Fred Sutherland: tribute from the Johnson family

Left to right: Fred Sutherland, “Johnnie” Johnson, Ray Grayston. Pictured at East Kirkby, 2002. 

Guest post by Philip Johnson, son of Flt Lt Edward “Johnnie” Johnson DFC, bomb aimer in AJ-N on the Dams Raid. (All pictures © Philip Johnson.)

I am 81 now and my memories of my father’s crewmate Fred Sutherland and his wife Marg are based on conversations with my father and the meetings I had with Fred and Marg at the 617 Squadron major events that I was invited to over the years, starting with the premiere of The Dam Busters film in London in 1955.

My father aways called Fred by his RAF nickname “Doc”. My father would retell stories he would hear from Doc and Marg about their adventures and trips. To him, Doc was always an “outdoor in the Rockies” man. Marg would occasionally exchange ideas and information with my mother on their joint interest in fabrics and hand skills (sewing and embroidery). For years, my mother cherished a small doll given to her by Marg (I think from South America or Mexico – a fabric/weaving trip). Marg guaranteed it improved sleep. I still have it working for me.

My last meeting with them both, and the occasion when I spent most time with Doc, was at my father’s 90th Birthday party in May 2002. As a family we were fortunate to be able to enjoy his birthday in the company of Fred and Marg, and also Ray Grayston and his family. What a splendid few days we had at the Petwood Hotel and the East Kirkby Aviation Centre where we enjoyed the final pleasure of a trip down the runway in the restored Lancaster.

There will never be enough words to capture the loss the family of Doc and Marg must feel. It has to be for me to say, on behalf of all my family in UK and New Zealand, “Farewell, knowing you was a special pleasure.”

Here are some pictures to show what Fred and Marg meant to my family.

This rare picture, probably taken while they were still at 50 Squadron, shows Les Knight with his complete Dams Raid crew. Left to right: Fred Sutherland, Johnnie Johnson, Bob Kellow, Harry O’Brien, Sydney Hobday, Les Knight, Ray Grayston. The two men on the right hand side are unknown ground crew. [Amended from original post, 03/02/2019.]

Fred and Marg skiing. A note on the back in Fred’s writing says “Feb 90 at Lake O’Hara”. 

A special gift on Johnnie Johnson’s 90th birthday was a recreation of the well-known wartime picture of the Knight crew by artist Simon Smith. Johnnie, Ray Grayston and Fred Sutherland shown here with the portrait. 

Inside Lancaster “Just Jane” at East Kirkby. Fred Sutherland trying out the pilot’s seat. 

Fred and Marg Sutherland inspecting a vintage Bentley car outside the Dambusters Inn in Scampton. 

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Six Dambusters photographed for 1993 reunion

RH12 You mag spread lores

Pic: Ray Hepner

Among the many fascinating items in Ray Hepner’s collection of Dams Raid artifacts are a number of press cuttings from down the years. This great article from the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine is just one. It was taken sometime in early 1993, and appeared in the magazine on 9 May 1993, the week before the 50th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
The picture shows (left to right) Dudley Heal, Edward (“Johnnie”) Johnson, Jimmy Clay, David Shannon, Basil Feneron and George Chalmers lined up in front of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster at RAF Coningsby.
The caption to the picture doesn’t say this but the article which accompanies it does note the sad event which occurred between the photograph being taken and its publication a few weeks later: the death on 8 April 1993 of David Shannon, something which rather put a dampener on the anniversary events.
Time has marched on since then, and now all these gentlemen are no longer with us. But it is nice to see them all together in the autumn of their years, for one last time.

Dambuster of the Day No. 61: Edward Johnson

Hobday Knight Johnson 23Jun43

L-R: Sydney Hobday, Les Knight and Edward (‘Johnnie’) Johnson, outside Buckingham Palace in June 1943. [Pic:www.studiegroepluchtoorlog.nl] 

Flg Off E C Johnson
Bomb aimer

Lancaster serial number: ED912/G

Call sign: AJ-N

First wave. Third aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately causing final breach.

There were two bomb aimers called Johnson on the Dams Raid, something that occasionally causes confusion. A third bomb aimer was called Johnston. In the inevitable way of things in the wartime RAF, both Johnsons were also known to their friends and colleagues as ‘Johnnie’ (EC Johnson’s preferred spelling). The older of the two was Edward Cuthbert Johnson, bomb aimer in Les Knight’s crew, who was born in Lincoln on 3 May 1912, the son of Herbert and Jessie Johnson.

His father was killed on the Western Front in 1914, when the family were living in Gainsborough. He was then educated at Lincoln Grammar School. On leaving school, he worked for Woolworths and then the catering firm, Lyons.

After marrying May Beckwith in 1936, he moved to Blackpool to work in a boarding house business in Blackpool with her family. Their son, Philip, was born in 1938.

He joined the RAF in 1940, qualified as an observer/bomb aimer in early 1942, and was commissioned. After further training he was posted briefly to 106 Squadron, but then sent back to a training unit to be crewed up with Les Knight and his colleagues. They moved to 50 Squadron in September 1942, and Johnson flew on some twenty-two operations with the Knight crew.

Johnson and Hobday were the elder statesmen of the Knight crew, both nine years older than their skipper, and senior to him in rank. But they worked well as a team, each obviously seeing in the younger man the qualities of an outstanding pilot. All three were decorated for their role in the Dams Raid, Knight getting the DSO and Johnson and Hobday the DFC, and were photographed together outside Buckingham Palace on the day of the investiture.

In September, on the fateful Dortmund Ems operation, Johnson jumped from the stricken Lancaster when ordered to by Knight. He yelled: ‘Cheerio boys. Best of luck. See you in London.’ He recalled later: ‘The farewells were a little hasty but lacked nothing in sincerity for that.’ Like four of his colleagues, Johnson successfully evaded capture and reached the safety of Spain, with the help of a friendly Dutch farmer and policeman, and various members of the resistance in Holland, Belgium and France. He returned to the UK via Gibraltar. He served out the rest of the war in various ground postings, and left the RAF in 1947.

He went back to Blackpool, and joined a company selling fireplaces, where he worked until his retirement. Edward Johnson died in Blackpool on 1 October 2002.

More about Johnson online:
Obituary in the Daily Telegraph

Survived war. Died 1 October 2002.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003

Dambuster obituaries

I have been scouring the interwebnet for online material about the aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid for a project I will be unveiling shortly, but in the meantime, I thought I would share the fruits of part of my research. So far, I have come across these online postwar obituaries:

Ken Brown
George Chalmers
Edward (Johnnie) Johnson
David Rodger
Danny Walker

Thanks to a helpful library subscription, I have also come across four other earlier obituaries which are not generally available in online sources, but can be turned up in newspaper archives. These are of:

Basil Feneron
Harold (Mick) Martin
David Shannon
Paul Brickhill

(I know the last of these did not take part in the Dams Raid himself, but I thought his obituary might be of interest.) I have posted these four obituaries on my other website, and you can see them here.

If you can add any further online or offline material to these links then I would be glad to hear from you.