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Janet Johnson- Australian Actress and Wartime Ambulance Driver

Finally I have found some information about an Australian Actress who did her part during WWII!  Most of this information is from The Australian women’s Weekly.

Born Janet Ramsey Johnson in Adelaide, South Australia in 1914, Ms Johnson was one of two daughters of Peter and Jeanie Johnson. The family moved to Melbourne, living in Toorak.  Ms Johnson appeared in school plays, and after leaving school toured Australia and New Zealand with JC Williamson Ltd acting in the “The Wind and the Rain” and other plays.  She returned to Melbourne for a season in “The Shining Hour” and “Sixteen.”

In 1935 she appeared in the leading role in Harry Southwell’s film ‘The Burgomeister.”  

Image July 1935

The following year Janet traveled with her mother to England, to visit her sister Margaret who was working for Vogue.  She also intended to attend dramatic school, but was given the role of the sixteen year old in “The lady of La Paz”, alongside Lillian Braithwaite. She appeared in supporting roles in several films over the next few years, including Michael Balcon’s “The Proud Valley”.  In 1936 Ms Johnson was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout, from Twentieth Century Fox, and asked to go to Hollywood for film tests. 

Image September 1936


 She spent six months in Hollywood in early 1937, but could not land a film role. She did however meet her future husband in Hollywood – Mr Charles Birkin, a short story writer who specialized in horror stories.

After six months of being paid for no work, she returned to London and rejoined the Lilian Braithwaite company, which was performing ‘Bats in the Belfry.”  She was then offered the part of Miranda in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,”  produced in the Regent’s Park open-air theatre, and also appeared in a couple of other performances, including ‘Comedy of Errors.  In 1938 she starred in the British comic thriller ‘Blondes for Danger’, followed by ‘A Cup of Happiness’ in 1939.

When war broke out Ms Johnson volunteered as an ambulance driver with the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service. 


October 1939 (The Australian Women’s Weekly).

In 1940 Ms Johnson appeared with Derek Farr as the young wartime lovers in the play “A House in the Square,” as well as in the British film’ ‘Mrs Pym of Scotland Yard’.


In 1940 Janet appeared in ‘The Proud Valley’ with actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson.  After a short engagement, in July of 1940 she married Sir Charles Birkin,whom she had met two years earlier. Charles succeeded his uncle as 5th Baronet Birkin in 1942, and served in the Sherwood Foresters during the war.  Janet retired from acting in film after her marriage, and the couple had three children together, Jennifer, Amanda and John, the current baronet.  John Birkin directed many notable British television comedies including Mr Bean and French and Saunders.

Janet and Charles spent their later years in Sulby, Isle of Man.  Janet died in London on 18 December 1983, age 69, and Charles in 1985.



About thewartimewoman

I love history, fashion, art and design, especially of the 1930s to the 1960s. I am also a mother, wife, interior decorator & a treasure hunter who wishes she could drive a 1933 Delage. I studied Architecture at Melbourne university, briefly, and completed a Diploma of Art in Interior Design at the Melbourne College of Decoration in 1991. I have worked on an off as a decorator ever since, in between stints as a florist, balloon artist, having my five children and helping my husband in his law firm. in my spare time I love researching history, blogging and gardening.

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