A pensioner who was just five years old when he heard a plane crash near his home and went out to survey the damage can remember the details like it was yesterday.

Brian Ward is recalling his childhood memories to mark the 75th anniversary of Harvey Dalton Johnson who died on November 22 1942 when his plane crashed onto the sports field at Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow.

The American pilot guided the Spitfire away from houses on nearby Edward Road when its engine failed and has been hailed a ‘hero’ by locals ever since.

In 2011 a history project was launched in Thorpe Hall Primary School in Hale End Road, Walthamstow to keep the memory of Mr Johnson alive and pupils painted a mural of him.

Mr Ward who now lives in Chingford believes he may be one of the few surviving people who can remember the plane crash.

The 80-year-old said: “It was a Sunday morning in Morland Road when my parents and I heard the very loud noise of a stricken aircraft flying very low.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

“We rushed into the garden, as did all the neighbours. News soon reached us and the neighbourhood that the plane had crashed onto the Elms and the pilot did not survive.

“My good and late friend Doug Curd who lived in Salop Road and was a year older than me was in his garden when the plane passed overhead at a very low altitude.

“Doug said it flew around the church, so low he could see the pilot.

“The church does not exist anymore - it was bombed October 1940, never rebuilt and demolished in the early 1950s.

“While Harvey was flying his Spitfire it developed engine trouble and rather than bail out and abandon it, he choose to remain with his stricken aircraft probably looking for a safe place where he could crash land.

“It was acknowledge at the time by local people, many from Edward Road, that Harvey's brave and unselfish action had prevented his aircraft from crashing into houses in a densely populated area which would have resulted in a catastrophic loss of civilian lives.”

Mr Johnson was born on January 24 1919 at Northfield, Atlantic City, USA.

Like many young Americans who came to the aid of Britain during WWII, Harvey travelled to Canada where he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and completed his training.

When the USA entered the war these American pilots were needed by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and were duly reassigned where their skills and experience were needed. 

Mr Johnson's “unselfish and brave act” was acknowledged in Parliament soon after his death and he was awarded the D.F.C. USA, posthumously.  

The people of Walthamstow raised money for a memorial of the pilot which was erected at the Warner Estate Office in Harwarden Road before being given to a museum.

Last week the Northfield Branch of The American Legion held a special service in memory of Mr Johnson.

Jeff Long, supporter of the Legion, has raised the profile of Mr Johnson online at Walthamstow Memories where people from Walthamstow and overseas can learn about the pilot and pay tribute to his heroism.