Churchill’s Navigator: The autobiography of Air Commodore John Mitchell LVO, DFC, AFC
Publisher: Grub Street (August 2010)
John Mitchell had a remarkable career. An RAFVR officer, he was mobilised on the outbreak of war and just missed going to join a Fairey Battle Squadron in France where he would have undoubtedly been killed. He was instead posted to 58 Squadron flying Whitleys, surviving a tour of operations in 1940/41 including ditching in the North Sea. Awarded the DFC, he was sent to the US, helping to develop the first navigation training simulators with the famous Link Trainer factory. He was later awarded the US Legion of Merit, signed by Harry Truman.
Returning to the UK in 1942, he was selected to join the crew of Winston Churchill’s personal aircraft, the famous Avro York – Ascalon. For two years he navigated ‘The Owner’ – as he was known – around the world from North Africa to Italy, the Middle East to Moscow, including to the famous Teheran and Yalta conferences. He flew ‘General Lyon’ (aka HM George VI) on several occasions (for which he was personally decorated), as well as some of the great military leaders of their time from Alexander to Alanbrooke, Smuts to de Gaulle.
After the war he continued to enjoy an eventful career. He was Senior Navigation Instructor at the RAF College, Cranwell and then held a similar post at RAF Manby where he undertook long-range exercises over the North Geographic Pole in the converted Lincoln, Aries III. He later returned to Air Attaché duties and was appointed to Moscow during the Brezhnev regime, finishing his career in the Air Intelligence world of the MoD.
His is an exceptional story, told with wit and verve to me in a series of interviews last year. A pleasure to write and – I very much hope – a pleasure to read.