Eric to get WW2 flypast to mark 100th birthday

Flight Lieutenant Eric Clarke, 99, shares his memories of Bomber Command.  Picture: Liz Mockler D2738LM
Flight Lieutenant Eric Clarke, 99, shares his memories of Bomber Command. Picture: Liz Mockler D2738LM

A Lancaster bomber will stage a dramatic flypast over Doncaster next week to mark the 100th birthday of a World War Two veteran.

Weather permitting, the iconic aircraft will fly over the Mansion House on Monday, in honour of Flight Lieutenant Eric Clarke who flew aboard Lancasters and was mentioned in despatches during the conflict.

The RAF Association, of which Mr Clarke, of Carcroft, was a founder member, will be holding a civic reception for his milestone birthday from 2pm with the public able to gather outside to watch the flypast at around 4.30pm.

Mr Clarke, who was a member of Bomber Command, will also be presented with the new Bomber Clasp honour by Air Marshall Sir Dusty Miller, President of the RAF Association, at the event, which also marks the 70th anniversary of the association.

Flt Lt Clarke is believed to be one of the oldest surviving Bomber Command veterans and was one of scores of veterans to attend the unveiling of a huge culpture in London’s Green Park last year to honour the 55,573 lives lost from the unit between 1939 and 1945.

As war loomed on the horizon, newly married office worker Mr Clarke, who had become accustomed to seeing military aircraft in the skies over Doncaster after the opening of Finningley air base, signed up.

He offered his services as navigator but, as he didn’t have a grammar school education, he was offered a role as wireless operator and air gunner – work he would carry out successfully on 26 bombing raids across the Channel over 15 months from 1941 to 1942.

His early sorties were aboard the ‘very cramped’ Hampdens, then he moved on to Manchester bombers before carrying out his last 12 missions aboard the legendary Lancasters. Most air crew survived little more than seven to eight weeks.

In an interview last year he said: “As we rumbled down the runway, thoughts would start going through your mind. I would think about my wife Gladys at home, whether we’d be burned alive or end up ditching in the North Sea. But then the professionalism kicked in – we had a very important job to do and we were there to do it.”

It was his role to provide vital navigational information to the pilot – and, despite a few near misses, he returned safe and sound from each and every one of his missions, each detailed in pristine handwriting in his yellowing but immaculate log book which still takes pride of place at his home.

“On one occasion, we got hit by flak which tore a six inch hole in the port wing. We had to fly very low and it was a nervous return flight but we made it back, ” he said.

During the latter years of the war he became an instructor and, after his demobbing, began a successful career in local government in Doncaster, rising from the rank of temporary clerk up to the post of deputy chief financial and rating officer, a post which he retired from in 1978.

He is still a member of the Bomber Command Association and has been involved in the RAF Association for 67 years.

Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband is backing the flypast and said: “This initiative rightly commemorates the bravery of RAF personnel who fought in the Second World War to secure the freedom we enjoy today.

“It also highlights the debt of gratitude we owe wartime veterans like Eric, as well as members of the air force who have taken part in more recent conflicts and those who are serving today.”