The second world war
At 46 Johns was too old for active service, so he became a lecturer to
the Air Defence Cadet Corp (later to become the Air Training Corps in
1941) and he wrote articles for their magazine, the Air Defence Cadet
Corps Gazette. His biggest contribution to the War was the encouragement of young men to train to be pilots by virtue of his Biggles books.
Recognising this, the Air Ministry asked Johns to create a female counterpart to aid recruitment to the W.A.A.F. (Women's Auxiliary Air Force)
and so Worrals appeared in 1941. The War Office didn't want to be left out
of this excellent recruiting method and so in 1943, commando officer
“Gimlet” King appeared.
The effect of Johns' books is not to be underestimated. Many pilots were
to say that their inspiration had been the Biggles books of W. E. Johns.
On October 3, 1939, Johns' son, Jack, married Sabena Hammond, a nurse
who looked after his mother. In 1941 John Hamilton Ltd ceased trading,
effectively being bombed out of business. Doris's brother Howard Leigh, the artist, died at the age of 32 of cancer on February 6, 1942. It was
said in Johns’ biography that Doris was worried about Bill’s business
dealings. At this time, he wrote and sold his Biggles books for a one-off
payment of £250 and received no royalties. The biography says she persuaded him to employ a literary agent and Johns went to see Peter Watt
of A. P. Watt. In fact, from a letter in my possession, I can confirm that the
truth of the situation is that Peter Watt wrote to Bill Johns, offering his
services in 1939. I have the letter, dated September 28, 1939, from Peter
Watt to Bill Johns in my collection. A. P. Watt’s first move was to seek to
persuade Oxford University Press to give Johns’ royalty payments but
the phenomenal sales that Biggles books were to achieve did not really
happen until after the Second World War, so Oxford University Press
chose to let the Biggles books go and they were taken over by Hodder
and Stoughton. In later years, Oxford University Press let the rights of
the 20 Biggles books they owned revert to W. E. Johns, but he “lost”
the rights to the five John Hamilton books having sold them outright.
I can say from letters in my collection that Johns sold the rights to the
John Hamilton books for a mere £25 each. Those stories were bought
and reprinted by the Thames Publishing Company and later published
by Dean & Son Ltd.
In the Autumn 1944, after five years of bombing, Doris and Bill Johns
moved to Scotland where they stayed in the Richmond Hotel, Tomintoul, before taking a lease on Pitchroy Lodge, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire. From documents in my own collection, including the original
solicitor’s bill for drawing up the lease, I can say that Johns took out
a six-year lease on Pitchroy Lodge in June 1947 at a cost of £2750 per
year. The September 1944 issue of “My Garden” magazine carried no
Johns’ column for the first time since 1936 and in February 1947 Johns
wrote his last article for that periodical called “The Show has Passed” to
explain his departure.
INFO Eduard - October 2021