W/O Basil Lawrence Ivan JOHNSON, C.B.E., D.F.M.
Serial Number: 1396487
3 Ops with 115 Squadron, 47 ops
with 156 Squadron
Basil Lawrence Ivan
Johnson was born at
Town on the 1st February, 1920, the
fifth child and fifth son of the late Robert Bruce Johnson and Florence Ethel
Johnson (nee Weech). Bruce Johnson owned a bicycle shop at
42 King Street in
Nassau and later, after the
1940 Bay Street
Fire demolished his shop, he moved the business to the bottom of the hill in
Town opposite the Infant Welfare
years, he attended the “Copper Bread School” at St. Agnes Day School,
survived an episode of typhoid fever at nine years old and then attended
Smith School and Western Senior School, now C.R. Walker and was known to his
school mates as the “Black Prince” because of his dark skin and spectacular
sixteen years of age in 1936 he was one of the first twenty-two indentured
apprentices recruited by the Electrical Dept.
In 1939 when World War II broke out he enlisted in the Bahamas Defence
Force and attended drill and marching practice on Monday evenings.
he was a member of the Royal Guard of Honour when the Duke of Windsor arrived
to be Governor of the then colony.
the Royal Volunteer Reserve called for volunteers to go to the war and Basil
together with seven other black Bahamians applied to go to
fulfil his dream of becoming a soldier.
They were all turned down, the “understanding” being that this was the
preserve of those that were not of Afro-Bahamian origins. Basil alone persisted for three more
attempts until the leading black lawyer, T.A. Toote
joined the selection Committee and finally on his fourth try, Basil was
August 1941, he left New Providence for
from where he sailed to
in a convoy of ships arriving at
on September 19th 1941. He
spent several days in
and then went to Readcar to be outfitted and spent
thirteen months in training and studying.
He passed out as a mechanic and later remustered
to fitters course and then to aircrew as a Flight Engineer Air Gunner.
served with the 115 Squadron of Bomber Command and later with Group 8 of 156
Squadron of the elite Path Finder Force, Bomber Command stationed at
Warboys Airfield in South West England.
completing thirty-six operational flights in April 1944 he was recommended
and received the prestigious award of the Distinguished Flying Medal
Commander in the citation described him –
“He is a member of an outstanding Path Finder Force crew, and his
resourcefulness and unfailing efficiency have contributed to the aircraft
returning to base from raids during which the safety of the aircraft depended
upon his knowledge and skill.
He is cool and unruffled under
fire and his consistent skill and reliability under harassing circumstances
have been inspiring to other members of the crew.
His high sense of devotion to duty
made him well worth of the Award of Distinguished Flying Medal.”
carried a small black Bible that the late Doris Cambridge, a family friend
and neighbour had given him on every sortie and would read Psalms 23 and 121
from the Bible to the crew of his aircraft before take-off. The reading of the Psalms from the Bible
became the crews’ symbol of good luck and on one occasion when he forgot the
Bible, take-off was delayed so that he could run and retrieve it.
completing the maximum number of air missions over
in 1944, he was posted to the Royal Air Force Command in
Canada and at the massive “V Day” Victory
Parade to mark the end of World War II; he was the sole representative from
demobilized from the Royal Air Force in 1947 and spent two years as a
civilian, studying at the firm of Ruston & Hornsby in
manufacturers of the engines used by the Electricity Department of The
Bahamas to which he returned in 1949.
civil sphere he joined the Royal British Legion organization for
ex-servicemen of World Wars I and II in the early 1950s. He was quickly appointed to the Council and
was elected to head the Poppy Day Appeal Committee – a position he held for
forty-five years. He succeeded the
late Sir Kendal G.L. Isaacs, Q.C., as President of the Legion in 1966 and remained
President until 2002 when his declining health forced him to retire from
not understand and would not accept the fact that a man could go off to World
War II and do his patriotic duty and return home to live out his retirement
years in poverty and so, he, who had survived his tenure in the war,
dedicated his life firstly, to preserving the memory of those who had made
the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for their country and also to
raising the necessary funds to assist those ex-servicemen who needed
assistance to allow them to live their senior years with dignity.
forty-five tireless and continuous years he championed a Poppy Day cause as
the major fundraiser the needy ex-servicemen.
He travelled the length and breath of New Providence and the
Islands, explaining to school children
the symbolism associated with the Poppy so that those who died in the war
would not be forgotten. In this
regard, no task was to menial for him to perform and any contribution, no matter
how small was gratefully acknowledged.
He relentlessly pursued the government of the day for exemptions on
customs duties for the poppies and for benefits for the ex-servicemen.
poppies became his life’s work and he was instrumental in having the money
raised from Poppy Day stay in The Bahamas, so that it could be applied
directly for the benefit of disabled Bahamian ex-servicemen and their
retirement years Basil lived at his “Greenacres” home – a part of the
original Johnny Hill estate of thirty-nine acres, which he and his wife
Eunice purchased in 1950. He travelled
extensively and each year visited
England, the country he loved
best in the world after The Bahamas, in the month of May to participate in
the anniversary services surrounding World War II, and to visit numerous
friends he had made and kept in touch with during the war years.
In 1995, he was invited by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to
attend a cocktail reception on board the Royal Yacht Britannia on the River
Thames, London as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of VE
Day an h was particularly delighted to meet the young Princes, HRH William
and HRH Harry whose great-grandfather, King George VI he had been presented
to fifty years earlier.
In February 1990, Basil received the Sir Victor Sassoon Golden
Heart Award for unselfish service in the promotion of human welfare and
dignity in The Bahamas.
In the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 1993 he was named as a
Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) for
his service during World War II, his leadership skills and his active
involvement in civic and religious activities.
In January 2000 he received the award for long and dedicated
service to St Agnes Anglican Church Men’s Association.
2000, Basil deposited a mahogany case containing his war memorabilia,
including the Bible which accompanied him on all mission in the Archives
Department for permanent exhibition as his contribution to the history the
country and for future generations.
In June 2000, Basil was named as one of the 100 Most
Outstanding Bahamians of the 20th Century by Jones Communications
for his war service and work with the Bahamas Branch of the Royal British
highly individualistic and self-contained and sometime in the 1960s he
determined that the nature of his job and life in the tropics required short
khaki pants, knee-length beige socks and a short sleeved white shirt. He was the brunt of much ridicule for his
“uniform” and earned the nickname “short pants Johnson” from his men but it
never bothered him, as similarly when some of the mischievous members of
Squadron 156 in the Canteen decided to call him “23.59” (one minute before
the darkest hour of the night) he cheerfully answered them, and, as we say
“put a spoke in their wheel”.
battled prostate cancer after his diagnosis in 1994 and in the last year of
his life he bravely endured many challenges.
He soldiered on and quietly slipped away in his sleep on April 21,
2004 at his beloved “Greenacres” home.