Donald was born on 6th March 1890 in Saffron Walden, Essex, United Kingdom, the youngest of four children - three boys and a girl. His parents were the Rev. Richard Johnson and his wife Eliza Bennett Johnson. Donald was educated at Caterham School before going up to Emmanuel College Cambridge, where he joined the Officer Training Corps. Donald showed an early aptitude for writing poetry and in 1914, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for English Verse at Cambridge for a poem he wrote about Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed expedition to the Antarctic that ended so tragically in 1912. The poem was called “The Southern Pole”. While at Cambridge, Donald converted to Roman Catholicism.
When war broke out, Donald applied to join the 11th Suffolk Regiment that his brother Owen had joined but was instead posted to the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. He was commissioned as an officer in February 1915 and was sent to France on 7th December 1915. Another brother, The Rev. Lewis G. Johnson, served with the YMCA in France.
Donald was mortally wounded on 15th July 1916 during an attack on the German Lines in Authville Wood. He died soon afterwards at the Dressing Station in Bouzincourt, France and is buried in Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery Extention.
Donald’s brother Owen was killed during the Battle of Arras in 1917 and his sister died in Calcutta in 1915. Donald’s poem “H.M.J.” was to the memory of his sister.