of port for himself on the account of another officer." He was sentenced to lose a year of seniority, receive a severe reprimand, and to be dismissed the ship, which occurred on 10 December, 1916 when Johnstone was superseded in Canterbury. On 12 December, Captain Royds summed up Johnstone's limitations: "Promising career has been spoiled by his becoming unable to keep away from drink. Will drink as much as he is allowed or can get hold of." On the December 23rd, the wayward Lieutenant was appointed to Inflexible.[9]

Johnstone was superseded in Inflexible on 13 October, 1917 and went to the Sir John Moore where he obtained an evaluation evidently so impassioned that its tiny print cannot be fully read except for "when he gets a chance to take more alcohol than is good for him". He finally ended up as Physical Training instructor (paid) for the Ninth Cruiser Squadron, in Africa and remained in her until she was paid off on 7 November, 1918. His final evaluation on that day from Captain D'Arcy mentions, "is not of temperate habits... wine bill has to be limited."[10]

Post-War

Johnstone was placed on the Retired List on 17 December, 1918 under the Order in Council of 13 May, 1901, with retired pay of 5/- a day. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander on 30 June, 1919. In 1927, allegations of fraud he committed against the Boy Scouts' Association and similar allegations were thought, semi-officially, to be well founded.[11]

Johnstone apparently drowned. His body was discovered floating in Falmouth Harbour on 30 June, 1937. No date of death was stated on his death certificate.[12]

See Also

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Richard S. Robinson
Captain of H.M.S. Vulture
16 Aug, 1914[13][14] – 20 Jan, 1916[15]
Succeeded by
John P. Landon
Preceded by
?
Captain of H.M.S. P25
12 Feb, 1916[16] – 28 Apr, 1916[17]
Succeeded by
Frederick A. P. Foster

Footnotes

  1. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  2. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  3. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  4. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  5. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  6. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  7. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  8. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  9. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  10. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  11. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  12. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  13. The Navy List. (October, 1915). p. 399g.
  14. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  15. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  16. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.
  17. Johnstone Service Record, in our PDF for John Gregory Crace. The National Archives. ADM 196/51. f. 62.