Horncastle-born hero gets long-awaited MBE from Queen

Squadron Leader George 'Johnny' Johnson after he was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II at an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. EMN-171011-160127001
Squadron Leader George 'Johnny' Johnson after he was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II at an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. EMN-171011-160127001

‘It was the proudest day of my life’ - that’s how Britain’s last surviving Dambuster - Horncastle-born George ‘Johnny’ Johnson - described receiving his MBE from the Queen.

Mr Johnson (95) travelled to Buckingham Palace last Tuesday for what proved to be an emotional ceremony.

Mr Johnson, who spent the early years of his life on a farm at Hameringham, near Horncastle, revealed the Queen had spoken to him and told him: “I’m very glad to see the Dambusters are still here.”

He said: “It was a very special day and meeting the Queen made it even more special. It was the proudest day of my life.”

Mr Johnson now lives in Bristol, but is still a regular visitor to Horncastle and Woodhall Spa which has such strong links with the Dambusters.

It was the second time he had met the Queen who he described as a ‘wonderful lady.’

A ‘bomb aimer’, Mr Johnson was just 21 when he was part of 617 Squadron’s night raid on the German dams in 1943 in an effort to disable Hitler’s industrial heartland.

The presentation of the MBE followed a nationwide campaign to honour Mr Johnson.

Almost 300,000 people signed a petition set up by a national newspaper.

TV presenter Carol Vorderman, an RAF Ambassador, was one of the celebrities involved and branded the decision not to include him in previous Honours’ lists as “disgraceful”.

She called Mr Johnson ‘the bravest of the brave’ and delivered the petition to 10 Downing Street, alongside RAF veteran John Nichol.

Dame Vera Lynn was also involved along with various current and former high-ranking RAF officers

Mr Johnson thanked everyone who had backed the campaign.

He added: “I’m very grateful to all those people who signed that petition. The outcome is very gratifying for me, it really is.”

He said he was also grateful to Paul Walmsley, who wrote to the Queen on his behalf.

Mr Johnson said: “The MBE is as much an honour as I could have expected.”

And, with typical modesty, he dedicated the gong to his fellow crew members from 617 Squadron.

He added: “I am the lucky one. I am still alive.

“A lot of very brave young men lost their lives and this is for them.

“It’s not about me.”

Mr Johnson is now one of only two survivors who took part in the legendary bombing raids on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany. The other is Canadian former front gunner Fred Sutherland.

On May 16 and 17 1943, a total of 133 Allied aircrew left for the raid aboard 19 Lancaster bombers, carrying Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bombs – that looked like “glorified dustbins”, according to Mr Johnson – led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

Fifty three men were killed and three were captured.

Mr Johnson said he would never forget the mission, adding: “It is something that will live for ever.”