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W/O Basil Lawrence Ivan JOHNSON, C.B.E., D.F.M.

Serial Number: 1396487
RAF Trade:
Flight Engineer
Date of Enlistment: 1939

Rank Achieved: Warrant Officer
Operational Sorties:  3 Ops with 115 Squadron, 47 ops with 156 Squadron

http://www.156squadron.com/display_crews.asp?pCrewid=2523


Personal Details:

Basil Lawrence Ivan Johnson was born at Hay Street (West), Grants 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 downtown, Nassau and later, after the 1940 Bay Street Fire demolished his shop, he moved the business to the bottom of the hill in Grants Town opposite the Infant Welfare Clinic.

At five 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 good looks.

 At 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. 

 In 1940, he was a member of the Royal Guard of Honour when the Duke of Windsor arrived to be Governor of the then colony. 

In 1940, the Royal Volunteer Reserve called for volunteers to go to the war and Basil together with seven other black Bahamians applied to go to England 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 selected.

 On 31st August 1941, he left New Providence for England via Miami, New York and Halifax, Nova Scotia from where he sailed to England in a convoy of ships arriving at Liverpool on September 19th 1941.  He spent several days in London 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.   

He first 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.

After completing thirty-six operational flights in April 1944 he was recommended and received the prestigious award of the Distinguished Flying Medal (D.F.M.). 

 His Wing 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.” 

Basil 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.

After completing the maximum number of air missions over Germany 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 the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

 Basil demobilized from the Royal Air Force in 1947 and spent two years as a civilian, studying at the firm of Ruston & Hornsby in Lincoln, England, manufacturers of the engines used by the Electricity Department of The Bahamas to which he returned in 1949.

 In the 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 office.

 He could 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. 

 For 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 Family 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.

 Indeed 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 families.

 In his 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.

 In May 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 Legion.

He was 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”.

He valiantly 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.

 

Personal details and Photographs provided by his daughters Felicity and Janet on behalf of the family.

Copyright and ownership of the photos and other material is acknowledged on their behalf.