New Zealand Airman Back to Fermanagh after 65 yrs



Early in August past, Alec F. Johnston a retired member of the New Zealand Air Force who had been stationed at Castle Archdale during World War 11 returned to pay a visit to the place he first came to 65 years ago. Johnny to his friends left his native South Island home in New Zealand early in 1941. He had been employed in the Post Office as a telegram operator who as was the custom then would send telegrams all over the world by Morse code signals. When war broke out in 1939 Johnny volunteered to join the air force where his expertise as a Morse code operator was soon recognised and he was appointed to the signals branch of the force. Following an intensive training course he was sent to Europe in 1941. The journey across the Pacific Ocean in a liner took over six weeks and Johnny celebrated his 20th birthday in mid ocean. The dinning area on board was staffed by professional waiters and the menu’s printed in French, a language that the young New Zealanders were not familiar with. In the end Johnny said to the rather haughty waiter, “Give us some very ordinary food so that we can have a decent meal”. From then on there was no problem.

      The ship docked in Vancouver and then followed a six day journey across Canada by train to Halifax where they joined a troop ship for England. The ship was part of a large convoy which was escorted on the later half of his journey by flying boats from Lough Erne. A group of ten young New Zealanders eventually arrived at Irvinestown railway station, from there they phoned to base asking for transport to Castle Archdale, who informed them to form up and march to the camp. Johnny and his comrades told them that they had travelled all the way from New Zealand and they were not going to walk any where, if the authorities wanted them they would be in the local pub. The men got their transport. At Castle Archdale it was discovered that five of the group should have gone to Iceland and not Ireland.

       Johnny had a wonderful two weeks in Fermanagh; his great grand father had been born in Collooney, Co. Sligo in 1833 and had emigrated to New Zealand in famine times. One of the high lights of his holiday was a visit to Collooney, none of his family left there now but he visited the local churches and cemeteries. Sadly on 17th August 1943 a comrade of Johnny’s lost his life in a drowning accident on Lough Erne. LAC Harold Ward of the RAF was with a group of Signals people when the accident happened. Johnny attended the coroner’s inquest in Irvinestown and subsequently was a pall bearer at the funeral. He paid a nostalgic visit to the grave of his former comrade who is buried in the Church of Ireland cemetery.

After the war Johnny remained in the R.N.Z.A.F. and completed 30 years service, during that time he did two tours of duty to the Fiji Islands, a tour in the U.K on attachment to the R.A.F. He retired as Deputy Director of Signals with the rank of Squadron Leader. He then joined the N.Z. Foreign Service and served as Vice-Consul in San Francisco and Moscow. After retirement he settled in the town of Nelson in the north coast of the south island.

During his visit Johnny had his memories recorded by a leading film company in the R.A.F. museum at Castle Archdale.


Photos. Johnny Johnston stands at the archway that was formed at the point of entry to Castle Archdale. Young men on duty entwined two young saplings to form the arch and it still remains to this day.

  Johnny stands in silent tribute at the grave of his young comrade Fred Ward in the Church of Ireland cemetery.