- A pensioner [senior citizen] has confessed
to shooting down legendary pilot Amy Johnson after keeping his secret for
almost 60 years.
- Former soldier Tom Mitchell, now 83,
said he and his squad opened fire on the air ace during the war because
she kept giving the wrong identification code and was assumed to be the
- Tom's revelations have finally solved
the riddle of why the famous flier's plane plunged into the Thames estuary.
Tom was serving with the 58th Heavy Ack Ack Kent Regiment at Iwade, Kent,
when they were ordered to shoot down the mystery aircraft as it headed
towards the Channel on January 5, 1941.
- Unknown to Tom, his target was the woman
who had become famous 11 years earlier for flying solo from England to
- Tom said: "The plane was sighted
and contacted by radio. A request was made for the colour of the day, which
was a signal to identify planes which were known by British forces.
- "She gave the wrong colour twice
and that was the reason she was shot down - because she gave the wrong
signal over the radio.
- "Sixteen rounds of bullets were
fired into the sky and the plane dived into the Thames estuary. We all
thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers
and discovered the pilot was Amy Johnson."
- Tom, from Crowborough, East Sussex, added:
"It was a terrible shock to find out the pilot was Amy, but if she
only had given the right colour of the day she would have been all right.
- "If no one answered the radios or
gave the wrong colour we were told to assume they were Germans. The next
day the officers called us around and told us to keep quiet about this
and never to tell anyone what happened."
- Tom kept the secret ever since, not wanting
to take responsibility for being one of the men involved in shooting down
the war-time heroine.
- But when his sister died last year, his
letters to her were returned and the memories came flooding back. And Tom
has decided that, for the sake of history, he must let people know before
he dies what happened on that fateful day.
- He said: "It's not something that
I ever wanted to talk about. It's just not something that you want to advertise
really. All the events of that night came back to me when I received letters
that I had once written to my sister Rosemary."
- At the time of the shooting down, Amy
was serving as an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot.
- She was one of the most famous women
of her day, making history with her long-distance flights.
- After her first solo run from England
to Australia in 1930, she flew to Japan via Moscow and back in 1931 and
Cape Town and back in 1932.
- Tom, who never mentioned that horrendous
night to his wife Dorothy until recently, said: "She has been a bit
upset to learn of my involvement. But at least now she understands."