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Air Vice Marshal Sandy Johnstone

Air Vice Marshal A V R Johnstone, CB, DFC, AE, DL, wartime fighter pilot; born June 2, 1916, died December 13, 2000

Air Vice Marshal ''Sandy'' Johnstone was in command of 602 City of Glasgow Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Under his leadership the squadron destroyed more than 80 enemy aircraft, the second highest score achieved by Fighter Command. About 1933 he emerged from Kelvinside into the latter half of the world depression, with millions in Britain unemployed. He had to settle for any lowly jobs he could find in Glasgow; but his ambi- tions were already above the horizon. In his preface to Sandy's book, Where No Angels Dwell, the late Duke of Hamilton wrote: ''For me this book recalls a particular day in 1934 when, as commanding officer of 602 Squadron, I had to interview an infectiously light-hearted young man who was keen to join us. He was Sandy Johnstone, who was to become one of the squadron's most gallant members and successful war leaders.'' Johnstone's adventures began almost at once as passenger in the back seat of a Hawker Hart behind Flight Lieutenant Douglas Farquhar leading a formation to Usworth (near Newcastle). All six got caught between two blizzards at ground level, one in front and one behind, and all force-landed. Douglas came down on the beach at Joppa, near Edinburgh, where he and Sandy borrowed a rope and tied their aeroplane to a lamp-post at the roadside. At the beginning of the great Prestwick adventure, under the aegis of the duke, then Lord Clydesdale, and D F McIntyre, his senior flight commander at Abbotsinch, Sandy was already proven as an officer and a good pilot. McIntyre sent him on a course and gave him a flying job as navigating pilot instructor. This made Johnstone not only an auxiliary officer but also a professional aviator. Early in September 1939, Sandy only just survived his first potential encounter with the reaper. Those squadron pilots supposed to be night-operational on Spitfires had to take off with the aid of feeble glim lamps and touch down again within the beam of the headlights from George Pinkerton's motor car. Then came an inevitable flap (due to a false alarm). By the grace of God the first off was Johnstone, the squadron's most experienced night flyer. Off he went through the black, foggy night. He could see nothing. Denied a fix from control by the lower-frequency radio telephone due to the Heaviside layer, he was soon lost. His number was up, so down he came to a safe height and pulled off a parachute flare. To his relief, down there was a big aerodrome he had never seen before. Just before touching down he realised to his horror that it was Barrhead reservoir. With a burst of throttle he crossed the water and crash-landed on a hillside, to be greeted shortly by a fierce farmer armed with a shotgun. A dyke on that hillside would have seen the end of him. On July 4, 1940, the command of 602 Squadron at Drem, East Lothian, passed to Flight-Lieutenant Johnstone, the senior flight commander. At this point, with the war going from bad to worse, his appointment was opportune. With his additional early experience at Prestwick he was not only younger than average, but had more hours in his logbook than any pilot in the squadron. He flew like an ace, and had already demonstrated, by destroying a Heinkel caught in the searchlights over Musselburgh, that he could react and shoot like an ace. Sandy's light-hearted approach and his sense of fun were good for morale. He must have had his moments of sadness and plenty of worries, but they never showed. By July 1940, the enemy was obviously brewing up a major air offensive. The City of Glasgow Squadron was ready for it with an experienced and enthusiastic man in command. On August 13, 1940 they landed at West Hampnet, near Chichester, for the battle which would deny Hitler the air superiority he needed to mount his invasion of the United Kingdom. Granted a regular commission when the war was over, Johnstone rose rapidly in the RAF, enjoying a succession of interesting and challenging appointments described in his books. He was largely responsible for launching the Malayan Air Force, which led to his command of our air forces in the Borneo emergency. He was finally promoted Air Vice Marshal and became Air Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland. He never lost touch with the airmen who had kept his pilots flying, and was a keen supporter of the 602 museum at Hillington.

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