‘Black Panthers’ book signing in Grantham tomorrow

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THE story of a Grantham man who served in the famous Black Panther squadron in the Second World War has been immortalised in a new book.

The book “Birth of the Black Panthers” tells the story of Ray Johnson, 91, of Huntingtower Road, Grantham, who joined 152 Fighter Squadron - later to be known as the Black Panthers - in January 1940, serving as an armourer with the squadron until the end of the war.

Mr Johnson’s time in the Black Panthers saw him serve in North Africa, Italy and Asia.

He said: “The book is based on my memories and experiences right from joining the squadron. I know the author, Bill Smith, because I flew with his brother who was a very, very fine pilot. He was one of the few pilots to shoot down aircraft of three different nationalities - German, Italian and Japanese.”

The story of 152 Fighter Squadron may have been a forgotten footnote in history were it not for the decision to enter into a spot of public relations.

Mr Johnson said: “Two or three of the squadrons seemed to be getting all the publicity in the local papers so two or three of us pilots got involved in it and set up the Panthers.

“We had black panthers put on the side of the planes and, from then on, became known as the Black Panthers Squadron.”

Mr Johnson recalls the end of the war in Europe very well as he was finally allowed some time off!

He said: “I was awarded my first leave for 33 months. But I never missed it actually.

“I must have been so involved that I never really thought about it!”

Ray Johnson will join the book’s author, William Smith, for a book signing at WHSmiths in Grantham High Street tomorrow (July 19) from 10am.