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Remembered Today:

'Captain'(?) W. E. Johns


Lt Colonel Gerald Smyth

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Lt Colonel Gerald Smyth

As a kid I lapped up the Biggles books (and Gimlet 'King of the Commandos' and his sci-fi series Kings of Space). Recently though I've heard a great deal of discussion about how Johns was a Walter Mitty type, that he never was a captain, that he spent most of the Great War as a training instructor and only saw action in the last few weeks of the war. Can anyone tell me definitively what his war record really was?

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Lt Colonel Gerald Smyth

See http://www.wejohns.c...phy/Biography1/

Also London Gazette 30th Nov 1920: Flying Officer (from Pilot Officer). William Earl Johns, 23rd Nov. 1920, and with, seniority of that date.

WOW! Such a mixture of fact and fiction! Never a Captain, never a fighter pilot, saw action in only the last 4 months of WW1. YET a combat soldier with the Machine Gun Corps who served at Gallipoli, promoted from the ranks, flew numerous bomber missions, was shot down, wounded, had his co-pilot killed beside him, POW and escaper. Recruited Lawerance of Arabia to the RAF yet claims to have served in postwar conflicts and never did, spent WW2 making propaganda speeches.

Frankly a true hero and we can forgive him his excesses in later years

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I fear you disparage the man most unfairly. Many pilots never survived as long as four months at the front. Flight Lt (and he appears to have had that rank when he rejoined the RAF) is in fact the equivalent of captain. The article linked to above contains a number of silly errors (eg DH4s were not heavy bombers and more akin to the Mosquitos of WW2 and were sometimes used in fighter roles) so I would be a little wary.

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Lt Colonel Gerald Smyth

I fear you disparage the man most unfairly. Many pilots never survived as long as four months at the front. Flight Lt (and he appears to have had that rank when he rejoined the RAF) is in fact the equivalent of captain. The article linked to above contains a number of silly errors (eg DH4s were not heavy bombers and more akin to the Mosquitos of WW2 and were sometimes used in fighter roles) so I would be a little wary.

Oh belive me I don't disparage him, the life expectency of a fighter pilot was 11-18 days (unless someone can correct me?) so to survive six weeks was a feat in itself and probably more combat than many saw, not to mention his ground service.

He rather reminds me of Alister MacClean who in his later years claimed to have been a POW tortured by the Japanese which he never was. But on the other hand his heroic service in the Arctic convoys is undeniable

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I can forgive him the use of "Captain" as it accurately describes his powers of leadership and inspiration.

I thank him for those lovely books which to a great degree inspired my early interest in the Great War.

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I agree with you there Ian, I used to spend a Saturday afternoon at home lying on my bed and read a whole Biggles book, beacause I wanted to find out what happened and I could not put it down. Great stories for the imagination.

regards

Robert

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You can get his RAF record online for £3.50 from TNA click

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My favourite was 'Biggles Takes it Rough' - a classic!

Liar Pete

P.S. Edit: correction from Bigges triggered by ever vigilant Mod Alan Curragh!!! I salute him!

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Bigges?! Is that a Freudian slip, Pete?

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Less well-known is the aviator's stint as a haulier, "Biggles Delivers the Goods."

Simon

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Lt Colonel Gerald Smyth

I think this thread is getting increasingly Monty Python!

In my day Biggles was considered suitable reading for 11 year olds but maybe that's changed now, not exactly 'Biggles strafes the Natives' but not far from it (and I doubt Willard Price's 'Whale Adventure' where Roger and Hal go harpooning is very popular now either) I've seen the Biggles film which was pretty terrible (although notable for the final performance from the great Peter Cushing) but I'm told there was also a TV series, anyone seen that?

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In my day Biggles was considered suitable reading for 11 year olds but maybe that's changed now, not exactly 'Biggles strafes the Natives' but not far from it (and I doubt Willard Price's 'Whale Adventure' where Roger and Hal go harpooning is very popular now either) I've seen the Biggles film which was pretty terrible (although notable for the final performance from the great Peter Cushing) but I'm told there was also a TV series, anyone seen that?

11 year olds! I had read the lot by the time I was 10 (1956), and moved on to all the WW2 escaping books - Wooden Horse, Colditz Story, and the RAF books, DamBusters, the Bader biography, you name it. Even Alistair Mars who, I was amazed to discover in his last book, was courtmartialled for refusing to go to Gibraltar to live in the married quarter (Old Naval Hospital) that I was living in at the time! I had the feeling even then that there was something wrong with him. Now I think we would call it PTSD.

Incidentally, just about all the books were reworked and issued as happening during WW2 and after. Those were the books I read. I was amazed to discover much later that they were originally about WW1.

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Lt Colonel Gerald Smyth

They also say that Johns started off as a fairly adult writer, his WW1 books were pretty grim stuff (Biggles drinks a bottle of whiskey for breakfast and still doesn't get drunk) but he then got a lot more juvenile as his work gained such a following amongst young boys

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