James Johnstone was trained in Canada as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, learning bombing, wireless operation and air gunnery in Manitoba.
It was a long way from there to serving as gunner on an RNZAF Lockheed Hudson in the Pacific Theatre.
On July 24, 1943, he took off with his crew on a routine patrol from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, covering the area between the islands of New Georgia and Bouganville. The Hudson was attacked by eight Japanese Zero fighters which were also on patrol in the area.
The Zeros set fire to both engines of the Hudson. Although the fire was extinguished, the pilot had to ditch the plane at sea and the Japanese fighters fired at the survivors in the water. I should add the detail that the shooting of surviving crew in the water, on land or under parachutes - if they were likely otherwise to return to combat - was perfectly legitimate according to the rules of war but frowned upon by many pilots.
Johnstone died in the water with all but one of the crew. The tail gunner, Trevor Ganley, survived and swam to a nearby island where he found an abandoned US life raft with some chocolate aboard. He survived on that and some coconuts on the island, eventually repairing the raft and paddling to another (Japanese occupied) island. He was helped by the native population there, who would be well aware of the risk to themselves and their families if caught.
James' crew was posted as "missing" on September 6, 1943, and most of them "missing, believed killed" on October 18, presumably after Trevor Ganley was able to tell his story.
James Johnstone, one of 14 children of Robert and Lily, married Elsie Denny shortly before leaving New Zealand. His remains have not been found.