Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Johnston GCVO MC


John Frederick Dame Johnston was born in Burma on 24 Aug 1922. He was a Roman Catholic, educated at Ampleforth, and a friend of Cardinal Hume. He went to Sandhurst and was commissioned into the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards during World War 2. He first trained tank crews then commanded 12 Troop for nearly 3 years. Much time was spent training for the D-Day landings with Churchill tanks but his Troop concentrated on the Pas de Calais as a decoy attack to fool the Germans. He received a head wound on 21 April 1945 which put him out of action until the end of the war, but he was awarded the MC.

In 1949 he married Elizabeth Hardinge younger daughter of Lord Hardinge of Penshurst. Elizabeth's sister Winifred was already married to Anthony Murray, another Grenadier Guards officer. Johnston was Brigade-major in 1962, leading the procession at Trooping the Colour. He had to have a crash course in horse-riding for the occasion. In 1962 he was Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, until 1964 when he retired from the army to become Assistant Comptroller in the Lord Chamberlain's Office. He succeeded Sir Eric Penn, another Grenadier, in 1981, to become Comptroller, just in time to organise the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer.

As major he appeared on American TV in the game show 'What's My Line?', in full dress uniform with bearskin and sword. There are two well known photos of Johnnie Johnston that have been well publicised in the press, one is of him in full uniform holding the Queen's handbag on Horseguards Parade. The other is of his back view, hatless, in Guards full dress, standing next to Diana as she enters the cathedral. He later said on a radio interview that he was having to restrain Lord Spencer and Diana who were champing at the bit to enter the cathedral. He said to them, "I'll let you know when you can go." Diana had undergone many rehearsals and retorted "You've been telling me that for the last six weeks. You haven't told me how I look." He paused and then said, "You look wonderful." And with that he set them off up the aisle. He received a kiss from her after the ceremony.

His duties involved the organisation of funerals, garden parties, investitures and state visits by overseas Heads of State. He had a reputation for punctiliousness and earned the nickname Stopwatch Johnnie. In those days the job included administration of the royal palaces and the Royal Collection. He had responsibility for the Central Chancery of Knighthood, the Lords-in-Waiting, the Gentlemen at Arms, Yeomen of the Guard, Royal Company of Archers, the Royal Watermen, and the annual swan upping. His wife died in 1995 and he died on 10 Sep 2006, survived by his son and daughter.


Holding the Queen's Handbag


Lieutenant-Colonel Johnnie Johnston stands on Horseguards Parade in full dress uniform holding the Queen's handbag. The date is unknown to me but must be c1963.


The Royal Wedding 1981


The famous picture of Diana having just arrived at St Paul's Cathedral on 29 July 1981. Earl Spencer is in morning suit on the left and Lt-Col Johnston is in the dress uniform of the Grenadier Guards but without his bearskin.


Regimental details | Commanding Officers




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by Stephen Luscombe