Last of the Dambusters Johnny Johnson turns 100 with Newark tributes paid
Warm wishes have been sent to the last remaining hero of the second world war Dambuster raid, Johnny Johnson, on the occasion of his 100th birthday today.
A former head of the RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford grew up with the Dambusters story while a pupil at Newark’s Magnus Grammar School.
Sir Andrew, who lives locally, told the Advertiser: “Growing up as a boy I was inspired by the Dambusters’ story.
“From those early days, and ever since, I’ve known it as an incredible story.
“A very many congratulations to Johnny on reaching his century.”
Sir Andrew’s ‘best mate’ of the time Dave Robertson, Wing Commander David Robertson as he became, led the fabled Dambusters, No. 617 Squadron, at the time of the 60th anniversary of the morale-boosting raid, and during the second Gulf War.
Pupils at Highfields School in Newark, where Johnny taught for many years, sang him a happy birthday and blew out candles on a cake, before offering up three cheers to their hero.
Johnny has returned to the school on several occasions over the years and has recounted the Dambusters raid.
“We have very fond memories of him,” said Cleo Staniforth, admissions and marketing manager at the school.
“He brought the button from a bomb aimer with him that really brought what he was saying to life. The children were transfixed.
“We send him cards and letters. He is very much a part of Highfields, our culture and school language.”
Highfields helped celebrate the milestone birthday by supporting the Dambusters Ride that involved more than 300 riders in the summer for RAF Benevolent Fund, of which Johnny has been a lifetime supporter. The ride took in landmarks in the east of England that were significant to 617 Squadron, including Highfields and RAF Scampton and Cranwell.
As a child, Johnny lived in Langford and then Collingham as his father was a farm foreman.
In June 1940, he volunteered for the RAF and having failed selection as a pilot he took a gunnery course; then later a specialist bomb aimers’ course at RAF Fulbeck.
He would take part in 50 operations with RAF Bomber Command, including, most famously, the Dambusters attack on the Sorpe Dam when he released his Barnes Wallis’ remarkable bouncing bomb with pinpoint accuracy on the tenth attempt, despite the foggy conditions obscuring the target.
While flying back to RAF Scampton, the crew passed over the damaged Mohne Dam and Johnny witnessed first-hand the results of that successful mission as water flooded inland for over 50 miles.
It had been a costly night as eight of the 19 Lancasters failed to return to Scampton and 53 airmen were killed.
For his role in the raid Johnny was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal during an investiture at Buckingham Palace. He served in the RAF until 1962 and then became a teacher at Highfields.
Following retirement Johnny and his wife, Gwyn, moved to Torquay where they lived happily together until her death in 2005.
Following an unsuccessful petition signed by 237,000 people to give Johnny a knighthood for his heroics and fundraising activities, he was made an MBE by the Queen in 2017.
Bob MacRae-Clifton, former RAFA Newark Branch chairman, said: “Today is the day the last Dambuster, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, 617 Squadron, Operation Chastise, becomes a centenarian.
“Congratulations Sir, I call him Sir as mark of respect to his rank but also to the man himself.
“Like most young boys, I watched the film in awe of these heroes of the Royal Air Force, but didn’t know and will never know the horror and frightening experiences they have lived through and all the friends from other crews that perished while flying bomber command operations.
“Bomber Command are quietly remembered but men like Johnny Johnson are regarded as much as the few that fought the Battle of Britain.
“I was lucky to serve in same Royal Air Force as Johnny Johnson and be a part of the legacies they all have left to the future airmen and airwomen, they are the few now.
“It was men like him that convinced me to join and serve in the RAF.
“Many happy returns and thank you.”