How Western Approaches Captured the Heart of the American Ambassador

For years during the Second World War, Western Approaches was one of the UK’s best kept secrets.

A WWII bunker from which the tactics and plotting of the Allied troops was undertaken, these days it’s a fully-fledged visitor attraction.

Attracting thousands of visitors each year, back in February the bunker caught the attention of a very special guest in the shape of Woody Johnson, US ambassador to the United Kingdom. Woody visited the bunker as part of an organised trip to Liverpool and what was meant to be a brief visit to Western Approaches ended up as an almost 2 hour stay where Woody immersed himself in the bunkers history, even stopping to chat to local school children.

It was Woody’s own family history that sparked his interest in Western Approaches. His mother, Betty W Johnson was the matriarch of the Johnson family (of Johnson and Johnson pharmaceuticals fame no less) and had helped to train young fighter pilots during WWII. As part of the US Navy’s WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) Betty assisted with the celestial navigation at Rhode Island’s Naval Air Station, the same role that the women of Western Approaches played in the UK.

It was this link that led to Woody, through the Robert W Johnson IV Charitable Trust, making a generous donation to allow the team behind Western Approaches to restore the huge 20ft tall Atlantic Plot map. The map was the epicentre of the bunker during the war and where the route of vital convoy ships were plotted, whilst simultaneously tracking the movement of deadly German U-Boats.

Thanks to interviews with the few remaining women who worked in the bunker during the war and the discovery of previously unseen building plans that were so detailed they even featured the exact shades of paint used, the team were able to restore the map to its former glory.

Ambassador Woody Johnson said:

“I can think of no better tribute to my mother than to restore a vital artifact which illustrates the human inequity and sheer determination demonstrated by Allied forces and, in this instance, by the female volunteer corps during WWII. Mom would be pleased and proud to be associated with her esteemed counterparts in Liverpool.”

Western Approaches has once again utilised the help of an American ally and the team are looking forward to welcoming Ambassador Johnson back to the bunker when coronavirus restrictions allow to officially unveil the map.

Find out more on the Western Approaches website.