Pete’s response to ‘Fire’ Trigger.
Give us your call sign by Pete Brammer.
The surrounding area around St Paul’s Cathedral lay in rubble and ruins, as Londoners desperately tried to get on with their miserable lives. The cathedral stood defiant in the face of Hitler’s indiscriminate night after night bombardment, as if sticking two fingers up to him. On the other hand, their leader Winston Churchill did in fact stick two fingers up. This was not only in defiance, but in the sign of victory he believed would surly come.
On the 5th January 1941 in adverse weather conditions, an Airspeed Oxford flew over the river Thames. Its pilot was ordered to give its ‘Call Sign’ and identify itself.
Several times the request was made, but unfortunately this was not forthcoming, so, the Ack Ack battery guarding the approaches to the capital received orders to ‘Fire’.
Several shells exploded in the dark sky until the plane finally took a
hit, bringing it down in the murky freezing river below.
The crew of HMS Haslemere a small, former ferry used as a barrage
balloon ship, spotted the parachute coming down, and saw its pilot
alive in the water, calling in English for help.
Lt Cdr Walter Fletcher commander of Haslemere, bravely dived in,
attempting to perform a rescue. Due to the movement of the ship in
the rough weather, her crew were unable to pull it back in time and
the stern crashed down on the unfortunate flier, who was sucked
into the blades of the propeller, and the body was never recovered.
After failing in his rescue attempt, Fletcher was in fact brought back
on board, but sadly died in hospital a few days later.
The report regarding the plane being shot down by British soldiers
was quickly suppressed, maybe for moral reasons, as the dead pilot
just happened to be the legendary Amy Johnson.
The reasons for her crash were given, that she had run out of fuel
and ditched the plane.
For nearly 60 years the Ack Ack gunner Tom Mitchell carried the truth, until in 1999 he eventually told his story. Amy had failed to give her ‘Call Sign’ and correct ‘Identification Code’. “She gave the wrong one twice.” he said. “Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read in the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened.”
A memorial service in St Martin in the Fields was held on 14th January 1941 for Amy. Walter Fletcher was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal later in May of that year.
As a member of ATA who has no known grave, she is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission under the name Amy V Johnson on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.