The Berry Girls: the enigmatic ‘Mrs Johnson’

The Berry Girls: the enigmatic ‘Mrs Johnson’

Thanks to an article in the Dominion Post and also a piece on TV One news in response to our blog, we have had a flurry of correspondence regarding our Berry Girl mystery. While we have received a number of possible identifications for ‘O’Brien’, and will soon be able to reveal her identity, ‘Johnson’ remains enigmatic.

Portrait of a woman dressed as a Regimental Sergeant-Major of the NZ Rifle Brigade. [Inscribed Johnson] by Berry & Co. Te Papa
Johnson’s uniform is particularly puzzling. For while her cap features the insignia of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade associated with the First World War, the rest of her uniform appears to be of Boer War vintage. The sleeve insignia is that of a Boer War Regimental Sergeant Major, and the breeches are what is known as a ‘Calvary cut’.  She holds an officer’s sword, and while she has wrapped her calves in puttees she wears ladies shoes.

Where did ‘Mrs Johnson’, whose rings reveal that she is married woman, get hold of a Boer War uniform, along with an officer’s sword?

Our volunteer researcher, Alan Dodson, has wondered if ‘Johnson’ was the wife of a soldier who had fought in the Boer War. A William Johnson, serial number is 4067, is documented in the Cenotaph Database as having fought in South Africa, and was discharged to a Wellington address.

He has been subsequently perusing DIA’s marriage records for likely wives. Two women in particular fit the bill age wise:

Alice Maud Beighton (b. 1885) married a William Johnson in 1913 and would have been 30 in 1915 .

Catherina Eva Cross (b. 1892) married a William Johnson in 1914 and would have been 24 in 1915

Could our ‘Mrs Johnson’ be Alice or Catherina Johnson? The case is still open. We’ve got some more work to do on William Johnson, who we do know ended up living in Wellington. But in the meantime, if you have any thoughts or ideas about ”Johnson’s’ identity – for or against, please contact to us.

To find out more about Te Papa’s Berry Boy soldier identification project click here.  If you have any information you can share about the Berry Boys (or Girls) – either a soldier or someone they are photographed with – please email, or leave a phone message for us on 04 381 7129. You can also write to Berry Boys Project Team, Te Papa, PO Box 467, Wellington 6140.

We’re interested in names, stories, tiny snippets of information – anything that helps us know more about these people’s lives before, during, and after the war.

To aid identification, please be sure to include the Te Papa registration number (B.044366, for example) for the photo in question.

Most of all, thank you for your help!


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