HOW WAS W.E. JOHNS SHOT DOWN?
W. E. Johns was shot down on Monday 16th September 1918
whilst on a bombing raid in a DH4 aircraft.
W. E. Johns gave at least five accounts about how he was shot down and his rear gunner, Second Lieutenant Alfred Edward Amey, killed.
The first account was given to Amey’s family. More information about what Johns said here can be gathered from the sale of Amey’s medals.
Amey’s medals were first sold at Christie’s on 21st October 1991 for £1320. You can see the information as to the sale here:-
With the medals was a letter from W. E. Johns to Amey’s family. This was probably Johns first written account of what happened. There is the following quote from the letter explaining how Johns was able to send the family Amey’s silk scarf. He wrote “I enclose the scarf. It is simply the piece of silk most flying men wear around their necks to prevent chafing at altitudes. I took it at first to cover the poor boy’s face and afterwards as I could not get a bandage to tie up my own face which was bleeding badly. The Huns of course took everything else he had. I have carried the piece of silk ever since thinking you would probably like to have it”.
The medals were later sold again on 14th September 2005 by Bosleys, the specialist military auctioneers. This time the auction refers to two separate letters written by Johns. You can see the information as to this second sale here:-
I would love to read Johns account to Amey’s family, if anybody has it, please contact me. Some hints as to what Johns said are given here. In Johns’ letter to the family he suggests “I believe he sent two Huns to their proper place before he was shot”. I assume that Johns account here cannot be relied on as being entirely accurate and it would have been written to bring comfort to a grieving family, where one would tend to say things like “he was killed instantly” when perhaps he wasn’t. In fact, in the article accompanying the sale, it does say that Johns stated to the family that Amey had died instantly with a bullet to the head and several to the body.
Johns first published account of what happened first appeared in a magazine called “Modern Boy”, issue 158, dated 14th February 1931, in an article called
“Shot Down from 20,000 Feet!”
The second, more detailed account, appeared in a magazine Johns edited called “Popular Flying”, dated June 1932, in an article called
“My Most Thrilling Flight”. The article was reprinted (word for word) in the book “Thrilling Flights” in June 1936.
Johns third published account appeared in a magazine called “Answers”, dated 11th August 1934, in an article called “Why I Am Still Alive!”
On 11th March 1955, W. E. Johns has a letter published in the Radio Times where he claimed that it was German Air Ace Ernst Udet who shot him down.
I also have a private letter (which can be seen below) in my collection where Johns writes to a correspondent and gives a detailed account of being shot down.
The separate page of the letter is headed “How I met Ernst Udet”. Johns had convinced himself he was shot down by Udet, but in fact he wasn’t. Subsequent research by World War I aviation experts has shown that credit for shooting down Johns was given to Leutnant Georg Weiner. Johns D.H.4, shot down on 16th September 1918, was the seventh of nine aircraft that Weiner shot down during the First World War.
Click here to read an EXCELLENT online article about Johns last flight by DAVID TATTERSFIELD.
It was called “BIGGLES’ LAST FLIGHT: CAPTAIN W. E. JOHNS AND 55 SQUADRON R.A.F”