THIS year’s RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Shoreham Airshow was dedicated to the Dambusters, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the raid.
And there to see it was the last surviving Dambuster, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, who was a bomb aimer during Operation Chastise.
Asked if he would like to be up in the Lancaster, which was flying alongside a Hurricane and Spitfire, he immediately said ‘no’.
Mr Johnson 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 91-year-old 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, Mr Johnson 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 Mr Johnson. “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 Mr McCarthy died in 1998, and Mr Johnson still has a close relationship with his son, also named Joe and also a pilot.
Mr Johnson 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 eight years ago, 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.”
n Turn to pages 36/37 and 42/67 for more on the RAFA Shoreham Airshow 2013.