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Ian Johnson has always been a Newcastle Commercial man, starting work at the age of sixteen in the well-known Bainbridge Department Store in 1977, now part of the John Lewis Partnership.
Bainbridge’s was established in 1838 and is recognised as the first department store in the world. During the call for volunteers for Kitchener’s New Army over sixty men and boys from the store rushed to volunteer to serve King and Country in early September 1914. The battalion they joined was the first one to be raised by civilian efforts on Tyneside, the ‘Newcastle’ Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, 16th (Service) Battalion, known as the 1st Commercials.
Some years back Ian was researching for material for two short books on the Bainbridge war memorial, Bainbridge: Our Fallen Heroes 1914-18; and 1939-45, telling the stories of the forty-one men honoured on the memorial, stories that were in danger of being completely forgotten. One battalion’s name came up time and time again in the course of this work on the first of the books: the Newcastle Commercials and a date, the 1st July 1916. A journey of discovery began, fired by a committed desire to retell the story of the Newcastle Commercials. This book is the outcome, along with other projects, both in Newcastle and in France, to raise the profile of the battalion and to honour the memory of the men who fought and died whilst serving in it.
Ian still works at John Lewis in a semi-retired position, enabling him to spend more free time fund raising and researching for other projects.