Robin Johnston

1992 March 9

Book ID 759

See also

Robin Johnston, 1992 March 9
Extract Date: 9 March 1992


Robin Johnston, who has died aged 75, was a RAF fighter pilot whose leadership of No 73, a Hurricane squadron, amply demonstrated Montgomery's wisdom in welding his 8th Army and the Desert Air Force into a cohesive fighting machine.

In the course of the North African campaign Johnston sustained burns severe enough for him to be sent to the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.

Here he became a patient of Sir Archibald McIndoe, the celebrated plastic surgeon, and a member of his Guinea Pig Club which, to this day, perpetuates his patients' wartime camaraderie and watches over their welfare.

In 1947, by then established as a Colonial Service district officer, Johnston invited McIndoe to visit him in Tanganyika. Together they tracked a bull elephant over a distance of 150 miles and shot it.

McIndoe was enchanted by Africa and in 1950 persuaded Johnston to go into partnership with him to buy and farm undeveloped land on the north face of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Johnston was happy to be released from the Colonial Service, not least because of an encounter he had had with John Strachey, the Labour `Minister, over the ill-fated Ground Nuts Scheme.

Johnston, whose personality and drive did much to offset the damage, told Strachey bluntly what he thought of the cock-eyed scheme. Next day Strachey visited Sir Edward Twining, the Governor of Tanganyika, and accused Johnston of disloyalty. Twining responded by requesting Whitehall for an immediate honour for Johnston, who was appointed MBE.

At the outset Johnston found farming on Kilimanjaro every bit as rugged as leading a desert squadron. He slept in the open under a tarpaulin until he had built a mud and wattle hut.

McIndoe was horrified by the chocolate-coloured water supply, covered with dead frogs and algae. He insisted on boiling it and refused to let anybody drink the liquid before adding quantities of gin "to kill off the germs".

Within a year, however, Johnston had turned 1,000 acres of sage brush and undergrowth into a farm with house, garden and 700 acres of barley and wheat. But in the late 1950s, unrest in Kenya, and the increasing size of his family, led Johnston to sell up.

Robert Arthur McGarel Johnston was born at Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, on Sept 2 1916 and educated at Cheltenham and Cambridge University, where he joined the Air Squadron.

In 1938 he was commissioned into the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He joined 73 Squadron in the Middle East in May 1941. After operating in the desert and defending Port Said at night he received command of the squadron and led it on the night of Aug 30 1942 when "Monty" opened the Battle of Alam Halfa.

By the night of Oct 23/24 when Monty launched the Battle of El Alamein, Johnston's score was mounting - he was ultimately credited with seven and a ,half, and at least seven more "probables".

That night No 73 was again the' first fighter squadron in action; leading it in ferocious low-level ground attacks, Johnston strafed enemy troops, vehicles, supply depots and targets of, opportunity.

In 1944, as the invasion of Normandy was planned, such skills were at a premium. Johnston led three squadrons of Mustangs-19, 65 and 122 - in aggressive sweeps and later as a long-range escort to heavy bomber formations.

The Wing destroyed 53 enemy aircraft destroyed, a well as 97 railway engines, 600 railway carriages more than 1,000 vehicles. It also smashed 93 barges.

These achievements were cited by the Air Ministry; as "a splendid tribute to Wing Cdr Johnston's brilliant leadership, outstanding ability: and courageous example which has inspired all."

He concluded his fighter career as Wing Cdr Tactics at the Central Fighter Establishment at Tangmere.

Johnston-was awarded the DFC in 1942, a Bar and DSO in 1944. He received the Air Efficiency Award in 1945, was mentioned in despatches in 1946 and appointed MBE in 1950.

He is survived by his wife and three daughters,

Extract ID: 4443