A cycle challenge celebrating the centenary of Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson DFM launches on 25 November, Johnny’s 99th birthday. Johnny is the last surviving original member of Operation Chastise, also known as the Dambusters raid of 1943.
The Dambusters were members of the RAF's 617 Squadron who were specially assembled in March 1943 to bomb three dams in Germany's Ruhr Valley. The raid, on the night of May 16/17, involved 133 aircrew flying 19 specially adapted Lancaster bombers.
Johnny has given his support to the ride. He said: “I am grateful to have never needed the support of the RAF Benevolent Fund but nonetheless I have always known they are there for those less fortunate than I. I was honoured to hear The Dambusters Ride would be launched on my birthday – what a birthday surprise!
“Not only will this event raise vital funds to support RAF personnel, past and present, it will also pay tribute to the brave men of Bomber Command who made the ultimate sacrifice on the Dambusters raid and throughout the Second World War. Their loss must never be forgotten and it is my hope through this event, a new generation will learn about the cost of the freedom they enjoy today.
“The RAF Benevolent Fund does incredible work supporting RAF veterans and serving personnel and I would like to thank anyone who signs up for this cycle ride.”
Fundraisers can take part in either a 100-mile or 56-mile bike ride starting and finishing at the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, the home of 617 Squadron. The route will also cover RAF Scampton; RAF College Cranwell; and Highfields School in Newark where Johnny was a teacher after leaving the RAF.
Participants can also choose to take part in the Dambusters Ride virtually, registering to complete the 100-mile or 56-mile challenge elsewhere in the country over the 15 and 16 May 2021.;
Chris Elliot, Controller at the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “Johnny showed true heroism in his time with 617 Squadron, so what better way to honour his centenary than by launching a new fundraising challenge that will help support other RAF veterans and personnel?
“Operation Chastise was an important part of the RAF’s history, so in addition to raising much-needed funds, I hope the Dambusters Ride encourages younger generations to learn more about 617 Squadron and their brave sacrifice all those years ago.”
Over the course of 2020, the RAF Benevolent Fund has launched a range of welfare initiatives to support personnel and their families throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. It has introduced a 24-hour emotional support helpline and created an online mental wellbeing zone, as well as offering Headspace memberships to partners of serving personnel. The Fund has also offered a grant of £2,500 to each RAF station to provide an activity and wellbeing pack for RAF children and launched Airplay Connect, an online version of its youth support service.