Veteran Stories:
Frank Chalmers Johnson

Air Force

  • Notice to Frank Johnson's family of his failure to return to his squadron. Mr. Johnson had been shot down and had been taken as a prisoner of war in April, 1945.

    Frank Johnson.
  • Frank Johnson's squadron, 174. Date and location of the photo unknown, though possibly taken in the fall of 1944 in Holland. Frank Johnson is in the second row, third from the left. The squadron's adjutant is standing on the far left of that same row, wearing a great coat.

    Frank Johnson.
  • Frank Johnson (right) with "Bud" Lacanne (left) and "Shorty" Wright (centre). Frank and Shorty received their wings together in Aylmer, Ontario.

    RAF/RCAF
  • Unit photo of the pilots. Frank Johnson is in the front row, fourth from the right. Photo taken in England, August, 1943.

    Frank Johnson
  • Frank Johnson in his flight suit.

    Frank Johnson
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"I’d be roughly, from wingtip to wingtip, about roughly 25, 30 feet away. I looked over at him and here was this guy, he couldn’t have been more than maybe 20 years old or 18 years old, he looked absolutely terrified."

Transcript

But what bugs me most now and this is a thing that it plagues me, it really plagues me now when I think about all the destruction that I did and the people that I know that I had killed through my activities [as a Hawker Typhoon pilot, a single-seat fighter-bomber aircraft]. And that bothers the hell out of me. It bothers me so much that it even wakes me up at night thinking about it.

I got shot down [on] March the 30th, 1945. And I crashed my head, my forehead crashed up against the ring site, you won’t know what that is but the ring site, that’s supposed to have a sponge rubber flange around the edge of it so that if you did hit your head on it, you wouldn’t get hurt. But I cracked my head on it and really split it open.

And I got out of the aircraft and I sat there and I just couldn’t move, I was just so stunned by everything. And next thing I heard was his voice: ‘Schweinhunt, schweinhunt’, because that means pig for [the] German[s] or something. And I looked down, here was this German woman running at me with a two pronged pitchfork. And I could see the prongs because they were so shiny and she was coming at me with this pitchfork. And she’d get within about maybe 25 yards of me, I pulled out my revolver, it didn’t even have any bullets in it, and I pointed it at her. And she threw the pitchfork down and ran away, calling to her kids I guess it was, because they went out of the house and down the road.

But I got across the field into sort of a wooded area and the Germans came along shortly after and picked me up. Darkness has set in and I’m just in this battledress tunic, shock also has set in and it’s as cold as hell, you know, March 30th [1945] in Germany. And they put a guard over me, a German guard. His name was Ernst. And he saw me sitting there shivering. So he said something to me in German, I didn’t know what he said. Anyway, what he did, he took his great coat off and put it around me. And I said, I think danke was thank you, I said: ‘Danke’ and he said something. And I said to him: ‘Vasser, vasser’, meaning water, because oh, I was so thirsty.

So the lieutenant, he was a nice guy too, he was an ordinary guy, come over and says: ‘Nein vasser, nein vasser’. So I says: ‘vasser, vasser’. So he didn’t say anything to me, so he says to this German guy who was guarding me, who had given me his great coat, said something about, I don’t know what the hell it was but out he comes out of his kit bag with this long, the bottle must have been at least two feet long but very very narrow and thin. Had a cork on it. And they were pulling the cork off and handed me the bottle. And he showed me the drink, you know. So I drank it down. Here it was I think 90 percent proof schnapps and boy, did I feel warmth, all the way down my throat into my toes.

So anyways, the evening wore on and the guy was still guarding me and I was starting to shiver like hell and he came around, he went and got his bedroll, his blankets. I put his blankets around me. I thought it was pretty damn decent.

Now, what happened next was they took me the next morning, dragged me down into this farmhouse, we were in some sort of a, I don’t know what kind of vehicle it was. They would drag me down to this farmhouse and… [unintelligible], place for you to see cows out in the field and all that sort of stuff. And they dragged me into this house up the front stairs, banged on the door. This lady, she was a real old chick of about 38, because when you’re 22 or 23, anybody over that is old, so she said something to him in German, so she said obviously, well, bring in him and they’d put me upstairs. She went upstairs and took me into this bedroom. It was absolutely beautiful compared to what I had been living in for the last five or six months. She whips back the eiderdown cover and there was the most beautiful embroidered sheets and pillowcases. And now I’m covered in mud, still have my dirty old fly boots on, this big white woolmark sweater I had on was covered in oil, so the Germans threw me on this beautiful queen bed. Away they went and I was left with this lady.

So she kept talking to me, I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. So the first thing she did was took off my boots, took off my tunic, took off a big sweater and she saw this terrible blood thing on my forehead. She goes down, gets a bowl of warm water, washes it all off, washes my face, washes my hands. This time I’m down to my underwear, which she had taken off at the waist, washed all the oil off me. And then she took off my pants and she saw the wound in my leg. Well, she says something about that and she runs downstairs and gets something else and put a, it stung like hell, it must have been, I would say it was iodine or something, the same as what she put on my forehead too.

She took the clothes and could you believe in a matter of about four hours, she had them all cleaned? Brought them back up to me and then she goes downstairs and comes up with the most delicious big bowl of, I guess it was stew. And she started to feed me. Started calling me liebshein. I don’t know what the hell that was.

Now, this is why I think it’s wrong today to criticize all German people. Now, she didn’t have to do that.

I had to do an aircraft test and it had new wings put on or something, so I take it up, get up to about 6,000 feet and I’m rolling around, doing all the stupid things you do to try and break the wing off again, and they, the radio controller come on and says: ‘We’ve got action for you, action for you.’ And I said: ‘What do you mean, action?’ He says: ‘We have an enemy aircraft going right over the airfield. I said: ‘Right over the airfield?’ So I swung around, looked around and my God, there is a Focke Wulf 190 [the German Focke-Wulf FW 190 Würger single-seat fighter] straight across the airfield. He’d be about 3,000 feet and here’s old Frankie [Frank Johnson] sitting there at about 6,000. What a dead pigeon. Geez, I swept on down, turned on my ring sight, got him all lined up but I couldn’t imagine why the guy [the German pilot] would be over an enemy airfield, flying straight and level, going like hell. Now normally, if you’re over enemy territory, you never fly straight ever, you try to do it in a weaving motion [tactical flight] all the time. And this guy’s flying straight and level. So I turned on my ring sight, looked at it and I was right within [firing] range of him, I thought, what the hell’s the matter with this guy, he’s not doing anything.

So I swung out, got from behind him and increased my speed and flew up alongside of him. When I say alongside, it might be roughly from wingtip to wingtip about maybe 25, 30 feet away. So I looked over at him and here was this guy, he couldn’t have been more than maybe 20 years old or 18 years old, he looked absolutely terrified. And as soon as he saw me, he turned away quickly. So I thought: ‘Ah, what the hell’, where do, I think we were into Germany by this time [at the turn of 1944-1945]. So I just let him go. Didn’t bother with him.

I come back to base and he says: ‘Did you get him, did you get him?’ And I says: ‘No, I didn’t get him.’ ‘You didn’t even shoot at him, did you?’ Because they can tell that because they, over the leading edge of your wing or over the cannons, you had like four cannons, two on each wing, your wings, a cap would be put over the muzzle that you’d fire and the caps would be gone. ‘No, I said, I didn’t shoot him.’ ‘Why the hell didn’t you go after him, that’s enemy.’ I says: ‘Geez, Germany is beaten right back to nothing, I said, why go out and kill a guy when you didn’t have to kill him.’ I thought, I see you’ve got a mother and father the same I have and they’d probably be so upset, you know, it was awful. I just let him go. But I sure got criticized over that. That’s the one really heroic thing I think I did.

Interview date: 9 November 2010

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