Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Friday, 7 November 2008

RAF officer's sacrifice for peace

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Alexander Johnston
Alexander Johnston was called up after finishing his university studies

Alexander Johnston, from New Deer, Aberdeenshire, was a star school pupil and university student.

Languages were his best subject and he won praise and honours from the University of Aberdeen.

Mr Johnston went on to follow his uncle, a casualty of World War I, into military service during World War II.

In the 90th anniversary year of the formation of the RAF and the end of the Great war, the BBC Scotland news website looks at his story.

The collection of letters, school reports, certificates, exam papers, newspaper clippings and two fragile sheets of a telegram delivering a heart-breaking message are bound in an old tattered envelope.

Together with some sepia photographs, it is a record of Alexander Johnston's life from his days as a boy at New Deer School in Aberdeenshire to a gold medal winner in languages at the University of Aberdeen and then his disappearance and death over the Mediterranean.

If I see the end of this war and start afresh in a world of peace, I will think of him
A friend of Mr Johnston

If Mr Johnston had survived World War II he would have been a school teacher.

But, instead, his story is one of millions that illustrate the waste of bright minds and youth through war.

From Mill of Allathan, New Deer, Mr Johnston was dux at the village school and won a bursary that allowed him to further his studies at university, entering in 1942.

An arts student, he studied languages. German was his strength, but among the personal items held by his family include textbooks in Russian.

When at home, he would translate radio broadcasts of Hitler's speeches and entertain his siblings with impersonations of the Nazi leader.

Mr Johnston was held in high regard by his lecturers. One professor kept in touch with his family after the war.

The young graduate was called up once he graduated and was sent to South Africa to train with the RAF.

As a flying officer, he was later posted to Malta, and served as an observer on Ventura aircraft.

On 13 September 1944 - the eve of his 21st birthday - he and fellow members of his crew were sent up on a night flight.

They never returned.

War memorials

A ship reported picking up a faint radio message, but it was not established if it was from Mr Johnston's aircraft.

A telegram reporting he was missing arrived with his parents on 15 September.

By coincidence, 26 years previous on that same date Mr Johnston's uncle Pte Alexander Legg died in Beaufort War Hospital, Bristol, from wounds sustained during World War I.

Pte Legg, of Backhill of Knaven, New Deer, was 22.

Mr Johnston's is among the names on war memorials on Malta and at King's College in Aberdeen.

In New Deer, a street was named after him.

An obituary was carried in the Aberdeen University Review No. 94, New Year 1946.

It signs off with a tribute from a friend, who wrote:

"If I see the end of this war and start afresh in a world of peace, I will think of him, even - especially - in my happiest moments: of his affection, his courage, his strong personality, and of the sacrifice he has made to make peace and happiness possible."

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