John was born in Wahu, China on 13 September 1903. He was the youngest of five children born to Robert Downie and Charlotte nee Murray. His father was a marine engineer for John Swire in China and was involved in the building of the Taikoo Docks, Hong Kong. In 1909 his father died and by 1911 John was living with his mother and two older siblings at ‘Capri’, Park View Road, Berkhamsted. John was too young to serve in the first World War, his older brother Kenneth served on the Western front and died of his wounds whilst a Turkish prisoner in 1917.
John married Nancy Marian Maris in Worlington, Suffolk on 31 July 1927. They had two children, Robert born 1928 and Priscilla born 1932. By 1939 they were living at 9 North Road. John was a Chartered Secretary and Estate Agent but he also volunteered for the Observer Corp. The Observer Corps was a civil defence organisation intended for the visual detection, identification, tracking and reporting of aircraft over Great Britain. It started in 1925 and was made up of spare-time civilian volunteers.
Sometime after war broke out John joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve, service number 84493. In Aug 1940 he was confirmed as a pilot officer for the duration of hostilities and the following August he was promoted to flying officer. He was posted to Iceland where he contracted Pneumonia.
John died at West Herts Hospital, Hemel Hempstead on 25 February 1943 aged 39, by this time he had reached the rank of Flight Lieutenant. His wife remained in Berkhamsted for the rest of her long life. In 1952/53 she was Chairman of the Berkhamsted Citizens society and a keen walker checking out the local footpaths for the first Citizens’ footpath map. She married John Rhind in Berkhamsted in 1954 and died in 1999 aged 94.