Funeral details for 102-year-old Doncaster war hero announced

Flt Lt Eric Clarke, pictured in 2012.
Flt Lt Eric Clarke, pictured in 2012.

The funeral of a Doncaster World War Two hero who has died at the age of 102 will take place next week.

Flight Lieutenant Eric Clarke was part of the world famous Bomber Command during the 1939-45 conflict and was believed to be one of the town’s oldest surviving WW2 veterans as well as one of the nation’s oldest.

Flt Lt Clarke died at Owston View residential home where he had been living for only a few years on November 2.

The service and committal will take place at Rose Hill Crematorium on November 19 at 11.40am.

Family flowers only are requested, but donations may be made in aid of the Doncaster branch of the Royal Air Force Association and 49 Squadron RAF Association.

In an interview with the Free Press in 2012, Mr Clarke said: “We had to deal with fatalities and tragedies on a daily basis, sadly. I returned safely - and I consider myself very lucky.”

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 following 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 - a role he would successfully carry out on 26 bombing raids across the Channel over 15 months from 1941-42.

His early sorties were aboard the “very cramped” Hampdens, then he moved onto Manchester bombers before carrying out his last 12 missions aboard the legendary Lancasters. Most air crew survived little more than 7-8 weeks at that time.

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 he kept 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 in one piece, ” he said.

He was also part of the so-called thousand bomber raids on Cologne when wave after wave of British bombers pummelled the German city and also flew a daring nine-hour low-level daylight mission to Milan to bomb the Italian city’s marshalling yards. “We could see people waving at us in the fields below - we were really low but we returned safely.”

But some of his comrades were not so fortunate.

As members of his 49 Squadron, which was based at Scampton in Lincolnshire, were scrambled on February 12, 1942, one crew member, Sgt Brian Hunter, realised he didn’t have his regulation flying boots - and Mr Clarke came up with a solution. “He borrowed mine, ” he said. “Their plane was shot down over the Channel. I never saw him again.”

During the latter years of the war, he became an instructor and following 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 was a member of the Bomber Command Association, was involved in the RAF Association for 70 years and regularly met up with his one-time comrades at reunions and service events across the country.

He said in 2012: “People always used to say ‘all you ever do is talk about the war.’ But now they realise how important it was, the contribution so many people made and why it is vital to remember what was done. I am a very, very lucky survivor - in more ways than one.”

In April 2013, Mr Clarke was given a Lancaster bomber flypast at the Mansion House to mark his 100th birthday.

Crowds gathered and applauded as the iconic aircraft buzzed over the town centre to toast his milestone.

In an interview at the time he said: “It was truly heartwarming to see so many people coming out.

“I had absolutely no indication of what had been arranged for me and it has been an absolutely wonderful afternoon with so many surprises. I have always looked for sincerity and respect in life and I am very grateful to all the sincerity shown to me today.”

More than 120 guests had earlier packed the ballroom of the Mansion House for a birthday tea for Mr Clarke where he was also presented with the new Bomber Clasp honour by Air Marshall Sir Dusty Miller, President of the RAF Association, at the celebration, which also marked the 70th anniversary of the association.