Captain W.E. Johns and Biggles - Part 1/2
William Earl Johns, who flew BE-2s (the control column
of his BE-2c is preserved at Tangmere aviation museum in Sussex),
as well as Maurice Farman ‘Shorthorns’ , Armstrong Whitworth
‘AK-Ws’ and DH4s, is typical of so many BE pilots.
A former cavalryman, who’d fought at Gallipoli and in Greece,
Johns was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1918, just as the Royal
Air Force was founded. Contrary to popular belief, Johns never flew
fighters like the immortal Sopwith Camel in operations.
He flew two-seaters such as the BE-2c, first as a flying instructor
in England, then in France on the infamous Western Front. Even as
a flying instructor, Johns’ job was a hazardous one. He once
survived three crashes on three successive days. But that was nothing
in comparison to the risks of Artillery Observation or bombing missions
On the 16th September, Johns’ luck ran out. His aircraft was
hit by shellfire and crashed behind the lines in flames. Johns’
wife and family were told he was missing, presumed dead. They heard
nothing more, until Christmas Day 1918, a full month after the Armistice.
Johns walked into the family home, having made his own way back
from captivity in Germany.
He expressed surprise that the maid had fainted!