In the Archive there is a lovely picture of future Pathfinder pilot Ernest Sumner Clarke as a boy in Northern Ireland attending an airshow. This would have been around 1935.
The lure of flying for people growing up in the 1920s and 1930s is hard to appreciate now when commercial flying is so commonplace. Then, flying was ultra-modern and incredibly glamorous. Popular aviators like the English Amy Johnson and the American Charles Lindberg were as well known as the top film stars, their exploits receiving worldwide publicity. For aeroplane-mad children, there were a large number of books, comics and magazines, featuring real aviators and fictional ones like the famous Biggles.
“Biggles of the Camel Squadron”, 1934
Best of all were the airshows, where aircraft and pilots could be seen, and sometimes it was possible to go up in the air for a fee. Cobham’s Flying Circus, which toured the UK, was amongst the most popular of these events.
Many of the boys who subsequently joined the RAF and the Dominion Air Forces had grown up fascinated by flying. Many of them joined up as soon as they were old enough, such as the future pilots William Darby Coates and Frances McEgan, an Australian, both of 97 Squadron.
There was no conscription in Northern Ireland during the war, However, Ernest, the boy in the airshow picture, volunteered for the RAF at the age of 17 in 1939, some months before the war started. By 1942, he was at Upavon, on No 14 OTU course (second from left, below). He went on to become a Pathfinder with 97 Squadron.
Ernest was killed with all his crew in January 1944. William Darby Coates and Frances McEgan also lost their lives.
Photographs of Ernest Clarke courtesy of David and Barbara McMahon.