Veteran Stories:
Senator Archibald Hynd Johnstone

Air Force

  • Senator Johnstone in uniform.

    Archibald Johnstone
  • Senator Johnstone pictured in the front right during training.

    Archibald Johnstone
  • Senator Johnstone's crew pictured during and after the war.

    Archibald Johnstone
  • Senator Johnstone pictured on the left.

    Archibald Johnstone
  • Senator Johnstone dressed in his traditional Scottish uniform.

    Archibald Johnstone
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"It really dawned upon us. We were at war and our chances of survival were only 24 percent."

Transcript

One day we were out over the North Sea and a fuel line broke. We didn’t know it at the time. I was sitting as what we called “Second Dickie,” Second Pilot, next to the pilot that day. I said to the pilot “Look, there is something wrong. Our fuel gauges are just dropping.” We were probably about 30 miles out over, we couldn’t see land and we asked the navigator where’s the nearest [aero]‘drome and he said “Our [aero]’drome is x number of hundreds of miles, but,” he said “the nearest one is in Banff in the north of Scotland.” Somebody spoke up and said “Yes, but that’s only for small aircraft. We can’t put a Wellington [bomber aircraft] in.” I said, “Yes, you can. My cousin went in last week and he told me that they had put a Wellington down.” The pilot said, “That’s where we are going.” As we flew on and on and every minute seemed like half an hour, I kept watching the gauges that were fluttering, fluttering. Suddenly, these high cliffs at Banff came into sight and I said to the pilot, “Are we going to ditch?” That meant going down into the water. He said, “No. It only takes five to seven minutes in the North Sea in December then you would be so cold you couldn’t even crawl into a dinghy.” I said, “By the look of those gauges we’re going to go straight into those cliffs, we can’t help it.” By this time the hand was just waving like this on empty.

We crossed over the cliffs, over the town and it was a miracle! There were the runways right in front of us! The pilot asked for permission to land. They said “No, you will have to go in a circuit. We are landing an aircraft client from Norway.” He said “The heck with them. We’re going in. It’s our only chance.” We got straight down the runway. We hit the runway, were sliding down the runway, and the engines cut. He pulled off with the little momentum that was left and the wheels went down in the mud and there we were. That night they took us back to our base in a lorry, what they call a truck. We didn’t have a scratch.

We converted to four-engine Halifax bombers and then when they were satisfied we were capable of flying four-engines. We moved on to the squadron I mentioned, 76 Squadron Holme-on-Spalding-Moor. It was just a grand place to be except that our boys were supposed to be flying over Germany. The hut that they put us into (there would be about 30 people there) had two rows of beds and I walked down the hut and the boys for each op[operation] they would chalk-up over the bed on the wall a bomb that represented that op. I went right down the room and not one of them had survived. Some of them only did five ops [operations] before they were killed, some did 23, some would even do 30, but there wasn’t one survivor. Reality dawned, it really dawned upon us. We were at war and our chances of survival were only 24 percent. There was a 76 percent chance of being made a prisoner but more chance of being killed and this happened. Every aircraft we lost, and we would lose 100 some nights, not from our state, but all our bomber command and we would lose over 100. This represented seven men to every aircraft, nearly all college and university trained, or else the equivalent in capability. We were on the Squadron until the end of the war. We didn’t do anything that nobody else had done. None of us won DFC’s [Distinguished Flying Cross] or DSO’s [possibly Distinguished Service Cross] or the FM’s [Distinguished Flying Medal]. We were just ordinary air crew.

I had gone overseas as a Sergeant. When the war was over I went back home and I did not know that I had been made an officer until I got home. I was a commissioned officer. I stayed in and came out a very short time after the war and retired as a Flight Lieutenant. That would be a Captain in today’s language.

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