Interview with Johnny Johnson.Three
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Other: Good. [pause] That part I got on camera.
DE: I did press record before.
HH: We were told a very funny story about how Gibson and his new wife booked into some inn in Lincolnshire on the night of their wedding and they had this rare, rare commodity of smoked salmon and they handed it to somebody who was kitchen staff to put it, to serve it up and it came all fried [laughter] And he was apparently absolutely livid that the smoked salmon had been fried.
Other: You would be slightly upset, wouldn’t you?
HH: Someone had told me that story.
GJJ: I gather she was quite a lady too. She was one of the Windmill Dancers, wasn’t she? I think.
Other: I must [pause] Ok.
Other 2: May I take it out? May I take it out?
DE: Can he, can you remove that thing behind you?
GJJ: How tall are you?
Other 2: Six two.
GJJ: Have you stopped growing?
Other 2: Not yet.
Other 2: Ok. Right.
Other 2: Ok.
Other 2: Ready to go.
Other 2: Switched off.
DE: Switched off?
Other 2: Ok.
HH: Do you want me to come and hold that?
[Noise in background]
DE: That’s just to make you jump.
GJJ: The last time that happened I had a coffee and dozed off. The telephone rang. Ahh all down my trousers.
DE: Oh dear.
Other: That’ll teach you.
DE: Yeah. Johnny, I wonder if you could tell me what your feelings were, what your thoughts were when the Dam Busters film came out?
GJJ: Some of it has to be disappointment. I’m afraid the author didn’t get everything quite as right as he might have done. He didn’t mention the Sorpe at all. And the film was based on his book. Didn’t mention the Sorpe at all, either in the introduction or the attack on the Sorpe. So as far as that was concerned we had done nothing at all. I was amazed, I saw recently, saw a copy again where Gibson is looking at one of these now manufactured bombsights on the, on his desk. They didn’t exist. At least as far as I’m aware they didn’t exist. I think the only one that he really accredited to the squadron was that of Dave Maltby’s. His father was headmaster of a big school and I think he had it made. I’m not sure. I know it does say on the thing as used by Flight Lieutenant David Maltby’s crew. That one had done the circle. And Fred Bateman who recently was committed to two years in jail for basically stealing people’s logbooks more than anything else. He auctioned that particular one and I think he made something like forty thousand pounds. Where he got it from I don’t know but it was supposed to have gone back to the family. But these things now have appeared quite frequently in all sorts of areas. I have, I signed two for Nigel the other day. They’re both going to IBCC I think. But, no the other thing about Paul Brickhill is that I know that Johnson is a popular name . Notice I say popular, not common but he managed to get Ted Johnson, flight lieutenant on Joe’s crew and me on Johnson’s crew in the crew list that he produced. I was looking through quickly his latest book in which he deals with the squadrons throughout the war and when he’s talking about the attack on the Sorpe, McCarthy made three attempts and then gave it up. Where he got his [mentions?] from I don’t know. I would have to say that I think the greatest author is John Sweetman. And the thing I like about John is that whatever he’s writing about he researches it thoroughly and then he just writes what he’s found in his research. He doesn’t say this should have happened, that should have happened or could have happened or might have happened. Doesn’t believe in that at all. So, what he produces ultimately is a very factual book and his Operation Chastise which was produced shortly after Paul Brickhill’s book is absolutely accurate from the beginning to the end. And it goes right through from the first thoughts during the early thirties about the dams being used in an attack, as a target right through to the actual completion of the whole thing. I got to know John very well and I do find him a very interesting and pleasant character and I do much appreciate that what he writes is purely factual and nothing more. There are a few of the other authors that might take example from that, I think.
DE: Do you think sometimes perhaps that Operation Chastise has sort of over- shadowed some of the other work that Bomber Command did during the war?
GJJ: I can’t see, quite frankly any reason why it shouldn’t be because the work that Bomber Command did during the war was certainly something that everybody has to be extremely grateful for. And that, I find is another of my moans at the moment — trying to get recognition for those. I think the figure as I know at the moment is fifty seven thousand six hundred and eighty one, something like that, who were killed. Over eight thousand that were injured, some permanently, and the over nine thousand who spent some time in German prisoner of war camps. No recognition of that comes up on anywhere. Particularly from the politicians. The senior politicians in particular. And I have moaned about this and the non-appearance of a Bomber Command medal. And the last time I did this was, strangely enough at the IBCC’s annual dinner two years ago. I was asked if I would say a few words about Bomber Command and about the museum itself, the centre itself and I really went to town on the Bomber Command bit. Particularly Churchill. Because he, to my mind, had no time at all for Sir Arthur Harris, the chief of Bomber Command who was so much respected by the air crews of Bomber Command. And the one particular instance that sticks out is the operation against Dresden. Arthur Harris didn’t want to do it. It had no military achievement. All we would be doing is creating fire but Churchill insisted that it was done. And when it was done and it became virtually a holocaust at Dresden Churchill blamed Harris for it. He had wanted to do it. He striked me as being the type of man who if he had an idea which he thought would help end the war he’d go to the senior colleague in that particular area and suggest it to them. If it came off it was my idea. If it doesn’t it’s your fault. It shouldn’t have gone like that. And that was the sort of thing I found so annoying about his attitude generally. It may sound a bit off-side, an Englishman talking about Churchill in that matter but that’s the way I feel about him. I found that on that particular dinner meeting I mentioned senior politicians all the way through and when it came to the IBCC I was as full of praise as I possibly could be and stressed the personal effect it could have. And at that time my MP, my local MP, [Catherine Lesser?] at Bristol [?] I had met on a couple of occasions before, I’d done a brief interview with the Daily Express, shortly before the dinner and the Daily Telegraph journalist was sitting in the dinner making notes as I spoke and they both printed the next morning. And oddly, Catherine read it and then she wrote a letter to David Cameron which suggested why didn’t he do something about it? Why couldn’t he even invite me down there and discuss what might be done between us to put this on. And then I got a copy of his reply to her letter and a more political letter you couldn’t wish to see. Everything that could be done had been done. You can’t afford two medals for the same business and there’s already the 1945 [pause] sorry the ’39 ’45 Star and the Air Crew Europe and now they’ve got the clasp which I had said at my talk I thought was an absolute insult. A tiny bit of copper with perhaps Bomber Command, if you can read it, across it. It has to be fitted to an existing medal and [pause] but then, that’s the way it goes. And so far, we’re still no nearer to a Bomber Command medal than we were then but at least it doesn’t stop us from trying. Anyway, when I get the opportunity, I belly ache about it and I will go on to.
DE: What do you think about the memorials that there are to Bomber Command?
GJJ: I think the park, the Green Park one is very good. I think the, I take my hat off to the sculptor that designed it. I think that you can see the look of expectation in that crew’s eyes as they’re waiting for their comrades to come back. And you can also see in some the tiredness in their eyes. And if — I’ve got a picture down there. If you can. The one behind the one in the front.
DE: We’ll have a look at it in a minute if you —
GJJ: That shows [pause] That shows the model, the memorial in the background behind that aircraft with the, “Never forget,” notice underneath. I think it’s tremendous. But yes, a very good model. But again, it’s not, not as personal as the IBCC and that I think is the finest memorial to Bomber Command that there is in this country in that it is so personal and reflects so much the work that Bomber Command did. And of course, includes the Bomber Command county of course as we say Lincolnshire was known. Others, I think, where they’re placed, I think the people that have done it have done it with every good intention and I think they make a point but the dominance in my mind comes from the IBCC and I have yet to see anything that will really overtake it.
DE: Smashing. Thank you. Just, as I think as a final question what are your feelings about the campaigns to give you some personal recognition?
GJJ: I am absolutely completely grateful to all those people that have worked and prepared to sign the petitions and those who have worked so hard to get them signed. I’m grateful for the award that has resulted from that. Very grateful. But I have to remember that this is not me. I’m the lucky one. I’m still alive. This is representation of what the squadron has done and that is the way it needs to be looked at. I will always regard it as such. Again, but still with great gratitude for, for the recognition. And that is why I find that my recognition from Lincoln [pause] Lincoln [pause] I’ll try that again, from Lincoln University is so special to me because it not only deals with my wartime stuff but it deals more specifically or I think highlights more specifically my work and life after my service life. And I think that I’ll always be extremely grateful for that. Absolutely. A great deal.
DE: Thank you very much. I think that’s, that’s absolutely wonderful. We’ve got, got all we hoped to get and more. Thank you.
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