Clarence Arthur Johnston R275157

September 27, 1917 - May 29, 1944

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Factory worker became air gunner. Aboard Mitchell HD345, he with four other crew, on a cross-country exercise, hit a mountain on Vancouver Island, the plane exploding. A US Navy blimp participated in the search, crashing. The remains of the crew of Mitchell HD345 were buried on site. Two years later, a psychic claimed three men survived, dismissed by the RCAF.

Clarence Arthur Johnston was the son of Adam Arthur Johnston, farmer and carpenter, and Cornelia (nee Griffiths) Johnston of St. Catharines, Ontario. Clarence had five brothers and two sisters: Clifford Earl, Charles William, Allan Everett, Leonard Jasper, Ross Stuart, Leta Cornelia, and Bernice Louise. The family was Presbyterian.

Clarence married Frances Elizabeth Aston on January 9, 1937. They had one daughter, Marion, born September 11, 1937 and one son, Ralph Kingsley Johnston, born January 3, 1944. They had a partly paid for home at 18 Dorothy Street, St. Catharines.

Clarence worked as a farmer and then as a lathe operator/factory assembly worker for three years at Hayes Steel Products Ltd. in Merriton, Ontario, often on the night shift, prior to enlistment in the RCAF in the fall of 1943. He liked to play baseball occasionally, plus swim. He bowled, played tennis, too. He had some first aid and some typing (30-35 wpm). He had an interest in mechanics. He stood 5’7” tall and weighed 150 pounds. He had blue eyes and had brown hair. A small scar on his left elbow was noted. After the war, he planned to work as a machinist or mechanic. “Motivation for aircrew is satisfactory. Physically fit and emotionally stable. Average intellect. Not impressive but should e able to do a steady job in aircrew. Will be 26 years old on September 27, 1943. Married man with one child. Wife will not worry unduly. Keen for aircrew. Would like to be a pilot but would not refuse any job in aircrew. This man worked all night and came in for his C.T. this AM. If he does better on his further tests at Manning Depot, I suggest he be given a chance at ITS. Good type and will do a good job wherever placed.”

Clarence was selected to train as an air gunner and was in Course No. 7 at H.B. Beal Technical and Commercial High School {aka TTS, St. Thomas, Ontario] from November 8 to December 20, 1943. His pre-aircrew education showed he had strengths in math, aircraft recognition and signals. Clarence was at No. 3 FIS, Arnprior, Ontario, January 1 – 14, 1944. At No. 10 B&G School, Mount Pleasant, PEI, January 17 to April 7, 1944: “Persistent type of airman. Has worked hard to pass course. Should prove a good Air Gunner.” He was taken on strength at No. 5 O.T.U. Boundary Bay, BC April 22, 1944.

Mitchell HD345 [Court of Inquiry: C-5938 Image 206]. CREW: F/O Harold Brand Whitlock, J28562, P/O Leonard Francis Schell, J43902, Sgt. Harald Magnus Manson, R192989, Sgt. Bruce Walter McGregor, R267192, and Sgt. Clarence Arthur Johnston, R275157. On May 29, 1944, they had been involved in a cross-country exercise. All five men were buried at the crash site “in a heavily wooded area” on a mountainside near Mount Whymper in the Cowichan Valley, on Vancouver Island.

A US Navy blimp was involved in the search. It crashed. The balance outstanding for accounts rendered but unpaid amounted to $1,004,804.61 according to a letter sent to the Canadian Government from the US Navy.

Mrs. Johnston wrote many, many letters wanting answers, then consulted a psychic reader who told her that her son was still alive, along with two others. Much correspondence occurred between her and the RCAF.

A letter dated May 27, 1946 written by Clarence’s mother to the RCAF Head Office, Ottawa: “Two years ago, May 29th 1944, an RCAF plane crashed on Vancouver Island, my son was one of the crew. I wrote at the time to Boundary Bay about the possibilities of some of the boys bailing out, as I had such a strong feeling my boy was living an I knew he would do everything possible to find food to keep living in the wilderness. I received a reply June 30th, 1944, that everything possible had been done to locate anyone but all officials were positive no one bailed out. I still was not convinced, I still hoped and prayed they would be found. It certainly was too bad that the USA Navy blimp crashed before it had a chance to locate them, and I could understand how D-day being so close time was at a limit. my son and two companions are still alive in a leanto, built against rocks along ways from the crash, my son is injured, but will recover when brought out to civilization. I expect you will dealt this but time will tell. I am a Protestant United Church but I also know that there are spiritual and psychic readers that have the gift to see past and future. Before my son joined the Air Force, I had been told he would join, and I should not try to stop him as he would get one promotion after another, though a lot of danger, and would come home after the war. Since the crash I have been to three who told me he was alive but hurt and could not get word to me but would eventually be home again. Then a few weeks ago while visiting in Toronto, I went with a friend to a psychic reader who told me of the marriages, deaths, illnesses and money matters that were so correct it was breathtaking. They told me about my son missing, for how long, that he was an air gunner, he had been promoted just before the crash, was injured and would be discovered by plane, two companions are with him. I asked who and was told radioman and machinist. They are a long way from crash. When I came home, two other members of family went over different days and without knowing who they were or where from, was told exactly the same about their brother. I wrote to Boundary Bay but have received no answer so I am writing to Ottawa to have the boys located. Will you please notify every airport landing an airman in that part of the country to be on the lookout. Also check all reports of the accident, have different experts study maps, charts of that region to gain a new incorrect idea, of what section or direction from the crash they might be an what stream of water they are camped near and have a search made. P/O Schell’s aunt and father called on me two years ago and I also have heard from Mr. Manson since his trip last summer to the wreckage. Mr. Manson is positive not more than one went down with wreckage. Mrs. Schell had been told it was travelling to Boundary Bay, I was told it was travelling west-southwest. Mrs. Schell had been told a wing was missing. UNBURNT wreckage is strewn down the mountain body of plane completely broken up, some of the bodies would have been thrown clear with unburnt wreckage where as all that was found could go in a shoebox. The boys had to get to water before bailing out and if injured they would not start a forest fire for danger of burning themselves or perhaps their companions who had bailed out farther on, there was danger of a fire destroying all wildlife near, that has kept the boys living. Will you please see that all efforts possible is made to locate them soon.”

Mrs. Johnston received a reply dated June 14, 1946. “It is indeed with regret that I must advise you that after a most thorough and exhaustive search at the time of the crash, it was unhappily concluded by the officers carrying out the investigation that the entire crew of your son’s aircraft lost their lives when it struck the mountainside. No reports of any of the crew having survived as you state you were advised by the psychic reader have been received at these headquarters. A copy of your letter has been forwarded to Western Air Command Headquarters for study. I sincerely hope that you can find consolation in the fact that your son risked his life willingly in the defence of freedom. What we all owe to him is beyond estimation. May you be fortified by the spirit of courage and hope which enabled him to discharge his duties whatever the cost.”

G/C Reyno wrote a letter dated August 13, 1946 addressed to Mrs.Johnston: “On receipt of your letter of July 10th, addressed to this Headquarters, the circumstances surrounding the crash of the aircraft, of which your son was a crew member, have again been fully reviewed. A conference has been held and those present included officers who visited the scene of the crash and personnel skilled in air and ground search. The area of the crash from miles around has been completely covered by aerial photographs taken from low altitude an were available to the conference, complete with all the official records. Weather reports, including the velocity of the winds at the height at which the ill-fated aircraft was flying, were produced and the scale chart drawn, plotting the exact course of the aircraft before its crash. As a result of this full review of the circumstances and the evidence, including the expert opinion of forest Rangers and members of the lumbering industry, many theories were advanced, but the conclusions reached were precisely the same as previously indicated to you. The possibility of crew members having bailed out, because of the small amount of human remains discovered at the scene, still exists, but in the face of the facts, is considered extremely unlikely. Lack of radio details, the aircraft was fully equipped with all modern radio aids, points conclusively to the fact that the aircraft became uncontrollable very suddenly because none of the occupants reported anything adverse, and the machine is known to have struck the baldface of a mountain at a very high rate of speed. These facts reduce to a minimum the possibility of any member of the crew having had an opportunity to abandon the aircraft by parachute. It burned and exploded on impact, and such was the force of the explosion that even the 1/2-inch armor plate with which the aircraft was equipped with shattered into tiny pieces. Finally, may I again stress the fact that the investigation and search, carried out under the direct supervision of the ark CF was as complete and thorough as humanly possible. The entire suspected territory was covered many many times by air and ground, and by day and night, without success, until those directing the search were forced to accept the probability that further efforts were futile. In your letter, you included a newspaper clipping which mentioned the extensive survey being carried out by the Royal Air Force, assisted by the Royal Canadian Air Force on the European continent, to bring to light what happened to the cruise of missing aircraft on operational flights during the war period this most commendable procedure is, of course, necessary because information on these aircraft and their occupants was not available until the entire continent had been liberated. Accidents to aircraft and flying personnel in Canada, however were able to be individually investigated, because the locality, was the scene of the crash was discovered, was never considered in iaccessible. The petition signed by relatives of the crew members who were lost in this most unfortunate accident, has, in the light of the circumstances of which I have informed you, have been passed to Royal Canadian Air Force headquarters in Ottawa. May I again extend the deepest sympathy to you on behalf of the Royal Canadian Air Force in your most tragic loss.”

A memo dated August 20, 1946 written by W/C W. R. Gunn: “On your instructions, proceeded to St Catharines and interviewed Mrs. Johnston who was found to be a courteous kindly person who has experienced a great deal of domestic trouble in her lifetime and is recovering from a long period of indifferent health. On a visit to Toronto a few months ago, she was persuaded by a friend to visit a person who was supposed to be able to see into the future and prophecy coming events and who informed her that her son, Sergeant Johnston, was alive with two of his crew and were in an isolated position on Vancouver Island; But they had bailed out of the aircraft before it crashed and that the two crew members accompanying her son were a radioman and the machinist. I informed Mrs. Johnston that there was no machinist in the crew, the occupants all being aircrew and that the wireless operator in the crew was Sergeant Manson, the only one who could perhaps be described as a radioman and that at the site of the crash a fragment of the right maxilla was recovered and that in the opinion of dental officers, it was similar to the restoration shown in the dental records of Sergeant Manson, and while definite identification could not be made from this fragrant, it would appear that it came from the right maxilla of Sergeant Manson. That being so common it would eliminate a radioman as there was no machinist in the crew, it was reasonable proof that the psychic reader was a false hope and could best be described as guessing, which from my experience was the usual practice of such people. Mrs. Johnston was visibly impressed by this disclosure which incidentally could have been pointed out to her by western air command and would quite possibly have retarded any further developments. On further conversation with Mrs. Johnston, I was successful in obtaining from her the method employed by this psychic reader which consists of consulting a deck of cards in arriving at her conclusions. as Mrs. Johnston is a deeply religious person, I expressed amazement at putting faith in such things and she agreed, but pointed out that it was truly surprising the things that this person had told her concerning her own past life, as well as matters concerning her son. After a considerable time, I secured from Mrs. Johnston the name and address of this psychic person who resides in Toronto. Having several times expressed my lack of faith in such people, Mrs. Johnston after she had given me the name and address, was most desirous that no trouble be made for this psychic reader, and I informed her that there was not much likelihood that any thing would be done, as the whole matter was rather ridiculous, and that unconsidered reflection, she would undoubtedly arrive at the opinion that it was she, herself, who had suffered most by the quite illogical conclusions arrived at by this psychic person. I explained at some length the procedure of the investigation of this and other crashes and pointed out to her that those participating in the search for personnel who had no assurance that they themselves would not be the searched for at a later date, and therefore no one could put quite the same of effort into work of this kind as they would, and that searches and investigations were always continued until those personnel were satisfied that nothing further could be done. Concerning the petition that was signed by the next of kin of the other crew members, that is quite a natural reaction from the next of kin of missing personnel who will grab at any straw that might relieve the uncertainty that they have had to endure. Incidentally, I am sure that the next of kin who signed this petition were not aware of the manner in which this psychic person arrived at her conclusions, and it is my intention to write to these other next of kin at an early date conveying the result of my interview with Mrs. Johnston and the source of her psychic knowledge and the manner in which this psychic person arrives at her conclusions; also outlining to them the hazards the aircrew would be exposed to in flying over extremely difficult terrain with no clue whatsoever to work on only that arrived at it by a person with a deck of cards. I will, of course, be writing to Mrs. Johnston and as of the opinion that no further pressure will be forthcoming to have this search resumed. As I discussed with you by telephone, the name and address of this psychic will be given to Wing Commander Atherton with instructions to arrange for a quiet investigation of this psychic person.”

A letter dated September 14, 1946 addressed to Mrs. Johnston from W/C W. R. Gunn: “I must apologize for not writing to you before this, and to thank you for your kind Leanne courteous manner in which you received me at your home on August 26th, and I carried away with me the opinion that we did clarify some matters. You are to be assured, Mrs Johnston, that this service would indeed be derelict in its obligation to the families of our boys if we were to overlook or ignore any aids two investigations concerning those who are missing. Hence my visit to you to acquire some knowledge of the manner in which the psychic reader had arrived at her conclusions. I sincerely appreciate your natural anxiety and realize also the equally natural hope which was occasioned by the suggestion that your boy had survived, and I regret indeed that you have been caused additional anxiety and heartache through the medium of a person who professes to have supernatural powers, but information which is based solely on the turn of a card cannot be considered to constitute cyantific or reliable information. As you are aware, personnel skilled in air and ground search, who had no assurance that they themselves would not be searched for at some later date, conducted a full investigation which included aerial photographs taken from low altitude and covering the area for many miles surrounding the site of the crash, and it was their considered opinion that the entire crew were in the aircraft and that all lost their lives when, an impact, it exploded with violence so great that half inch armor plates were found over a wide area broken into small pieces. As I remarked to you while at your home, to expose airmen to the hazards that would be experienced in flying over this extremely difficult terrain with no clue whatsoever, only that it arrived by a person with a deck of cards, would be extreme folly, and I am sure that on reflection you have agreed, for I am sure that the investigations and searches that were conducted were most diligent Lee pursued and that unhappily no further information could be secured. I would like again to express my deep appreciation of the great courtesy you extended to me and to express to you and the members of your family my deepest sympathy.”

W/C Gunn wrote to Mrs. Johnston on June 20, 1947. “I wish to acknowledge your letter of June 10th, and regret I can only tell you that there is no further information of any kind available concerning your son, Sergeant Clarence Arthur Johnston. These headquarters are not aware of an expedition of the Vancouver sun. I recall reading a newspaper report of an aircraft sponsored by the Vancouver sun making a trip into what was referred to as headless valley. That location is many hundreds of miles from Vancouver Island, or your son's aircraft crashed, and there would be no possible chance of your son being in that area, and the route followed by the aircraft which made this trip was hundreds of miles away from Vancouver Island at all points. May I again express to you and the members of your family my deepest sympathy in the loss of your gallant son.”

Mrs. Johnston received a letter from W/C W. R. Gunn in late October 1955, informing her that since Clarence had no known grave, his name would appear on the Ottawa Memorial.

Frances remarried and was Mrs. Stegensek of St. Catharines, Ontario. Clarence’s medals were returned to stock as they were undeliverable in 1949.

Please see other documents, including the Court of Inquiry and photos related to Mitchell HD345 found in other crew member’s pages.