John Young

My friends John and Barbara Young lived at the top of White Hill in Chesham. John said that he had lived in Chesham nearly all his life, although he was actually born in Bristol. His full name was William John Young, but he was always known as John.

Growing up, he lived with his parents Raymond and Ivy Young at Mayfield, near the top of Eskdale Avenue, Chesham. His father was an accountant at the National Provincial Bank and they had moved to Chesham when John was about one.

He went to a number of local schools, first Chesham Prep School at Orchard Leigh, then at White Hill Boys’ School in Chesham, and from there he went to Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in Amersham. In 1943 his father thought it would be better if he switched to the Royal Grammar at High Wycombe.

As a young boy he had a fascination with aircraft. This began in 1936 with the visit of Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus to fields off Lye Green Road, near Chesham. His love of aircraft never left him, and later in life John Young was known as an aviation artist, often featuring aircraft flying over Chiltern landscapes. The Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon displays 45 of John’s original paintings, and in 1996 many were published in a book called “The Aviation Paintings of John Young”.

John kept a diary throughout the war years, and a little beyond. It was written in neat block capital letters and illustrated by drawings, cuttings, and photographs. It related his sightings of aircraft and he called it his “Aeronautical Diary”.

John and Barbara Young were part of Ashley Green parish church, and were well known locally in Chesham. Barbara Young died in 2013, and John died on June 10 2015. These are extracts from his diary, which he gave me permission to copy.

Extracts from John Young’s War Diary

September 3, 1939

I heard Mr Chamberlain make his declaration of war. We had our first air raid warning, full black-out came into force. It became compulsory to carry a gas mask. Throughout the day Armstrong-Whitworth ensigns of Imperial Airways ran a continuous shuttle service to the north carrying evacuees from London.

October 1939

Bristol 149 Blenheim IV. A school party went to see this aeroplane which crash landed at Pednor.

June 1940

We sat in the garden on a peaceful Sunday morning early in June 1940. In the far distance could be heard a heavy rumble. We spoke little, there was no need for Dad to tell me what was going on, the French Army and the B.E.F. had fallen back on Dunkirk – 130 miles from Chesham.

During the ‘phoney war’ I had become a keen student of aircraft recognition, the plan view of the Heinkel 111 in my silhouette bore a distinct resemblance to an aircraft I saw turning high above Codmore Cross one July morning. A couple of minutes later the sirens wailed. I had seen my first enemy.

August 30, 1940

Judy’s birthday party was being held in the garden, such a peaceful scene. Then hell broke loose, we were stuffed under the stairs for shelter, but I crept out to watch a formation of up to fifty Hun bombers heading south after raiding Luton. Two lonely Hurricanes were doggedly going for them all the way across the back garden. [The Hurricanes I saw were 242 Squadron. 2 Heinkel 111s were shot down North of London one at 14.49 hrs the other at 15.55. The heaviest fighting so far in the Battle of Britain.]

September 9, 1940

We dived under the dining room table as a stick of 5 He screamers (ie bombs dropped from a Heinkel) fell across Manor Way and Ley Hill Road. The next morning I picked up shrapnel at the bus stop. My first morning at Amersham Grammar School. The second morning I spent in the school shelter.


During our War Weapons Week there was a Supermarine Spitfire II parked in the Embassy car park. I went inside twice, the only times I regretted going inside an aeroplane, when the cockpit cover closed over me I felt helpless.

Meanwhile Bovingdon [Airfield] was being built.

We spent several nights under the stairs while Jerry droned about outside.


One day early in 1942 I saw an aeroplane land at Bovingdon for the first time. I stood in a howling blizzard for over an hour to catch a glimpse of this view of a Lockheed Hudson as it skimmed across the road.


In May, Chesham and Amersham had their ‘Wings for Victory’ Weeks. I went inside the Hawker Hurricane F1 P2431 which was on show.

During 1943, U.S. Army officers from Bovingdon used to come to Chesham to do their shopping by air. They left their cubs in the top park. One day I looked inside one of these aeroplanes – Piper L-4B Cub 41-1644.

I often went inside the aeroplane presented to Amersham Grammar School A.T.C. It was a General Aircraft Monospar Universal. Even more often I went inside the two aircraft at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. There were De Havilland D.H.60G Gipsy Moths.


Meanwhile the German flying bombs had begun to fall. A launching site somewhere in N.W. Europe was lined up on our area. I saw the pall of smoke from each of the missiles that fell at Chesham Bois, Bellingdon and Ley Hill. I collected many pieces of the “Doodlebugs” which dropped at Terriers, this blew out a number of windows at RGS and one which dropped on Beamond End.

One evening I saw a De Havilland Mosquito shoot down a V-1 into a field at Bellingdon.

We grew quite accustomed to the explosions, which made the house rock and flung open doors and windows, the column of black smoke rising to mark the spot where the ‘pilotless plane’ had landed.

September 2, 1945

The war ends.


If you have any memories of Chesham and the adjacent villages during WW2 please let me know on or 01494 258328.