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Air Vice-Marshal A V R Johnstone (90163)

Alexander Vallance Riddell JohnstoneAlexander Vallance Riddell               b: 2 Jun 1916                      r:  14 Dec 1968                     d:  13 Dec 2000

CB – 1 Jan 1966, DFC - 1940, AE, MiD - 1 Jan 1943.

(AuxAF): Plt Off:  3 May 1935, Fg Off: 3 Nov 1936, Flt Lt: 1 Sep 1939, Act Sqn Ldr:  13 Jul 1940, (T) Sqn Ldr:  1 Sep1940, (T) Wg Cdr: 1 Mar 1942, Act Gp Capt: 3 Jun 1944 -xx Dec 1946, Wg Cdr (WS): 3 Dec 1944.

(RAF): Sqn Ldr: 10 Dec 1946 [1 Jun 1944],  Wg Cdr: 1 Jul 1947, Gp Capt: 1 Jan 1954, Act A/Cdre: xx xxx 1957 - xx Aug 1958, A/Cdre: 1 Jan 1961, AVM: 1 Jul 1965.

Alexander Vallance Riddell Johnstone

by Walter Bird
bromide print, 21 February 1966
NPG x168636

© National Portrait Gallery, London

xx Jan 1935:             U/T Pilot, No 602 (City of Glasgow) Sqn, Auxiliary Air Force  

 3 May 1935:            Pilot, No 602 (City of Glasgow) Sqn, Auxiliary Air Force

21 Oct - 2 Nov 1939:            Attached to RAF Northolt for Air Fighting Instructors' Course

xx xxx 1940:             Flight Commander, No 602 Sqn

13 Jul 1940:              Officer Commanding (Acting), No 602 Sqn

17 Jul 1940:              Officer Commanding, No 602 Sqn

12 May 1941:           Fighter Controller, RAF Turnhouse

xx Sep 1941:            Squadron Leader - Operations, HQ No 263 Wing, RAF Levant

xx Mar 1942:            Officer Commanding, Sector HQ, Haifa

xx Sep 1942:            Deputy Station Commander, RAF Luqa - Malta

xx Nov 1942:            Fighter Controller, Valetta - Malta

xx Jan 1943:              Krendi Wing Leader, Malta.

xx Mar 1943:            Attended RAF Staff College.

xx xxx xxxx:               Air Staff, HQ No 9 Group.

xx Sep 1943:             Wing Commander - Flying, No 56 OTU.

13 Nov 1943:           Officer Commanding, RAF Fairwood Common

xx May 1944:           'Operations 1', HQ AEAF

xx Aug 1944:            Staff, Supreme Allied Commander.

xx Oct 1944:            ?, HQ AEAF.

xx xxx 1945:             Attended US Army & Naval Staff Colleges

xx Jul 1945:              Air Staff, HQ No 12 Group

xx Jan 1946:             Air Attaché, Dublin

10 Dec 1946:            Appointed to Permanent Commission in the rank of Squadron Leader (retaining rank current at the time) [wef 1 Sep 1945 antedated to 1 Jun 1944 on 25 Feb 1947]

28 Apr 1948:            Staff Officer, Directorate-General of Personnel (II).

xx xxx 1951:              Station Commander, RAF Ballykelly

xx xxx 1952:              Officer Commanding, Air Sea Warfare Development Unit

28 Dec 1953:             SASO, HQ No 12 Group

xx Jan 1956:               Deputy Air Defence Commander, HQ RAF Malaya

xx xxx 1957:               Deputy Chief of Staff (Air),  Royal Malayan Air Force

 1 Oct 1958:               Station Commander, RAF Middleton St George

xx Jan 1961:               Attended Imperial Defence College

16 Dec 1961:             Director of Personnel (Air), Department of The Air Secretary

xx Mar 1964:             Air Commander, Commonwealth Forces - Borneo

25 Sep 1965:             AOC, No 18 Group/Air Officer, Scotland & Northern Ireland

Injuring his knee in a rugby match during his last year at Kelvinside Academy, he was advised to give up playing the game.  This immediately gave the young "Sandy" Johnstone the problem of filling his weekends.  Initially thinking of the Territorial Army, he came across an entry in a directory for 'No 602 (City of Glasgow) Sqn, Auxiliary Air Force'.  Writing to the Adjutant, he was invited for a discussion which included a trial flight but it was a further three months before he was asked to attend for a medical following which he was accepted for pilot training.

During this period he continued to fly at weekends and undertake training at the squadron's HQ during the week whilst working for a footwear firm in Edinburgh.  However in 1938, Scottish Aviation Ltd opened No. 1 Civil Air Navigation School at Prestwick and "Sandy" Johnstone applied to join the staff.  Accepted on a supernumerary basis until he gained the required licences to become an instructor.  This he eventually managed and until the outbreak of war, was involved in the training of navigators for the expanding RAF.

Called up for service with 602 in August 1939, he was involved in some of the earliest air battles when German bombers attacked targets such as Rosyth dockyards.  It was during this early period of the war that he was scrambled to intercept a 'raider' at night.  Caught in an unexpected fog, he was forced to attempt an emergency landing on what turned out at the last moment to be a lake.  Avoiding being drowned he was desperately looking around for a suitable landing site as his fuel ran low, when his aircraft grazed the summit of a mountain bringing to an immediate, if somewhat sudden halt.

By early 1940, he had married and been appointed  'B' Flight Commander which at that point was detached to Drem.  It was not long, however, before he was appointed 602's Commander and it was as such that he led the squadron down to Westhampnett in No 11 Group during August 1940 to take part in the Battle of Britain before returning to Scotland in December.  However, a ground posting came his way when he was appointed a Fighter Controller at RAF Turnhouse and as a result he became involved in the incident of Rudolf Hess' (Hitler's deputy) attempt to negotiate a peace settlement. 

His attempts to establish a settled family life was ruined when he was posted to the Middle East, again to undertake Fighter Controller duties.

Arriving in Egypt, he was informed that he was actually required to set up an air defence network in the Levant (now The Lebanon) and so he next moved to Beirut.  Having set up a working system of control and been promoted to Wing Commander, "Sandy" was posted to Palestine as Sector Commander at Haifa.  Finding the operations block rather exposed on a cliff top, he applied to have another built in a disused quarry.  Not receiving a reply to his request he approached Colonel Bonn, the commander of the local Royal Engineers for suggestions.  Colonel Bonn offered to make a start on the new building, which soon became a monstrous structure and very obvious from the air.  Blasting the surrounding quarry and covering it with the rubble soon solved the later problem but what he would do if authority for it's construction was not received troubled "Sandy" Johnstone.  However, when the AOC in C, Sir Arthur Tedder arrived on a tour of inspection he merely commented on it looking more like 'The Dorchester' than an operations centre.

A return to flying was promised with his appointment as a Spitfire Wing Leader in Malta, but on arrival he found the due to delays someone else had been given command and was to be allowed to continue and so he found himself  taking on the role of deputy station commander at Luqa.  A further stint as a fighter controller, this time in Valletta followed  preceding his move to the Karen Wing consisting of No's 229 and 249 Sqns.  As Wing Leader he took over in time to start leading the Wing back onto the offensive leading strafing and bombing missions against targets on Sicily and other islands in the area.  However, after only a couple months in command, he was taken ill and was diagnosed as suffering from undulent fever, the only known cure for which was to leave the Mediterranean area and so he left Malta and returned to the UK.

Having recovered from this, he returned to Fighter Command (now renamed Air Defence of Great Britain) as Sector and Station Commander of RAF Fairwood Common in No 10 Group.  Promotion to Act Group Captain took him to HQ Allied Expeditionary Air Forces where he was in charge of RAF fighter operations alongside an American Colonel holding similar responsible for USAAF fighters.  When Eisenhower's Supreme HQ moved to France in August 1944, 'Sandy' Johnstone was a member of the AEAF element which accompanied it.  It was as a result of  this work which brought him into contact with General Eisenhower that the General arranged for him to attend the US Army and Navy Staff Colleges.  Returning to the UK six weeks before VJ -Day he decided to remain in the RAF post-war which brought with it a return to the rank of Wing Commander but also the rather attractive posting of Air Attaché in Dublin.   By the end of WW2, he had amassed a total of seven confirmed and two shared victories with one probale and six damaged and a further one shared damaged.

As Air Attaché, he was involved in negotiations with the Irish Air Corps with regard to the updating and modernisation of it's equipment.  As Air Attaché he was also responsible for matters pertaining to civil aircraft and also helped Aer Lingus acquire more modern aircraft.  Returning to the Air Ministry in 1948 he became responsible for the postings of General Duties Wing Commanders.  In this appointment he also acted as the Personal Air Secretary to the Under-Secretary of State for Air and as such he accompanied the incumbent to such places as France, West Germany, various African countries and Malaya to name but few.

After command of RAF Ballykelly, the Air Sea Warfare Development Unit and Staff duties at No 12 Group, he found himself back in Malaya, this time as Deputy Air Defence Commander.  Here he was responsible for the setting up of an air defence network which was accomplished quite easily and quickly leaving him time to improve his golf.  This lack of employment resulted in his services being offered by the AOC to the Head of State (designate) of the soon to be independent Malaysia as an Air Adviser to assist in the formation of a Malaysian Air Force.  Following the formation of the Malaysian Federation he was seconded to the newly formed Royal Malaysian Air Force as the Deputy Air Commander, with the rank of Air Commodore, which was in fact the senior appointment as his superior was the Army commander, who was in overall command of the Malayan Forces. 

Having overseen the establishment of the RMAF including the acquisition of it's first aircraft, design of it's national markings and setting up it's administrative systems, 'Sandy' Johnstone  took over command of yet another station, this time RAF Middleton St. George, the home of No's 92 and 33 Sqns.  The former being equipped with Hawker Hunters whilst the later flew Gloster Javelins.  During his tenure here No 92 Sqn undertook the task of replacing No 111 Sqn as the RAF's aerobatic display team.  Moving back to the Air Ministry  he next found himself involved in the transfer of personnel from the Royal Rhodesian Air Force to the RAF when the Rhodesian Federation was dissolved.  Although not originally part of his brief, he quickly became involved in assisting the fledgling Northern Rhodesian (later Zambian) Air Force to establish itself.

'Sandy 'Johnstone was able to assess the progress made by the RMAF since he had formed it in 1957 when he was posted to the Far East as Commander of the Commonwealth Forces operating in Borneo during the 'Confrontation', of which the RMAF was part.  His final appointment before retirement saw him return to his native Scotland when he was appointed AOC, No 18 Group, Coastal Command.  In the post he also held two NATO appointments, these being Air Commander North Atlantic Sub Area and Air Commander Nore and Channel as well as being Air Commander Home Defence (Scotland) and being the only Air Officer stationed in the area AOC, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  As such he commanded a fleet of Shackleton aircraft operating in the anti-submarine role and Whirlwind helicopters for Search and Rescue duties as well as the Mountain Rescue Teams in the area and the Marine Craft Units from Alness down to Bridlington in Yorkshire. 

Following his retirement, he has had quite a successful career as an author and for ten years (1969 - 79) he was Vice-Chairman of the Council of TA&VRA. He has also been a businessman as both a Director and Chairman of Climax Cleaning Co . as well as being a Deputy Lieutenant of Glasgow from 1971 until 1991.

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross

“Acting Squadron Leader Alexander Vallance Riddell JOHNSTONE (90163), Auxiliary Air Force.

This officer has proved himself to be a leader of ability and determination and has been mainly responsible for the high standard of morale in his squadron.  He has destroyed four enemy aircraft of which one was shot down at night.”

(London Gazette – 1 October 1940)

This page was last updated on 06/01/24

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