Relatives gathered at RMB Chivenor to mark the 75th anniversary of the crash of a wartime bomber flown by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s grandfather.

Stanley Johnson speaks at the 75th anniversary memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944, which was flown by his father Wilfred. Picture: Tony GussinStanley Johnson speaks at the 75th anniversary memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944, which was flown by his father Wilfred. Picture: Tony Gussin

When the Vickers Wellington crashed on the night of August 17, 1944, after an engine failed, Flight Lieutenant Wilfred Johnson was hailed a hero after avoiding the main camp where a dance was taking place, and crashing into empty ground at the entrance.

Exactly 75 year later, on Saturday, August 17, relatives including Wilfred's children Stanley and Birdie Johnson, gathered for a remembrance service organised by local historians Stephen Heal, Graham Moore and Rob Palmer of britishmilitaryhistory.com.

Mr Johnson said the Prime Minister had 'right up until the last minute' been hoping to attend the event in person.

The bomber had set off on an anti-submarine patrols as part of its duties with Coastal Command, but an engine failed not long after takeoff.

All those who attended the 75th remembrance memorial in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony GussinAll those who attended the 75th remembrance memorial in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony Gussin

Flt Lt Johnson and the crew took the decision to detour and jettison their depth charges and some fuel over Saunton Sands before attempting to crash land.

The crash killed Warrant Officer Gordon Butchart and Flight Sergeant George Wilson. Co-pilot Bill Broadley lost an arm, Flt Lt Johnson broke a leg and suffered burns, while Flt Sgts Lewis Wilding and James Milne also survived.

Saturday's memorial was also attended by Mr Wilding's daughter Carolyn Bacon from Lincolnshire, her husband Simon and daughter Emma, plus Bill Broadley's daughters Sylvia Broadley and Sally March from Manchester as well as his granddaughter Sarah.

Wing Commander Graem Corfield MBE was also there to represent the Royal Air Force.

Sylvia Broadley, daughter of co-pilot Bill Broadley, reads a poem at the 75th anniversary memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony GussinSylvia Broadley, daughter of co-pilot Bill Broadley, reads a poem at the 75th anniversary memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony Gussin

Mrs Bacon recalled returning to Chivenor with her father when she was aged six. She said: "He wanted to go and look at Butchart's grave, as they were incredibly close friends, as was George Wilson.

"We went up to the churchyard [at Heanton] and it was the first time I had ever seen my father cry."

Mr Johnson praised the North Devon historians and said: "I think it's absolutely wonderful that it has proved possible to bring the families here today.

"I think what is good is how the work of the group has really served to illuminate in depth the vital contribution Coastal Command made in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The 75th remembrance memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony GussinThe 75th remembrance memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony Gussin

"Right up until the last moment, our new PM Boris, my eldest son, was very much hoping to be present here today. I think he is extremely proud of whom he referred to as 'granddaddy' and he was also very proud of my mother."

Mr Johnson recalled how his father was an 'old' pilot in his 30s, and already had three children. While he was a Chivenor the family lived in a cottage almost alongside the runway in Braunton.

Mr Johnson said: "The first volume of my autobiography begins with me recalling my first childhood memory, which was my mother waking me up to say 'come to the window, there's a plane crash and a bonfire on the runway'.

"The next morning the padre came to the house and said 'Mrs Johnson, I am very sorry, there's been a severe accident."

Stanley Johnson and his wife Jenny (left) and sister Birdie (right) at the memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944, which was flown by his father Wilfred. Picture: Tony GussinStanley Johnson and his wife Jenny (left) and sister Birdie (right) at the memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944, which was flown by his father Wilfred. Picture: Tony Gussin

Co pilot Bill Broadley's daughters Sylvia and Sally said their father and always been happy to talk about his wartime experiences - and why he had one arm.

Ms Broadley said: "I am really pleased that he and the rest of the crew have not been forgotten, because it's a long time ago now.

"I think they (the historians) have done an amazing job and their dedication in finding everything out and finding people has been absolutely amazing."

Wing Commander Corfield added: "This is a former RAF base and it's important that the RAF maintains its links with the community of Chivenor.

Three of the Wellington flight crew - Lewis Wilding, George Wilson and Gordon Butchart.Three of the Wellington flight crew - Lewis Wilding, George Wilson and Gordon Butchart.

"For me, it's a privilege as a ,member fop the RAF to come here and pay my respects to those who served."

Flight Lieutenant Wilfred Johnson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for avoiding greater loss of life - the medal was accompanied by a personal note from King George VI who said he 'greatly regretted' not being able to present it in person.

Wilfred Johnson training in Canada around 1940. Picture: Stanley JohnsonWilfred Johnson training in Canada around 1940. Picture: Stanley Johnson

The 75th remembrance memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony GussinThe 75th remembrance memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony Gussin

The 75th remembrance memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony GussinThe 75th remembrance memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony Gussin

The 75th remembrance memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony GussinThe 75th remembrance memorial service in honour of the crew of the Wellington bomber that crashed at Chivenor on August 17, 1944. Picture: Tony Gussin