Joe McCarthy and his wartime friends

Joe McCarthy’s son, Joe McCarthy Jr, has kindly sent me some more information about the well-known picture of members of his father’s crew fraternising with the crew of an American B-26, taken at the Earls Colne airfield in Essex in 1944. I have previously reproduced a similar picture in the Dambuster of the Day article on Ron Batson.

Joe’s picture is a better shot obviously taken at the same time, as it doesn’t cover Johnny Johnson’s face. He also sent me a clipping from a newspaper given to him by Dorothy Bailey (daughter of Bill Radcliffe, the flight engineer in the McCarthy crew) which reproduces the same picture and helpfully includes a caption listing all the personnel:

Two more interesting points from Joe. The return flight from Earls Colne to Woodhall Spa was probably the last time that Johnny Johnson flew with the crew, as he left the squadron shortly after. McCarthy’s new bomb aimer was ‘Danny’ Daniels who went on to fly with ‘Willie’ Tait, including on the Tirpitz raid.

Next to McCarthy is the American pilot Major John Bull Stirling, another US citizen who joined the RCAF before the USA entered the war. In fact Stirling had been in the same RCAF training class in Ontario as McCarthy but he chose to transfer into the US Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor. According to this entry on the American Air Museum in Britain website, he had an eventful time during the war and died in 1988.

Dambuster Double signed book

‘Unique’ is a pretty overworked adjective these days, but here is something that I am confident is exactly that. It is a copy of my book, The Complete Dambusters, and it has been signed on the title page by both of the last two men alive who took part in the Dams Raid, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson and Fred Sutherland.

I am very honoured that they both took the time to sign it, and I thank the members of both families who helped make this possible.

Johnson unveils Dambusters Reunited exhibition

Guest post: all text and photographs by Edwina Towson

Last Sunday the “Dambusters Reunited” exhibition of portraits painted by Dan Llewelyn Hall was formally opened.  It is made up of images of the 133 aircrew of 617 squadron who flew on the Dams Raid on the night of 16/17 May 1943. The exhibition is now on view at the RAF Club at 128 Piccadilly, London W1J 7PY and runs until 31 May.

The compact portraits populated the room in the way that they had only ever done in life together on three occasions, the last being the pre-raid briefing when, finally, their target was revealed. Dan Llywelyn Hall had worked to restore these men to their group status but as individuals, spending time looking at a photograph of each and absorbing any biographical details, anecdotes and family reminiscences that could be gleaned at 75 years distance to determine the character in the features of each face.

The 75 years distance was briefly closed for us in the gallery when a special guest, George “Johnny” Johnson, came back into the presence of the gathered portraits, bringing with him so many memories of his own of the dams raid and of the planning and training for it.

He took his seat at the end of the exhibition space, next to a larger portrait of his current self which Dan Llywelyn Hall had painted, in addition to the smaller one of young Sergeant Johnson, bomb-aimer of the crew of Lancaster AJ-T, taking its place in the sets on the long side walls, which were arranged in sevens, seven being a Lancaster’s crewsworth.

Johnny Johnson and Dan Llywelyn Hall

With some prompting questions from the artist, the 96 year old airman talked a bit about the raid in 1943 and described how the specialist bomb sight (which he holds in the large portrait) was something that had needed re-making to be useful. He also talked about the excitement of flying on 17 May this year in the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster over the Derwent Dam. He remarked that, this time, he had been given a chair to use in the bomb-aimer’s station, which was a lot more comfortable than lying flat in the blister, as he had needed to when directing the pilot into position over the target.

Later, the artist invited the poet Oliver James Lomax to read some of his poems, starting with one called “Dambuster” which appears in the commemorative book recording the exhibition.

Oliver James Lomax reads his poem

Representatives of associated charities had been invited to speak on their particular interest and, generously, Johnny Johnson encouraged us all to give for the charitable causes by signing copies of the large portrait and of the books connected with the exhibition.

Rewarded by Dan Llywelyn Hall with a bottle of Welsh whisky from the Penderyn distillery and holding a glass of red wine for immediate consumption, Johnny Johnson took to his feet and stood in front of the main portrait as the people gathered in the gallery applauded his spirit and his evident determination to keep the 617 narrative in the public eye.

Afterwards, he slowly walked round the portraits, looking hard into the other 132 faces and seeing there things which the rest of us, spared the searing of that Dambuster night, can only guess at.

 

Johnson flies in BBMF Lancaster

Pic: BBMF

Twenty-four hours later than planned, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson was a passenger in the BBMF Lancaster this morning when it flew from Coningsby at about 0800. The Lancaster’s route took them over Scampton and the Derwent Dam before landing again at Scampton about an hour later. Johnny flew in the bomb aimer’s position, just as he did when he took off from Scampton 75 years ago yesterday on the Dams Raid.

The flight was postponed from yesterday by weather conditions. The fact that Johnny was always scheduled to be a passenger was a very well-kept secret, as it was feared that if it became known he was going to be on board the traffic problems would have been even worse.

More to follow

Johnny Johnson collects MBE from the Queen

One of the last two men alive who took part in the Dams Raid, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, was decorated yesterday with the MBE by the Queen at a Buckingham Palace investiture. Johnson, who will be 96 in 17 days time, was the bomb aimer in Joe McCarthy’s crew in Lancaster AJ-T, which attacked the Sorpe Dam on the night of 16/17 May 1943. The other survivor is the 94-year-old Canadian Fred Sutherland, the front gunner in Les Knight’s crew in AJ-N, which dropped the final mine on the Eder Dam, causing its breach.

Johnny Johnson was decorated for his services to Second World War remembrance and to the community in Bristol, where he lives. He said afterwards that the Queen told him that she was ‘glad to see that the Dambusters are still here’.

Johnny Johnson has, of course, been to the palace for an investiture once before, on 22 June 1943, when he was one of the 33 men decorated by the current Queen’s mother after the Dams Raid. On that occasion he received the DFM. He must be one of the few who have an MBE to add to his collection.

BBC News Bristol report

Johnny meets mascot for the first time in 70 years

Johnson Bailey 5523 lores

Pic: Heather Allsworth

George “Johnny” Johnson came face to face again with the crew mascot who flew with him on the Dams Raid recently at East Kirkby. The small toy panda is now owned by Dorothy Bailey, the daughter of Johnny’s crew mate, Bill Radcliffe, and recently featured on an episode of the BBC Antiques Roadshow.
Radcliffe was the flight engineer and Johnson the bomb aimer in the Lancaster skippered by Joe McCarthy, one of the two Dams Raid aircraft to attack the Sorpe Dam in the early hours of 17 May 1943. Radcliffe would tuck the mascot inside his flying boot before every operation, and both it and he survived the war. Unfortunately in 1952 he was killed in a car crash, back in his native Canada so his widow and young children returned to England.
Dorothy and Johnny had never met before, so this was an opportunity for her to ask him about the father she scarcely knew and, of course, for Johnny to see again the little toy whose lucky life may have helped him survive the war.