Veterans honour a fallen hero

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At the junction of the A2070 near Hamstreet on Romney Marsh, stands a modest memorial that commemorates the crash of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the death of its young pilot, Lieutenant William ‘Bill’ Johnson. 

Last week members of the Hastings Veterans Association and the Hamstreet branch of the British Legion held their annual service of remembrance at ‘Johnson’s Corner’, the small memorial garden above which the US Stars and Stripes flag proudly flies. 

The short service, attended by over 50 people, was led by the Reverend Chris Hodgkins, team rector for the Romney Marsh Benefice. 

Lt. William ‘Bill’ Johnson, commemorated at Johnson’s Corner, Hamstreet.

Lt Johnson and his crew were part of the 447th Bombardment Group of the US Air Force, based at Rattlesden in Suffolk, when they took part in a raid on the German Messerschmidt aircraft factory at Augsberg, Bavaria, on April 13, 1944. 

Over France, the aircraft was hit by flak, wounding several of the ten-man crew, and damaging two of the four engines. Johnson made the decision to return home and gave orders for his crew to abandon the stricken bomber as they passed over Romney Marsh.  

Losing height as the aircraft headed towards Hamstreet, Lt Johnson realised the bomber would come down over the village. To avoid the inevitable loss of civilian life, the young pilot sacrificed his own life by crashing the B-17 into the ground near Ham Mill Lane to the south of the village.

Having prioritised the survival of his crew and civilian lives, Lt Johnson was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honour and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross. 

Among those laying wreaths at the service were members of the 447th Bomb Group Association from Rattlesden, who organise bi-annual reunions for friends and relatives of the former US aircrews, and regularly attend this service of commemoration.

Image Credits: Chris Lawson , Johnson's Corner Memorial Association .

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