Wartime legend Johnny Johnson inspires the Westbury Air Cadets

Published on: 20 Dec 2017

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Students from the 2442 (Westbury-on-Trym) Squadron of the Air Training Corps listened with fascination to a speech by guest speaker, George “Johnny” Johnson MBE, DFM, Britain’s last surviving member of the Dambusters raid in World War II. 

Mr Johnson visited the Squadron on December 7 at their base in The Tower, Westbury College, to talk about his time in Squadron X, where he trained for the Bomber Command mission in the 1940s. A packed hall of Cadets and the public awaiting his arrival, people who’d all come to hear the 96-year-old speak of his wartime training and missions.

Flight Lieutenant Wong welcomed Mr Johnson and offered congratulations on his recent MBE award which he received from the Queen in November. 

“It’s a chance for the Cadets to meet a real life war hero. They all learn history at school and here is someone who fought in World War II,” she said.

Mr Johnson was a bomb aimer in Joe McCarthy’s crew in Lancaster AJ-T, which attacked the Sorpe Dam on the night of 16-17 May 1943. He joined the Air Force in November 1940 and trained as a gunner: “People say to me ‘We’re you frightened?’ I was apprehensive at the time. We were not allowed to talk to anyone about what we were doing to to know where we were going until near the moment,” he said.

Barnes Wallis, whose bouncing bomb was used by the Royal Air Force in Operation Chastise (the "Dambusters" raid) to attack the dams of the Ruhr Valley, thought that at least six bombs would be needed to crack the dam and that water pressure would do the rest. When Mr Johnson arrived at the dam, he found that none of the other aircraft were there so he and the pilot took more than ten runs at the dam, flying the aircraft as low as 30 feet to drop the bombs accurately. 

“My concentration was on the bomb and the target but when the bomb dropped some water came back up into the aircraft! Flying back home took us over other dams - there was water everywhere, like an inland sea.

“We went out in the darkness of night with contemporaries aged on average, around 23 years old. Of the 16 aircraft that went out on the mission, eight returned and 53 air crew died. It was a tremendous loss of life for one night. 

“I know that I was lucky and honoured to take part in the raid and it’s one that I will never, ever forget,” said Mr Johnson.

The speech was roundly applauded and many of the listeners were keen to meet Mr Johnson in person.

Cadet Cooke said: “I think he’s quite an inspiring character. People like him should be encouraged to speak with others to teach us about the things our ancestors went through. He’s shown tremendous bravery in what he’s done and I feel very privileged to have heard about it.”

Cadet Ross said: “It’s brilliant to hear him because you get someone’s first person perspective of what went on during the war.”

“It was nice to meet him and some of the things he said were pretty funny,” added Cadet Hilton.

The 2442 Westbury-on-Trym Air Training Corps enjoy adventure, fun and learning through practical experience, especially in the great outdoors. Camping, both at home and abroad, plus adventurous training in skills such as rock climbing and canoeing are all part of the fun. 

There are opportunities to soar in a glider once Cadets reach the age of 16, study for a BTEC in Aeronautics and to progress to the Air Cadet Pilot Scheme if they have the correct qualifications. An International Air Exchange between Cadets from Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Hong Kong and Cyprus, plus a whole host of other countries, adds a whole new level of international cooperation.

To contact email: 2442@aircadets.org

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