Tuesday 26 September 2017

Knighthood would be for RAF squadron, says last surviving Dambuster

George
George "Johnny" Johnson was part of the Royal Air Force 617 Squadron

The last surviving British Dambuster has said that if he received a knighthood it would be to remember his squadron and not himself.

George "Johnny" Johnson was part of Royal Air Force 617 Squadron, which conducted a night of raids on German dams in 1943 in an effort to disable Hitler's industrial heartland.

The 95-year-old is the last surviving British member of the Bomber Command crews who used Barnes Wallis's revolutionary bouncing bombs, releasing them 60ft above ground.

Of the 133 airmen who left on the missions, 53 did not return, giving the mission a survival rate of just over 60%.

Despite being nominated for the accolade, the former squadron leader was not recognised in the New Year Honours list.

TV presenter Carol Vorderman launched a petition to get Mr Johnson a knighthood, branding the decision to leave him off the list "disgraceful".

Since its launch on Wednesday the petition has attracted nearly 90,000 signatures.

Speaking from his home in Bristol, Mr Johnson said he was "absolutely amazed" at the public's response to the petition.

"When I think about the whole thing I feel it is being more directed at me and it should be directed at the squadron," he said.

"I'm the lucky one who is still alive. It is the squadron that did all the work and I was just one of the original 133 aircrew that formed the squadron."

Mr Johnson, who published a book two years about his exploits, said he would accept an honour if he was offered one.

"I would ... bearing in mind it wasn't me, it was the squadron it was going to - that's the whole point," he said.

"I try to emphasise to people that I am the lucky one and I am still alive. It is the squadron that I served with, represented and still represent. Any honour that comes in my direction is an honour for the squadron."

Mr Johnson said of Vorderman: "I only met Carol recently and I was amazed when I did meet her.

"She had just been made an honorary group captain for her work with the Air Training Corps and she was in uniform, and I wondered whether I call her ma'am or sir. I just left it at congratulations.

"I must confess I have enjoyed her company and I hope it hasn't been too much of a bore for her either."

Vorderman said on Wednesday that she was motivated to start the petition because "there is a personal connection" between her and the Second World War veteran.

The former Countdown presenter, who is a trained pilot, revealed she will be personally submitting another honours nomination in a bid to get him a knighthood.

"Really, the reason he is the last surviving Dambuster should be enough (for the knighthood), but it is what he has done since then that is quite incredible," she said.

"I hadn't realised someone had nominated him, which they had. Then to be snubbed, I thought, was absolutely disgraceful.

"He is already 95 and when he was asked to step forward he had no hesitation, just as all those in Bomber Command - none of them had any hesitation.

"If you were part of Bomber Command you had more chance of surviving the Battle of the Somme - that is how many died, it was about half, a 50/50 chance, and they were all volunteers.

"They were incredibly brave and they have been treated disgracefully since then - even today they haven't got a medal."

Mr Johnson is one of only two survivors to take part in the bombing raids on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams. The other is Canadian former front gunner Fred Sutherland.

:: To sign Vorderman's petition visit www.change.org/p/give-britain-s-last-surviving-dambuster-hero-a-knight-hood

Press Association

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