Marking 100 years since the RAF was formed, Surbiton care home resident and Second World War pilot Phillip Johnson has shared his story.

Mr Johnson, who lives at The Royal Star and Garter home with other veterans and their partners with disability or dementia, joined the RAF on his eighteenth birthday.

After intense Spitfire pilot training in the UK and Africa, he was flown to Malta and joined 185 Squadron.

The squadron moved to Italy in 1944, and operated as a fighter-bomber unit supporting the Allied advance northwards.

Mr Johnson said: “The Army would tell us where German tanks were holding them up. Our job was to destroy the German Army as best we could so the British Army could move on. It was critical work.”

He remembers one occasion when his plane was struck by enemy fire.

“There was a lot of flak coming from the ground,” he said. “We swooped in, attacked the tanks and made towards the sea. When I landed, I noticed there was a great big hole in the rear of my plane. It would have been a very different story if it had hit me or the fuel tank.”

In early 1945, Mr Johnson was posted back to the UK and joined 174 Squadron, helping with the air offensive over Germany – meaning he had to retrain to fly the Hawker Typhoon, with its temperamental engine.

He said: “On one flight, the engine cut out. I had to find a landing place pretty quickly. I glided down to land in a large field. I got it down all right but broke the aircraft’s back.It caught fire and I got out quickly!”

The squadron leader ordered him to be back up flying again in two hours’ time, so he did not have time to think about what had just happened.

Mr Johnson met his future wife Doreen, a mechanic in the WAAF, through the air force.

He said: “As soon as I saw her, I knew straight away she was the girl for me.”

The pair shared 66 years of marriage together.

Mr Johnson moved to The Royal Star and Garter Home in June 2017, just before turning 94, when he began finding it difficult to live by himself.

Last Remembrance Day, he wore his medals for the first time in his life.

He said of his time in the RAF: “It was just part of the career. It’s what we had to do, so we just did it.”