The day the last surviving Dambuster, Johnny Johnson, came to Shoreham

The RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in 2013 was dedicated to the Dambusters, marking the 70th anniversary of the Second World War raid, and the last surviving crew member, Johnny Johnson was in Shoreham to witness it.

Monday, 18th May 2020, 10:05 am

George Johnson, known as Johnny, was a bomb aimer during Operation Chastise, one of 133 young men in 19 Lancaster bombers on a mission to attack the Ruhr dams on May 16-17, 1943.

Eight of the planes did not return and 53 crew lost their lives, with another three taken as prisoners of war.

Today, 77 years on, Johnny is the last to survive. He was a VIP guest at Shoreham Airshow in 2013 and he kindly took time out to speak to the Shoreham Herald.

Johnny Johnson with re-enactors during his visit to Shoreham in 2013. Picture: Stephen Goodger S36760H13

Asked if he would like to be up in the Lancaster, which was flying alongside a Hurricane and Spitfire, he immediately said ‘no’.

Johnny explained: “I have been in it, but it is a little more modern than the one I flew in.

“It is still to my mind the best aircraft, the finest bomber aircraft that Bomber Command had.

“It was noisy, smelly sometimes, but it was entirely reliable and, more importantly, it carried a much bigger bomb load than any other aircraft.”

The Lancaster flying over Shoreham in 2013. Picture: Stephen Goodger S36749H13

Johnny was 91 at the time and he had travelled from Bristol for the weekend, spending both Saturday and Sunday at the airshow, along with other Bomber Command veterans.

“I have enjoyed the whole 70th anniversary celebrations, ” he said.

“They started on May 15 with the reshowing of The Dam Busters film at Woodhall Spa, right next door to the hotel which was the officers’ mess.”

A sergeant during the raid on the Ruhr dams, Johnny said his skipper was Joe McCarthy, who was 6ft 3in and known as ‘Big Joe’.

“He was big in size and big in personality, ” recalled Johnny. “I had so much confidence in him that I never thought I wasn’t going to come back.

“I flew 40 to 50 trips with him but in the end I left the crew on his advice for personal reasons. My wife Gwen was expecting our first child and he told me ‘you have got to give her a break’. That was the sort of man he was.

“I looked on him as an older brother. From the time we met, we just seemed to gel, which just stayed that way the whole time.”

They often met up at reunions before Joe died in 1998, and Johnny still has a close relationship with his son, also named Joe and also a pilot.

Johnny said he has three children, a boy and two girls, plus eight grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, and enjoys having such a family.

He lost his wife to cancer in 2005, having been married for 62 years.

He said he always tells the younger members of his family to never go to bed on a row. “Making up is far better than rowing.”

But he said he played down his Dambusters role to them, not wanting to be known as a hero, and refused to accept the word ‘old’, saying only that he’s getting older.

“We joined to fight a war and to do a job,” he explained. “What we were doing was what we joined up for.

“My job started as we approached the target. I was so concentrating on the job, I didn’t take notice of anything else around me.

“The music of those four Merlin engines will last forever.

“They will always remind me of lying in front of that aircraft doing the job I was supposed to do.”

A message from the Editor, Gary Shipton:

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news, I am asking you to please purchase a copy of our newspapers.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspapers.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

Stay safe, and best wishes.