• David Victor Clarke,
    Belfast, Northern IrelandMORE...

    I was born on February 27, 1924 to T.S. Clarke and Mrs. Sarah Clarke. My father served in the First World War at the age of 35 and he served four years in France.

    At that time, we lived outside the small town of Donaghcloney in county Armagh, and then subsequent to that we made several moves from outside Lisburn to Bendooragh to Cookstown and then to Omagh. The Second World War broke out when I was in Omagh. I was at the Omagh Academy when I heard about WWII on a wireless. And let me tell you, it wasn't the wireless that we have today, you know. It was the one which operated with wet batteries.

    They begin to form the Home Guard for underage deployments at the beginning of the war in 1940. I went to log on the second night in the beginning of June 1940 to join the local company. At that time, my father, in his fifties, was the platoon officer in the company and told me that "You're underage, but you can go if you like. But don't blame me if you don't get accepted." But I went along and stood at the end of the line and the boy standing just before me happened to be 17. However, a sergeant came to me and asked my name and said, "I suppose you're 17, too?" And I just nodded my head, and I was in. After four months of my experience with the Home Guard in September 1940, I was promoted to flight sergeant. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the school and in the Home Guard.

    When I left school I went to the Northern Bank in Belfast in 1942. In October 1943, I volunteered for aircrew duties in the Royal Air Force. I was called up in December 1943 and went over to the Aircrew Reception Center in London and the St. John's Wood London beside Lord's Cricket Ground. And I stayed there for a few weeks and did certain basic training. I also remember a funny incident that occurred when we got in the plane. The pilot was in the front and the cadets were in the back. There is a parachute, and you had to strap it through your shoulders and then up over your thighs. On this particular occasion I didn't tighten my straps enough. So when the plane went upside down I moved a few inches and my feet came off the paddles, and it was quite an experience. But I made sure it never happened again. After that, I went to Cambridge University. I did not really study subjects related to university but related to aircraft flying, such as recognition, navigation and meteorology.

    After that, I went to Sywell and I completed my basic training on the Tiger Moth bi-plane aircraft there, and completed my 12 hours of flying to identify whether I was able to take the test to be a fighter pilot. I was fortunate enough to pass my fighter pilot test. I was flying at the age of 19, which was new and exciting. At Sywell, I remember there was a Dutch chap. And when we were taking the aptitude test for flying, he was flying solo and he looked down from his aircraft and on one side was the Dakota and the other side was a Glider. He panicked somehow and he came down and crash landed. The next morning, very early, he was up on the flight again and tried to get back his courage as quickly as possible.

    From there, we were sent up to Heaton Park in Manchester where there were about 10,000 aircrew cadets, who were coming for and going after the training as it was a reception center. During that time, I provided my service on airfields with loading bombers and I was sent out to bomber stations and then to sort out the bombs at the bomb dumps. The aircraft I worked on was the Halifax Lancaster heavy bomber. But I loved working with the Mosquitoes aircraft which is very fast and is used to working with several things. They were fighters and fighter bombers, but I was with the Path Finder Squadron that carried bombs.

    On one occasion, one plane did not come back from an evening mission. But we discovered the next day that it landed in south England and for some reason it had not been able to drop bombs. It came back and landed another air drone in the South of England. It took off 24 hours later and flew back to base and it was loaded with 500 primed bombs and it was put on for quarantine for 24 hours. The volunteers were then asked to go and disarm the plane, and I was one of the volunteers who disarmed this plane. The fact that I am still here today is a proof that we disarmed it satisfactorily.

    In January 1944 I was posted to Southern Rhodesia and I got there by ship, and during that time the aircrew cadets were used as anti-aircraft gunners. But fortunately we did not encounter any enemy. We sailed and crossed through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal and Indian Ocean, landing at the shore of Mombasa, and went to a transit camp. The camp was several miles out of town and was very well supplied with a swimming pool, tennis court, etc. I remember two things about Mombasa: the bananas were very fresh there and we used to buy a bunch of bananas for only a shilling. The other thing was the beach with crystal clear and warm water, which was lovely and you could stay for a whole day in there. The plan was to stay for a short period of time in Mombasa, Kenya.

    Unfortunately D-Day intervened and the planes that were supposed to take us to Southern Rhodesia were diverted to UK. So we ended up spending three weeks in Mombasa and taking a small coaster to Durban, which was quite an experience for us. We hadn't seen a city with lights on in a long time due to the blackout in all cities, but landing in Durban was absolutely a fantastic experience. We thought of an opportunity to go to the shore and have a nice meal, but they put us directly on the train for 24 hours to Gwelo, Southern Rhodesia. We started our training there on Fairchild Cornell aircraft, also known as Chipmunks. We went to Harvard for graduating in coveted wings, but the war in Europe ended in June and the war in the Far East ended in August. And we were not due, to complete our training until October. The war intervened and a lot of us could not gain our wings. I had probably flown 100 hours, but to get the wings, I was supposed to fly for 250 hours. I was quiet relieved that the war was over, however. But at the same time, I was disappointed that I couldn't get my wings.

    During our time in Southern Rhodesia, we treated the black Rhodesians very well. For instance, if they did something for us, we have always said, "Please" or "Thank you" to them. We were thankful to the boys who did our laundry there and we had always given them something in return. However, the native Rhodesians or South Africans wouldn't have said please or thank you to them. They were a bit more like kicking up in their bottom to say thank you. We definitely treated them way better than they were used to being treated.

    After the war ended we were told that we could either convert to RAF or convert to the Army. But we decided to go back to my country. We waited in Cape Town for about three weeks for a suitable ship to take us all to the UK. I was discharged on May 1946 and repatriated through Cape Town, and then rejoined the Northern Bank in May 1946. Later, I became the inspector in the Bank and started inspecting branches all over the place.
    In 1948 I decided to join the Territorial Army (TA), and requested permission from the Bank. I joined the TA as a gunner in Coast Regiment RA (TA), and then in 1949 I was commissioned, and then promoted to the rank of captain in 1952. In 1956 the regiment converted to Royal Engineers and became the 146 Corps Engineer Regiment. In 1962 I retired from the TA as second in command and was awarded the Territorial Decoration. After retirement from the Northern Bank, I joined St. John Ambulance Association to provide volunteer services as a Director of First Aid Training for general public and business in Northern Ireland. In 1996 I retired as a commander of St. John Ambulance.

    Now I like to play golf twice a week!

  • Alfred Martin,
    Belfast, Northern IrelandMORE...

    My name is Alfred Martin, and I was born in Finaghy, near Belfast, on March 26, 1920. I was educated at the local primary school and then I went to secondary school in Lisburn. I passed my senior certificate in 1936. At that time, the world was in chaos in Northern Ireland and in Britain because of the King Edward VIII abdication crisis, as well as of Hitler and Mussolini's desire to take over Europe. There was a lot of publicity and pressure from the government to increase the strength of the forces. In 1938, at the time of the Munich Agreement, I made an application to join the Royal Air Force to fly on weekends. I signed up and went home that evening, but my mother indicated the dangers of flying and suggested I cancel it. Therefore I went the next day and cancelled my joining notice.

    In January 1939, things were still heading towards the war and I felt very nationalistic, so I joined the Territorial Army Royal Engineers. I was in the Territorial unit where we were paid 5 pounds a year as a bounty, which is roughly equal to a hundred today. The officer in charge was Maynard Sinclair, who later became the Minister of Finance in Northern Ireland. I was in the camp in June 1939, but after that I continued my civilian job at an insurance company. I was away for company business when I received the telegram from my office on August 28, 1939, to immediately report to the TA. Thus I took a bus and travelled to Kilroot, which is beyond Carrickfergus, from where I walked down to the camp.

    On the following Sunday on September 3, 1939, we were all on Church Parade for the first time at the camp. I spent a total of 20 months with the Royal Engineers and our duties were looking after search lights, which were protecting the land against intruders. We had nothing to do with aircraft as we were strictly handling the search lights to identify enemy ships. We performed our duty at Helen's Bay at Grey Point and then also at Kilroot. Later in 1940, we looked after the search lights in Magilligan. We all enjoyed our time at Magilligan and it seemed like a summer camp, as it was summer and there were beautiful beaches everywhere. There were about 20 of us just looking after ourselves. I returned back to Grey Point, and in April 1941 I read on the notice board that the Royal Air Force was looking for volunteers for an aircrew. I applied along with everyone in the camp because we were tired of doing very little. I was selected for the interview along with three others. However, I was told that I would do better as an observer instead of being a pilot. The observer helps with the navigation. The role of a navigator was becoming increasingly important because of the lack of navigation aids within the continent. I agreed, but later on I wished I had asked them to take me as a pilot. I would have liked to be a pilot as I had a car when I was very young. Although my parents never had a car, so I think I was mechanical minded in many ways.

    I was called up in May 1941, and the first place was Shakespeare County where we stayed at the Shakespeare Hotel for six weeks. Later, we stayed at the Grand Hotel in Scarborough doing our initial training. From there, we found ourselves all aboard to Canada. At least we thought we were going to Canada, but we ended up being dropped off at Iceland. We spent 16 days in Iceland, it was summer and we enjoyed swimming in a hot water pool, which was very lovely. Suddenly we were told to return to Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland), and we were put on board the HMS Wolfe (formerly known as the Canadian Pacific Liner). So back we went towards Belfast and then towards Halifax, Canada. I was then stationed at Prince Edward Island for like five months doing the navigation training all over the area. At Christmas 1941, we were declared okay as navigators and we were then sent to Picton, Ontario. It was January and it was really cold, which made it difficult standing up and firing machine guns, but we got through another three or four weeks before we were declared okay for bombing and gunnery. We also had a wings parade where we were all promoted to sergeant and then sent to Boston. On return, I found out that I and five others have been commissioned, so that was a change of uniform. This ended our training in Canada and we returned back to the UK, to Liverpool. From there, we went to various camps including Harrogate and Oxford.

    I remember one incident where we were flying back to Oxford from Scotland at nighttime and we landed poorly somewhere in the middle of the night. I remember myself climbing out of the wing and on to a tree. I also remember hearing the rescue people looking for us and shouting, "We will find you." And they did find us. We were then put on medical beds. The next morning when we woke up they put us on a train back to Oxford. Our survival of the crash was due to the fact that our landing speed was only 68 knots, which was very slow, and I think that saved our lives. The only person injured that night was our pilot, who broke his wrist and was sent to the hospital. And we never saw him again.

    Later in September 1942, we did our first two raids on Hamburg and Dusseldorf. After that, the men of our crew were posted to Pocklington, and that was my station for nine months. That is, from September 1942 to April 1943. I did a number of operations there involving navigating bombing on targets. My role was to assist the navigator as much as possible in helping the pilot target the enemy and press the button to drop the bombs. There were all sorts of fires burning on the ground and we did not have modern navigation aids at that time. Once we also got hit with machine gun fire on our way back, but the pilot managed. A few minutes later, the pilot came and said that our engine was on fire. I was beyond the escape hatch on the aircraft, and when they lifted up the escape hatch we started dropping down through the hole. Unfortunately due to the heavy wind, I had to disconnect my intercom. I had my parachute on my chest when I jumped from the edge of the door. It was five past four in the morning and I was able to see my watch, but I did not know where I was heading. After dropping out, I saw the tail of the aircraft pass over my head and I pulled the ripcord and it opened beautifully. I was drifting down at a very low level (I reckoned at about 5000 feet) and I thought it was very risky for the rest of the crew. Suddenly, the ground hit me and I rolled over on my back. I stood up immediately and looked for a place to hide the parachute. I started walking towards the southern side, although I wanted to go west. But I had an idea that the aircraft landed west, so it wasn't a good idea to walk towards it.

    I walked all morning through the fields and I didn't see people. By the time I made it through morning, my feet were soaked in heavy dew. I had to hide in the daytime to avoid people. So I hid between two hedges and sort of slept. Around one p.m. I heard some noise that I couldn't identify and all of a sudden a cow appeared. A little boy was riding the cow, who stopped as I stood up. He looked at me up and down and then he stood back and saluted me. He went off but it boosted my morale. I finally had to find a place to sleep through the night as I was tired and miserable. I found a shed and I lay down there while trying to get some sleep, but I had to get up every few minutes to keep myself warm by doing some exercise. It was the night of April 17, 1943, and it was a Sunday.

    The morning came and I moved on again while trying to look into some farmhouses there for help, but at the same time making sure that they had no phone connections. Finally, I was given a map and told to look for a train. I walked all evening until I got to a very small village and I did not know what to do next. There were some men, but they didn't pay attention, so I just kept walking alongside the road. Later, I saw a lady to whom I said, "Could you help me?" The lady seemed frightened, but I managed to gain her confidence and she led me up to the road. It was just getting dark (about nine o'clock), but she took me to a farm house and knocked at the door. It was opened and I was taken in, but I was told that I could stay the night. Eventually I stayed there for about six weeks.

    There were notices that the people who were helping us would be shot, but I spent six weeks there with the farmer. I had to dye my hair and whenever there was a search, they used to hide me under the straw in the barn. One evening, a couple came and took me away to the railway station where we had to wait several hours for the train to Arras. I spent about five or six days at the check post at Arras. We were then led to the train station again by walking, where we took a train to Paris, and there were people in Paris waiting for us. They took us to a safe house and two of us got to renew our cards, photographs and identity cards.

    I spent about five days there, and then we got a new guide who took us to the railway station for a train to Bordeaux. When we reached the station there were several men standing in a group, and I looked up and one of them was my pilot. It was quiet emotional as we both walked toward each other and patted each other's back. I also came to know about the other crew members. Two members were able to return to the UK (one was the navigator and the other was the wireless operator), two were taken prisoner and one other was killed.

    Anyway, we were taken on the train overnight to Bordeaux and from there we were again taken by train to Dax and later to the Spanish border. We spent a couple of days in a safe house. Later, we were taken to meet a smuggler who used to take people over the border. We were taken through the River Bidasoa to South Sebastian to a safe house where we spent about five days. We then drove to Madrid where we spent a few days in the Embassy, and there we were able to send letters to our parents for the first time. Later, we were sent to Bristol on an aircraft from the air force base across the border, and we arrived in Bristol on June 20, 1943. From there it was a trip all the way home to our air force station.

    In February 1944, I completed the staff navigator course and became the instructor for staff navigator courses. The students were very lively and it was quiet fun. I was sent back to England in October 1945, and stayed there for a couple of months before I was discharged. Later, I returned to Belfast and took up the civilian job that I had in the insurance industry. I stayed there for over a year and I considered moving to Canada where I spent several months looking for a job.

    Finally, I ended up joining Northern Insurance Company in Canada. And when I resigned, I was the deputy manager for Ontario. I stayed for about 21 years in Canada. In 1952, I proposed to my wife who I met back at home in 1943. We got married in December 1953 in Toronto. We had our honeymoon in New York. However, she was eager to return, and then I decided to also return and have my own business back at home. My hobbies now include playing golf, gardening and being connected with the armed forces. I am also Vice President of the local Royal Engineers Association and I am president of the Aircrew Association Northern Ireland branch.