WWII veteran Captain Ron Johnson 09.10.1921 - 16.11.2023
On 16 November, former Essex Regiment and Glider Pilot Regiment veteran, Captain Ron Johnson, died at home; he was aged 102.
Ron Johnson was called up in September 1939 and as the only grammar schoolboy in his group he was sent on many courses during training. Scoring 100% on an aircraft recognition course, he was fast tracked to glider pilot training in readiness for D-Day.
Not required for D-Day in June 1944, Ron instead flew into the Arnhem and Oosterbeek area on the second day of Operation Market Garden in September 1944 in a Horsa carrying a jeep, two trailers and four Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
While in the Netherlands, Ron cheated death twice on the same day. The first time, when a mortar bomb exploded in the trench next to him leaving those in the trench dead and his head and face bleeding. The second, some hours later after he had been bandaged and returned to the trench (and possibly still a little concussed), he stood up, intending to check for signs of life in the adjacent trench, and was shot in the back by a sniper. The bullet exited through his right arm – so it was back to the dressing station again where he joined many other wounded men at the Tafelberg Hotel, before being taken to Apeldoorn Barracks by the Germans as a POW a couple of days later. He spent three nights locked in a cattle truck on the route to Fallingbostel. After three days, six Glider Pilot officers were taken by armed guard on a train via Hanover to Spangenberg Castle in Germany.
Ron was held in Castle Spangenberg from September 1944 to April 1945. In POW IXAH camp, isolation wasn’t the issue - the officers entertained themselves; but they were near starvation, and the Germans were short of food, too.
In April 1945, the Germans began moving the prisoners eastwards towards the Russians, and Ron and his friend Bob Garnett seized the opportunity to escape. That same night, Bruce Middleton Hope Shand, MC & Bar, DL, Her Majesty Queen Camilla’s father, who had been held in Castle Spangenberg too, also took his chance to escape. Ron and Bob spent five days in the hills living on a few biscuits and rainwater before the advancing Americans got them to Paris, and from there on a train to the coast before a Dakota flight back to the UK. As soon as he arrived home, he put on his uniform and headed to Buckingham Palace to celebrate VE Day.
Ron stayed in the army and in 1946, while serving near Harrogate, he met Sybil at a dance he had organised. Sybil seized the opportunity to dance with Ron during a 'Ladies Excuse Me'. They married in March 1947 and moved to Salisbury, where their daughters Valerie and Diane were born in 1949 and 1951.
Ron left the army in 1953 to join Kalamazoo Office Systems at Southampton and then Oxford. In 1958, he joined Hoover as a trainee manager and soon became an Area Manager, then a District Manager in Watford. In 1967, the family moved to Vienna in Austria, where Ron enjoyed five years as General Manager, turning Hoover Austria from a loss-making company into a profitable one, and training the Austrian managers to take over from him. In 1972, Ron and Sybil moved to France where he was Marketing Manager of Hoover at their factory in Dijon. They returned to England in 1974 to live at Tylers Green in Buckinghamshire, where Ron joined Barnes Group as Market Research Manager and soon became Director of European Operations. His final job was as Financial Consultant for Allied Dunbar (later Zurich) which he enjoyed until retirement at 65.
In 2008, Ron and Sybil moved to Shrivenham to be near their daughters, so that they had support in their old age. This also enabled them to have closer contact with their grandchildren and later great-grandchildren.
Dick Goodwin, Honorary Secretary of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, said: "Ron was a wonderful character, the like of which we will never see again. On a Taxi Charity trip to Normandy in 2017, Ron took part in a question and answer session with local students. The questions were inevitably quite emotional and Ron simply told the room of young and old to 'love one another'. The room fell silent and I will never forget what he said and I doubt the students will either. Ron’s words "WE ARE FREE AND WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER" are inscribed on the Glider Pilot Memorial at Wolfheze."
Taxi Charity ambassador, Frans Ammerlaan, from the Market Garden Foundation, said: "We are saddened to receive the news of Ron’s passing. Ron lived a long and full life, and we will miss him dearly. His smile, his many wonderful stories and his cheerful company is something that will always remain in our memories. May the ‘Big Man’ rest in peace."
Diane predeceased Ron, as did his wife Sybil. Valerie will be holding a private funeral for her father and she plans to hold a memorial service in 2024.
Notes to Editors
In the summer of 2021, the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans spoke to Ron Johnson - this is his story.