Royal Canadian Air Force Centenary, 2024

James Edgar "Johnnie" Johnson seated centre, with pilots of 403 and 421 Squadrons, RCAF. Headcorn/Lashenden late Summer, 1943.
RCAF Official Photograph from Richard and Angie Batson

The prolific author and historian Dilip Sarkar MBE was a close friend of the late, great, Air Vice-Marshal Johnnie Johnson, officially the top-scoring RAF fighter pilot of the Second World War, but was unable to join us for the dedication of our Royal Canadian Air Force Maple tree on 31st March, as planned; instead, Dilip has sent these thoughts to share:-

‘When Johnnie was selected to lead the Canadian Spitfire Wing at Kenley it was a match made in heaven: Johnnie loved the Canadians’ spirit, and later came to love the country – and his Canadians, pilots and support staff, loved him equally in return. Johnnie was fascinated by leadership, and studied it, and used to say that to be a great leader is a gift, like that of a great writer or artist, and you either have that “extra bit” naturally, or you don’t. Johnnie did. In spades. And together with his Canadians a legend was forged in the war-torn skies over enemy occupied Europe – flying from here, Kenley. Sadly, many would not return from those operations.
‘One might wonder, perhaps, what Johnnie would think of it all, this wonderful gesture of commemoration and raising of awareness of the Kenley story via the airfield trail and signage. I know that Johnnie – “Greycap Leader” or simply “The Boss” to us – would be absolutely delighted. The fact is that for even those like Johnnie, and his great friends the American Danny Brown and Canadian Hugh Godefroy, who all achieved so much post-war and lived well into old age, those days flying Spitfires defined them. Those adrenalin-fuelled combats, miles high, literally reached a height of excitement and intensity never to be recaptured in any other way or time.
‘Although the Wing eventually left Kenley to join what he called ‘The Great Trek’, ‘The Great Adventure’, that nomadic existence, keeping on the move, closely supporting the advancing Allied armies in Normandy and beyond, Kenley, beyond doubt, always maintained a very special place in Johnnie’s heart. This I know because when Johnnie died, on 30 January 2001, we were just starting work on a new book together, “Johnnie’s Kenley Spitfires”. Unfortunately the work was incomplete when the great man died, so never published in its originally intended format, instead becoming a broader wartime biography of Johnnie, my “Spitfire Ace of Aces”.
‘Until his death, Johnnie remained active in aviation history, as an author and presenter, and always spoke with huge enthusiasm of his wartime years whenever the opportunity arose. “Greycap Leader” is no longer with us to do so, sadly, but I can absolutely guarantee that Johnnie will be looking down on this gathering with enormous pride, and doubtless a tear, remembering those heady days when the roar of his Canadian Spitfires filled the skies.
‘‘It is entirely right and proper that this commemoration for the Royal Canadian Air Force should take place today, here on this hallowed ground. Were Johnnie, Danny, Hugh and the others here today they would, I know, be equally delighted that the Canadians at Kenley are not forgotten. On behalf of “Greycap Leader” I do commend and thank everyone involved for making this happen’.

Dilip Sarkar MBE, FRHistS, FRAeS, 25 March 2024

Please see our events page for details of upcoming RCAF centenary commemorations at Kenley.

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