Author and former politician Stanley Johnson was among the guests at a special exhibition in Barnstaple on Saturday (March 23) about the wartime air crashes at RAF Chivenor.
Mr Johnson, father of prominent Brexiteer Boris Johnson, attended the event at North Devon Athenaeum in Barnstaple Library to speak about the crash his father Wilfred was involved in.
The event was organised by local historians Rob Palmer MA, Stephen Heal and Graham Moore of www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk and also featured other relatives whose loved ones had been involved in crashes around the airfield during World War Two.
Mr Palmer gave a lecture on the numerous crashes around Chivenor during the war years and Mr Johnson spoke about his father’s experiences, as did Kate Dodd, whose uncle James Blatchford was the first fatality at wartime Chivenor, and Colin Francis, whose brother was lost when his plane crashed at Luscott Barton near Braunton.
On August 17, 1944, Mr Johnson’s father Wilfred was piloting a Wellington bomber that had just taken off from Chivenor loaded with depth charges enroute to targeting German U-boats when one of the aircraft’s engine fell off.
He told the Gazette: “He could not fly long on one engine so he had to return to base, but he made a bold and principled decision not to fly straight back because they were carrying depth charges.
“He made a circuit because if he’d dropped them coming into land they would have dropped on the villages of Fremington and Bickington, instead he went right around and dropped them over Braunton Burrows.”
As he made his final approach he clipped a telegraph pole and crashed just in front of where the camp gates are now.
Two of the crew were killed, the copilot lost an arm and Wilfred Johnson was seriously injured, spending a long time in hospital.
Mr Johnson said: “My father was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) which I think was in recognition of a piece of skilful flying, that he avoided crashing into the base – it turned out there was a dance that night so if the plane had crashed it would have been a bad scene.”
The medal was accompanied by a personal letter from King George VI who said he ‘greatly regretted’ not being there to make the presentation in person.
Mr Palmer thanked North Devon Athenaeum for hosting the event and added: “I was overwhelmed by the response and very humbled by the distance that some people travelled to be there.
“It was a wonderful experience to meet so many different people with so many different aspects of the life of RAF Chivenor and all in all it was just a memorable day.”
Find out more about the wartime history of RAF Chivenor at www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk .