RAF Medal Group with History Relating to the Victoria Cross

27/11/2019 | Matthew Tredwen

RAF Medal Group with History Relating to the Victoria Cross

During one of our routine valuation days which takes place at our office, a lady brought in a suitcase of items which she had found when she had moved into a house local to us. Within the box was a medal and paperwork group to an RAF Air Gunner who was part of the crew of an aircraft and was killed in an attack which resulted in one of his fellow crew members being awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award given for bravery in front of the enemy.

The emotive WW2 medal grouping was awarded to flight sergeant N H Johnson who was the air gunner that was killed on the bombing raid in which flight engineer, Norman Jackson was awarded his Victoria Cross, the grouping consisted of 1939-45 star, Air Crew Europe star and 1939-45 War medal, housed in the original Air Ministry forwarding slip with named condolence slip. Accompanying the medals was an archive of original paperwork and letters written to his parents from his days in training to operational period. In one of his last letters written to his parents on 23rd March 1944, he writes, “My dear Mother & Father, this is just a note I’m writing to you in case anything unfortunate happens to me while I am flying on operations. The only regrets I shall have on my life ending are those of being parted from you all, my very dear family, who I love so very much. I shall like both of you to know my dears, how very much I have appreciated my home and all that you have both done for me as a child & in recent years also”. He continues to speak of his affection for other friends or members of his family and ends with, “Now I must say goodbye and may God guide you all through your endeavours to live long & very happy lives” Other items of paperwork include official notifications, news paper cuttings relating to Norman Jackson’s Victoria Cross, pictures of his grave, photograph believed to be of Johnson in his full flight gear, etc.

We carried out research prior to the auction and found out the following information. Norman Hugh Johnson was born in 1924, he was the son of Harris & Gertrude Johnson of 71 Gloucester Road, Hampton Middlesex. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force and qualified as an Air Gunner. Posted to 106 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve where he served as a rear gunner. On a mission to Berlin on 2/3rd December 1943, his Lancaster Bomber was attacked by a Ju88 shortly after leaving the target area, prior to this the aircraft engine had been hit by enemy flak and set on fire, the pilot managing to extinguish the flames by putting the aircraft into a steep dive, the aircraft was then attacked by a German night fighter, the Air Gunner (Johnson) replied with a short burst before his guns jammed.

On the night of 26th/27th April 1944, Johnson and his crew were sent to bomb the ball bearing factory at Schweinfurt. The operational report for 106 Squadron states that contact with his aircraft was lost shortly after take off. The Flight Engineer with Johnson on this mission was Sergeant Norman Cyril Jackson V.C, his award of the Victoria Cross was for this mission and the recommendation for the award was as follows; “This airman was the flight engineer in a Lancaster detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April 1944. Bombs were dropped successfully and the aircraft was climbing out of the target area. Suddenly it was attacked by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. The captain took evading action at once, but the enemy secured many hits. A fire started near a petrol tank on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the inner engine. Sergeant Jackson was thrown to the floor during the engagement. Wounds which he received from shell splinters in the right leg and shoulder were probably sustained at that time. Recovering himself, he remarked that he could deal with the fire on the wing and obtained his captain's permission to try to put out the flames. Pushing a hand fire-extinguisher into the top of his life-saving jacket and clipping on his parachute pack, Sergeant Jackson jettisoned the escape hatch above the pilot's head. He then started to climb out of the cockpit and back along the top of the fuselage to the starboard wing. Before he could leave the fuselage his parachute pack opened and the whole canopy and rigging lines spilled into the cockpit. Undeterred, Sergeant Jackson continued. The pilot (Tony Mifflin), bomb aimer (Maurice Toft) and navigator (Frank Higgins) gathered the parachute together and held on to the rigging lines, paying them out as the airman crawled aft. Eventually he slipped and, falling from the fuselage to the starboard wing, grasped an air intake on the leading edge of the wing. He succeeded in clinging on but lost the extinguisher, which was blown away. By this time, the fire had spread rapidly and Sergeant Jackson was involved. His face, hands and clothing were severely burnt. Unable to retain his hold he was swept through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing, dragging his parachute behind. When last seen it was only partly inflated and was burning in a number of places. Realising that the fire could not be controlled, the captain gave the order to abandon aircraft. Four of the remaining members of the crew landed safely. The captain and rear gunner have not been accounted for. Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily. He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. These injuries, together with the wounds received earlier, reduced him to a pitiable state. At daybreak he crawled to the nearest village, where he was taken prisoner. He bore the intense pain and discomfort of the journey to Dulag Luft with magnificent fortitude. After ten months in hospital he made a good recovery, though his hands require further treatment and are only of limited use. This airman's attempt to extinguish the fire and save the aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands was an act of outstanding gallantry. To venture outside, when travelling at 200 miles an hour, at a great height and in intense cold, was an almost incredible feat. Had he succeeded in subduing the flames, there was little or no prospect of his regaining the cockpit. The spilling of his parachute and the risk of grave damage to its canopy reduced his chances of survival to a minimum. By his ready willingness to face these dangers he set an example of self-sacrifice which will ever be remembered.

Johnson’s mother was a guest of Sergeant Jackson at Buckingham Palace when he received the Victoria Cross from the King, details of which are in newspaper cuttings accompanying the medal group. It was only the Pilot and Johnson, the rear Air Gunner, who were killed in the raid. Jackson’s Victoria Cross medal group was sold at Spink in 2004 for over £235,000 and form part of the Lord Ashcroft Victoria Cross collection.

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