A Book of Gratitude featuring hundreds of messages of thanks has been presented to the last surviving British Dambuster Johnny Johnson MBE, DFC, by Kevin Marriott, whose great uncle was killed in the raid.
Kevin was one of almost 1,000 people who sent their heartfelt thanks to Johnny in response to an appeal launched by the RAF Benevolent Fund earlier this year.
As part of our commemorations earlier this year marking the 75th anniversary of the famous Dambusters raid, we captured almost 1,000 messages of gratitude from the general public to Johnny.
The RAF Benevolent Fund is the custodian of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park which stands in tribute to the 55,573 young men from Bomber Command who were killed during the Second World War, 53 of whom were killed on the Dambusters raid.
On finding out 900 individuals had contributed to the book, 95-year-old Johnny said: "No, my god, I cannot believe it. This is wonderful. To me, the thought that went into this book is tremendous. I find difficulty in finding the right words to express my very sincere thanks for all that has gone into it and obviously that starts with the RAF Benevolent Fund and the work that was done by them to get this underway.
Then of course, it has to pass to all those 900 people who replied and left the comments that they did. That to me is going to be a long evening's reading and a wonderful appreciation of what people’s thoughts are about.
"I shall feel very astounded when I start reading these, it's so gratifying that so many people have taken the trouble to answer that request in the first place. Thank you all very much and thank you RAF Benevolent Fund in particular."
He added: "I shall appreciate this I think for the rest of my life which God knows may not be so long but by God I'm going to make the most of it."
Mr Marriott said it had been a 'great honour and an unforgettable day' to meet Mr Johnson and speak to him about his relative. Flight Engineer Sgt John 'Jack' Marriott was 23 when he was killed. He was part of Maudsley's crew on Lancaster 'Z' which crashed after dropping their bombs on the Eder dam.
RAF Benevolent Fund Chief Executive Air Vice-Marshal David Murray said: "This book is a small token of the debt our whole nation owes to all those who served during the Second World War, especially the brave airmen of Bomber Command who faced overwhelming odds every time they climbed aboard their aircraft.
"Johnny's service embodies the motto of the Royal Air Force which he proudly served - Per Ardua Ad Astra. The tenacity he and his comrades on the Dambusters raid and many others showed, ensured the Allied forces could overcome and free Europe from its captor.
"In more recent years, his determination to share his experiences with us all will ensure this legacy continues for generations to come."
Johnny urged veterans to come forward if they need help. He added: "I would like to say to all of the veterans and dependants, the RAF Benevolent Fund is there for your help and your assistance. It is a wonderful organisation."