Patrick Benham-Crosswell: Has Carol Vorderman hijacked the Dambusters?

Carol Vorderman has launched a petition demanding a knighthood for George Johnson, the last surviving British member of the Dambuster raid. Why?

For sure, Mr Johnson volunteered for what turned out to be a remarkable and dangerous operation to demolish German dams in May 1943. But, in case Ms Vorderman had forgotten, there was a war on and he was not the only person to volunteer for that – or for other dangerous missions. He was the bomb aimer, he dropped his bomb on target on the Sorpe Dam and received a Distinguished Flying Medal – which is about par for the course. He served with 617 (Dambuster) Squadron for most of the rest of the war.

After the war he served in the RAF until 1962. He then became a teacher and county councillor. As media interest in the raid increased he has been interviewed several times on TV. All very worthy, but nothing exceptional – other than living to a ripe old age.

The harsh truth is that most of the wartime generation all did brave stuff, and some of them exceptionally brave stuff. At the time they were acknowledged in the usual way, with medals and (occasionally) honours that were considered appropriate then by their peers.

It is also the case that recently, and possibly longer, the award of honours seems pretty random and, one suspects, knighthoods either come with the role (in government service) or for other activity deemed suitable by the honours office. As far as I am aware no honour has yet been issued for simply living longer than one’s peer group.

This whole story smacks to me of a celeb-seeking clickbait. Ms Vorderman is, allegedly, brainy. But raising her profile on the back of the courage shown by a pensioner 70 years ago is neither wise nor attractive. That 50,000 people have clicked on her petition is yet another demonstration of the vacuity of much of social media.  That the mainstream press has picked it up is, I fear, yet another example of the creation and propagation of a non-story.

A better story would at least remind readers that 617 Squadron was disbanded recently as part of the continuing purge of the British armed forces. If Ms Vorderman really want to honour courage she might better direct her efforts to helping charities like Combat Stress.

Or she could contemplate that rare thing for a celeb – dignified silence.

(Image: Carl Milner)

Patrick Benham-Crosswell

  • North Angle

    I understand that Carol is seeking publicity here, and you are absolutely right that many others deserve a knighthood for their actions during the war, but I refuse to be churlish about this: Johnny is far more deserving of a knighthood than that idiot in the Dfid.

  • gs_schweik

    Good point well presented. George Johnson should be allowed his dignity.
    Which she has not got.

  • the baracus

    As a standalone point, I agree entirely – however where I think the author misses the point is when compared the completely insignificance of awarding celebrities and personal hairdressers awards such as has happened recently.

    Personally I think awards should only be made to people that have gone over and above what is expected of them – not celebrities and civil servants that have just been doing what they have been paid to do.

  • geo

    my first thought was … yeah she’s never shown any interest in the forces before but 20seconds on google throws up multiple hits from 2016 and 2015. this from 2013 …

    and even as far back as 2011 (Vorderman is an active supporter and advocate of the RAF Association charity, appearing at airshows and taking part in other fundraising

    So … I would say that you are talking complete rubbish. she has a track record of supporting the RAF and in this case she is highlighting the continued ignoring of our armed forces not only by labour (to be expected) but the conservatives as well … so Mr Patrick Benham-Crosswell … D- for this article. Please do some basic research next time.

  • Bogbrush

    Just to show that virtue signalling isn’t confined to the Left.

    • flipant

      I doubt seeking recognition for such a historically meaningful , if not necessarily operational event , is virtue signalling. the man himself has said it would be for all the other young men who died in bomber command…his age on mission?


      • Bogbrush

        Maybe I’m being a touch harsh on her.

        Nobody would question the gentleman’s standing at all. I do wonder where all this honours lark ends though – if Victoria Beckham gets one then certainly he would, but then he received the honour of a medal (I assume). I really have become lost on the point of it all.

        • Sheik Rhat el Anrhol

          I have never received any honour and my wife is livid.

      • Tricia

        Everyone suffered in the war. Singling out one man who has lived to a ripe old age is totally unnecessary. He was the fortunate one who survived and I bet he knows it. My father spent 5 years in the desert with the 8th army and did not see his family in all that time. My grandfather was killed at the Somme, leaving my mother and 2 brothers orphans. Respect for the older generations and how they have sacrificed for us to have our today should be a part of what we are as a country and how we take this country forward. Working to free this country from the clutches of the EU is a beginning and holding on to our freedom of speech is another.

        • Sheik Rhat el Anrhol

          Well said thanks.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Well said.

      • gelert

        Younger than many of the child “refugees” at Calais.

  • flipant

    No , not having this, Carol Vordaman is honorary group Captain ambassador for the Air Cadets.

    She always comes across to me as a person with her heat in exactly the right place, she has been staunch supporter of the Pride of Britain award.

    In any case, with the recent plethora of gongs handed out to clerical workers from the civil service, this has surely got to rank as much more popular with the public than the usual bunch of peace time nonentities, such as the Brexit slacker recently evacuated from his EU liar..OK

    and now has 158,000 signatures

    • Bik Byro

      I signed it immediately and would encourage everybody else to do the same.

  • Mike Hunt

    Far more importantly , Lily Allen has only ever been assaulted by white men. I mean forget acts of bravery 70 years ago this is what we should be worried about The White Male

    • Sheik Rhat el Anrhol

      ` Lily Allen has only ever been assaulted by white men.’

      I read this as a complaint.

      Depressingly, I have never been sexually assaulted. I await the moment – but I am nearly seventy two.

      • NilsBoray

        People over 71 are by no means immune to sexual assaults. They can be and usually are extremely unpleasant.

        • Sheik Rhat el Anrhol

          Well I have yet to find out and am now starting to give up hope.

          • NilsBoray

            Well for your sake I hope you never find out, but perhaps if you did you might reflect on your comments and become slightly less nasty.

  • The Meissen Bison

    This is badly adrift.

    The Sun ran with this story under an “exclusive” tag on Tuesday and Carol Vorderman’s subsequent involvement is accounted for by her previously having met George Johnson in connection with the Air Cadets with whom she has or had some involvement.

    As for Patrick Benham-Crosswell’s nasty and catty swipe: “no honour has yet been issued for simply living longer than one’s peer group” the justification should not be hard to find: an honour to the last of his line is a recognition that Britain still remembers and honours the valour of men like George Johnson and his comrades and continues to value the service and sacrifice of our armed forces.

    It’s a pity that TCW finds space for such ungenerous and ill-informed stuff.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Tripe. Let’s award a posthumous knighthood to the Unknown Warrior instead.

      • Heck, you could even give him a VC, like our unknown soldier has.

      • The Meissen Bison

        You’re missing the point here for which I may be to blame. George Johnson was nominated and turned down by the people who scrutinise and approve these things.

        These same officials approved nominations for all kinds of people who in the eyes of the general public might seem rather less deserving and this is where the controversy lies.

        The article above also suggests that Carol Vorderman is somehow self-serving and climbing on a bandwagon when the truth is that she may well have been invited to lead the campaign by the Newspaper that broke the story.

        • Colonel Mustard

          The honours system is thoroughly discredited.The idea that those responsible must be pressurised into approving an award by a public petition shows just how rotten it all is. Cameron didn’t help with his back scratching rewards to toadies and lickspittles. All of them are ghastly and not fit to lick the flying boots of a Dambuster.

  • brownowl

    Carol Vorderman isn’t “allegedly” brainy, she is a member of MENSA and has been for many years. Further, this article seems to fly right in the face of Harry Patch and his ilk. It is, frankly, unworthy of this site…

    • NilsBoray

      3rd Class honours. Intelligent people tend not to join Mensa – no need to boast.

      • Bik Byro

        and still brainier than you

        • NilsBoray

          Well, it’s all relative and all subjective, but my bachelor’s degree is with 1st Class Honours, unlike Carole’s. I feel that it is unintelligent to join a group like Mensa – it shows that one has failed to grasp the nature of intelligence itself

  • I suspect that more than 50,000 people would sign a petition to give some modern, frequently half-naked, female so-called celebrity a damehood. Just look at the numbers that have signed other petitions about trivia.
    My cousin got the DFC, I never knew until I read his obituary; he and his crew were apparently credited with sinking the Tirpitz. They were doing their duty in a time of war and he wouldn’t have expected any reward. I imagine that it is the same in this case.

    • Robert Jones

      My uncle was awarded a DFM in 1940 flying as an LAC Air Gunner/ Wireless Operator in a Fairey Battle over Luxembourg. He was badly wounded by ground fire but continued to fight. In 1942 as a Flt Lt he was a member of the 4-man crew of a Boston Light Bomber during Operation Oyster, when 107 Squadron RAF attacked the Phillips Radio Factory at Eindhoven. After flying at 50 feet over Holland they had dropped their 500lb bombs and were returning but were shot down by FW190s and lost in the sea. He was 24 years old.

      I believe that he would share your view about doing his duty, I know (after 30 years in the British Army) that I do.

      • I suspect that at the time most flyers considered that their reward was getting back to base in one piece. Especially in that in the case of many of these raids they were in the minority.

        • When I was young (seems a long time ago, sometimes), I knew many of our men who flew with 8th USAAF, some decorated, some not – the two most famous I met were Generals Doolittle and Lemay. From them down to the lowest private they uniformly believed they were simply doing their jobs, they all said the real heroes are buried at Cambridge.

          I doubt Bomber Command was any different, our guys respected them immensely. Likely has something to do with why the organ at St. Clements Dane was a gift from the USAF.

          He’s a hero, we all know it, and don’t really need a knighthood to point it out.

          • I fully agree with you.

          • Forlorn Hope

            I have been to to the U.S.A. cemetery at at Madingley, Cambridge and the R.A.F. Bomber command memorial at Green Park and the R.A.F memorial at Runnymede.
            I have been moved to tears by all of these visits.
            I write as as a son of a R.A.F. serviceman who joined the service in 1937.
            He was never in aircrew, but was well aware of the sacrifices made by them, on our behalf.
            I consider it a disgrace that Bomber Command never received a campaign medal, and think that many of our goverments would rather ignore their sacrifice than offend our German “partners”.

  • Robert Jones

    I think that Carol Vorderman is a very good egg for all her work in support of Engineering, Science and, latterly, Aviation. But I also think that Patrick Benham-Crosswell has made some good points. George Johnson was a member of Bomber Command, which suffered 56,000 killed, over 8,000 wounded and nearly 10,000 taken prisoner; a loss rate of 60% of its strength. In those circumstances he was rightly honoured for his brave and repeated efforts in 617 Squadron and we should be proud of him.

    But that was then and this is now. If he has subsequently continued to serve his community with selfless charitable works then he could qualify for an MBE or perhaps an OBE, but bidding for a knighthood (which has formally been turned down) was a well-meaning but misplaced error of judgement by the applicants.

    Our Honours System has completely lost its purpose and we are in danger of it making us an international laughing stock, particularly in that rat-heap called the House of Lords. Please don’t let us make George Johnson a scapegoat for a failed system in his remaining years.

    • Sheik Rhat el Anrhol

      I hero – I don’t know – since he had little choice in the matter.

      I am certainly very grateful to him though

      • Malcolm

        He had plenty of choice; every member of aircrew was a volunteer and given the well-known survival rates I consider every last man of them a hero, which ever command they flew with. I am, however, conflicted over this question. There is no doubt that our honours system is currently broken, thanks in large part due to the political classes who have abused it for years and the sense of entitlement that infects much of the public sector where years served seems all too often to equate to an honour regardless of merit, but I fail to see how awarding this gentleman a knighthood would alter that. I suspect from things he has been reported as saying about this, he would wholly agree. I hope he at least takes heart in knowing from the support he has received, however, that the efforts and valour of he and his colleagues are not forgotten.

      • Erm, all of 617 aircrew were volunteers for what was described as (I think) a dangerous mission.

        They tended to volunteer as entire crews, but volunteer they did.
        Quite what constitutes heroism, as opposed to bravery, is more a semantic exercise, although I’m sure that it was clear at the time.

        The raid leader, Guy Gibson, was awarded a VC, not least because he made repeated passes over his target (the Mohne) to attract fire from the anti aircraft guns which would otherwise be able to concentrate 100% on the bombing aircraft. Quite how his crew felt about this has not been recorded..

        • Joseph Siddall

          The way 617Sqn crews were assembled were not as neat as that. There are a couple of very good books which go into just how the crews came together from a disparate group of individuals. It is very doubtful that other, operational, squadrons would have allowed whole crews tomwalk out to Scampton.

          My father in law was a flight engineer in RAF Halifaxes and Lancasters but then seconded to RCAF 429sqn as they had very few Flt Engrs to crew the big bombers. He ended the war still flying with them and is alive to-day. And, I am told, his old uniform still fits!

  • Sheik Rhat el Anrhol

    If I were to receive a knighthood now, my life of failure would be reversed.

    My wife says that this is the answer and she is right about most things.

    It would also have the benefit of stopping the neighbours in their tracks and a good thing too.

  • Bik Byro

    Rubbish article full of bitter nonsense. I signed the petition for George Johnson to get a Knighthood and am proud to have done so. After seeing hundreds if not thousands of people get a knighthood for doing far less, he is most deserving of one.

    This article is very, very badly wrong.

    • siphil

      So why wait all this time? That’s the point.

      • Bik Byro

        Better late than never

    • bevinboy

      Indeed. The main point about nominating George Johnson is to point out the sheer nonsense of many awards.

      It is a protest against the system.

      Astonishing that Benham-Crosswell does not understand.

      • Bik Byro

        2016 honours :

        CBE : Caroline Helen Theobald, Founder and Managing Director, Bridge Club Ltd

        a CBE for Annamarie Phelps, voluntary Chair of British Rowing

        an OBE for singer-songwriter, Damon Albarn

        an OBE for snooker player, Ronnie O’Sullivan

        a CBE for Anthony Preston, Founder of Pets at Home

        an MBE for Tracey Neville, Head Coach of the England Netball Squad

        .. and saddos are moaning that somehow in amongst this lot, George Johnson isn’t worthy.

        • bevinboy

          Benham -Crosswell mistakes, misjudges even, the public mood.

          The French appreciated The Last Tommy, Harry Patch. An award for George Johnson would be appropriate.

          Harry Patch received eight medals and honours; for his service in the First World War he received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.[37] In 1998, as a surviving veteran of the First World War, who had fought for the Allies in France and Flanders, the President of the Republic of France made him a Knight of the Légion d’honneur. The award was presented to Patch on his 101st birthday. On 9 March 2009, Patch was appointed an Officer of the Légion d’honneur by the French Ambassador at his nursing home in Somerset.[38] On 7 January 2008, Albert II, King of the Belgians, conferred upon Patch the award of Knight of the Order of Leopold. He received the award from Jean-Michel Veranneman de Watervliet, Belgium’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, at a ceremony in the Ambassador’s residence in London, on 22 September 2008, which coincidentally was the 91st anniversary of the day he was wounded in action and three of his closest friends killed.[39]

          For service during the Second World War, Patch was awarded the 1939–45 Defence Medal. This was subsequently lost and on 20 September 2008, at a ceremony at Bath Fire Station, Patch was presented with a replacement medal.[40] Patch also received two commemorative medals: the National Service Medal and the Hors de combat medal, which signifies outstanding bravery of servicemen and women, who have sustained wounds or injury in the line of duty. The medals are unofficial and not a part of the official order of wear in any Commonwealth realm. In accordance with his wishes, Harry Patch’s medals are displayed at the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry Museum in Bodmin.[41]

        • Colonel Mustard

          It isn’t that George Johnson isn’t worthy.

    • Ned Costello

      Well if you feel that George Johnson deserves a Knighthood for something he has already been correctly decorated for, then you should be campaigning for every man who flew on the Dams raid to have one, shouldn’t you? And why stop there, surely every aircrewman who served in Bomber Commmand is equally worthy. Seriously, where would it stop?

      • Bik Byro

        Who do you think is more deserving : George Johnson, war hero or Lucan Gray, fortunate enough to be born the son of the boss of the custard factory in Birmingham.

        Hint : one of these people has an MBE the other doesn’t

        Seriously, when will you put your brain into gear?

  • therealguyfaux ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    You just KNOW some would oppose it for this reason:

    “Remember the name of the dog! Find out if he EVER used that word! If he did, deny him a knighthood!” — virtue-signalling SJW’s preoccupied with such details

  • PierrePendre

    See it as an award that belatedly honours of all of Bomber Command which suffered 50% casualties and which was shabbily treated for their sacrifice by the postwar establishment which sought to distance itself from responsibility for the area bombing policy once they were safe. Whether one agrees with the policy or not, Johnson and his comrades did the duty that their country asked of them with great bravery and honouring him would recognise that.

    • Flatdog

      Bomber Command was finally honoured in 2012, having been held in bad odour by the establishment since 1945, when Churchill failed to mention their contribution to the war effort in his VE-Day speech.

      • Forlorn Hope

        No, they were not honoured, they were given a poxxy clasp, not a medal, presumably so as not to offend our new German masters, (ooops, sorry, partners.)

      • JohnInCambridge

        As though Churchill didn’t know of and approve of the bombing while it was going on! It isn’t only modern politicians who are rank hypocrites. No wonder ‘Bomber’ Harris left the country.

  • obbo12

    Has honorary Group Captain Carol Vorderman hijacked the RAF, err no

  • Farmer

    I agree with the article. It doesn’t make sense to honour George Johnson simply because he has lived longer than the other men on the Dambuster mission. He was given a medal at the time which is right.

    My grandfather was a petty officer on the Rodney, the oldest battleship that helped sink the Bizmark. The truth is the Rodney was ordered to close in and sink the Bizmark at all cost including ramming. Should every man onboard the have been give a knighthood given that in effect the Rodney crew were ordered to sacrifice their ship and almost certainly their lives to sink the Bizmark? Same goes for every man who went ‘over the top’ on the Somme, all the men who fought in the Battle of Britain, SOE agents

    We shouldn’t attempt to rewrite history.

    • Ned Costello

      I agree with your post, but it’s the BiSmarCk? As in “Bismarck”.
      Out of respect for your grandfather’s memeory you might at least get the details right eh?
      “Bizmark” sounds like a German version of Poundland or something.

      • NilsBoray

        A little like ‘memeory’ really.

  • MrVeryAngry

    Agreed. But if so can I recommend for a knighthood my late father-in-law who flew in the Western Desert (in Blenheims for Heaven’s sake), over Europe in the run up to D-Day in Mitchells at relatively low level whose crews endured very high loss rates and then as an instructor in Ansons? Surely he was ‘just as brave’?
    Mind you the gongs they had out these days for all sorts of riff raff have rather devalued the whole thing. (Very pleased to note that Blair still hasn’t been Knighted…)

    • TheRightToArmBears

      Margaret Thatcher wrote a letter to each of the casualties in the Falklands.
      Blair hasn’t visited any of the paraplegic veterans of his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan either.
      He is in a prison of his own making, since he is unable to walk down any street in Britain without a heavy screen of ex-special forces personnel, one of whom will one day recall a buddy without . . . . . . . .

    • NilsBoray

      Yes. Of course you can.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Honour the ones who never came back then, not the ones who are fortunate enough to have lived long enough to enjoy the paltry, mawkish, dumbed down, honours devalued, celebrity approval-reward “everyone in the public sevices is a hero” era now.

    It is a national disgrace that it took 67 years for the service and sacrifice of Bomber Command personnel to be officially recognised with a clasp – not a medal – whilst the Beatles were honoured in 1965. And let’s not forget what Lennon wrote when he returned his MBE to HM The Queen. The dead of Bomber Command never got the chance to return or write anything.

    Awarding a knighthood to the only Dambusters survivor just brings that disgrace into sharp focus.

    • choccycobnobs

      Bang on the money.Seems almost as every lickspittle can get an honour nowadays.

    • paul redhead

      Very well said CM.

  • A shoddy, .poorly researched article that gives the impression of being written by a saloon bar bore. The author hardly bothers to cover his sneering condescension towards Carol Vorderman, so much so he appears not even to have felt any need to find out if she had any connections to the RAF.
    Frankly there are too many posts like this in TCW. When it started I was hoping for some serious writing with a conservative bent laced now and then with a dash of humour. Instead it too often gives the impression of being amateur hour for irritated grumblers

  • Adrian Wakeford

    Not entirely accurate, 617 Squadron RAF was temporarily disbanded but is being reformed as the first F35B equipped squadron.

  • Landphil

    Carol ‘V for Victor’ Vorderman – a wizard prang.

  • TheRightToArmBears

    The greatest hurdle to overcome is to find an honour that has not been already tarnished and degraded beyond all salvation by the people they have been sold and given to by our egregious political class.

    • choccycobnobs

      “…to find an honour that has not been already tarnished…”. A DFC perhaps?

  • Condelfan

    Maybe the lass just really cares ?
    Apologies if that upsets the Snowflakes out there, but I’m inclined to believe she does genuinely want to spread a bit of love and gratitude to this grand old lad.
    Would seem that 160,000 (and rising ) agree with me on this

    Ps I know even some non-Snowflakes will sputter at this, buy by heck that Vordeman lass has a bottom that deserves worshipping, and she approaching her 60’s. She’s a Wonderful role model for British mothers and grannies.