Hastings veterans’ tribute to war hero

Veterans at the ceremony
Veterans at the ceremony

Members of Hastings and St Leonards Veterans Association (HSVA) travelled to a Kent village to commemorate the Hero of Hamstreet, Lieutenant William H Johnson.

A ceremony was held at Johnson’s Corner where veterans bore the Queen’s Colour and Old Glory (Stars and Stripes), together with their own standards before wreathes were lain at the memorial.

On April 13, 1944, as pilot and captain of four-engined heavy bomber Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Spare Part’, Lt Johnson, of 711th squadron of 447th Bombardment Group of the 8th US Army Air Force, had to abort his 21st bombing mission after being badly shot up by flak over France, in which several of the 10-man crew were injured.

Turning the bomber onto a north-west course, with only two engines working and losing power and height, he nursed the stricken bomber back towards England, avoiding having to bail out over occupied territory

On crossing the English coast at 8,000 feet at New Romney and losing the third engine, the B-17G was descending rapidly on fire as the rest of the crew bailed out, the ninth man at less than 800 feet.

Lt Johnson returned to the controls to turn the bomber away from crashing onto Hamstreet.

‘Spare Part’ banked away but never regained level flight, crashing less than 800 yards from the village centre. Lt Johnson, 24, died in the explosion.

All nine crew who had bailed out, landed safely.

Richard Butcher, HSVA chairman, said: “By his dedication to duty and his sacrifice, Lt Johnson had prevented his crew from being captured or drowning, and brought them back safely to friendly soil, and he had saved the villagers of Hamstreet from death and obliteration. A true hero, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously and nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honour, Lt Johnson’s gallantry is upheld on both sides of the Atlantic.”

This year, members of HSVA were joined at the Johnson’s Corner Memorial by Priscilla Goldfarb from New York state, who represented both the 447th Bombardment Group Association and the Johnson family, Ian Douglas, who had guided the Johnson family when they came searching for the crash site after the Second World War, and Edwin Seabrook-Smith, of the re-formed Royal British Legion at New Romney, who laid a wreath.

Also present were the vice-chairman of the 1066 Royal Air Forces Association, Tony Selmes, and HSVA’s senior officer (Air) Peter Holland.

After the Johnson story had been narrated, standards and flags were lowered to the ground with the words of the Exhortation, a two-minute silence observed, before the Epitaph was given.

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