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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Lancaster bomber pilot dies at 92

MEMBERS of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight acted as bearers at the funeral in London of Ron Clark, a World War II Lancaster pilot who was born and raised in Distington.

memories: Ron Clark DFC

Mr Clark, who was 92, was the son of Ron and Pol Clark who kept The Boot public house at Common End, Distington.

His father was also the village postman for many years.

In June last year, during the dedication of the new Bomber Command Memorial, he flew in a Lancaster, bearing the name of his wartime bomber, Phantom of the Ruhr, and helped the crew make the poppy drop during a fly-past as the Queen unveiled the memorial in Green Park near Hyde Park Corner.

He also flew the Lancaster himself during this historic occasion, the first time for 67 years.

As a boy he attended Distington School before going on to Whitehaven Grammar. Latterly he had lived in Camberley in Surrey.

His parents left Distington to go and live with him and Mr Clark senior was in his late 90s when he died.

Ron Clark was a young sergeant pilot when he and his crew joined No 100 Squadron in May 1943.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) after flying his crippled plane back to base following an air attack in Mannheim.

He had joined the RAF in 1939, aged 18, undertaking pilot training in the USA as part of the Arnold Scheme. He completed his training as a bomber pilot back in Britain and joined No 100 at Waltham, near Grimsby.

He flew his first operation on the night of June 11, 1943, when he attacked Dusseldorf at the height of the Battle of the Ruhr.

On July 11 he and his crew completed their longest bombing sortie when they attacked Turin.

They landed back at Waltham after being airborne for 11 hours.

Two weeks later Bomber Command launched the first of four raids over a 10-day period against Hamburg and Clark flew on all four attacks which resulted in a devastating firestorm destroying most of the city.

Just over a month later he was in the second wave of bombers that attacked Peenemunde on the Baltic coast, the first time Bomber Command employed a ‘Master of Ceremonies’, later known as the master bomber, inflicting heavy damage on the site, delaying the work on the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket.

On the night of September 23, Clark, now a warrant officer and his crew took off for their 24th operation in Phantom to attack Mannheim. Over the target area at 20,000ft the Lancaster was illuminated by searchlights and subjected to heavy fire from ground defences.

Clark took evasive action as he pressed on to bomb the target. A shell hit the bomber, almost severing the controls. The aircraft went into a steep dive, but Clark managed, with the aid of his flight engineer Harold ‘Bennie’ Bennett, to regain control, despite the aileron (which controls roll) snapping.

At the same time a night fighter attacked them and cannon shells raked the fuselage, causing damage to the port wing, the aircraft’s flaps and the tailplane.

Clark finally managed to evade the enemy fighter and escape at 4,000ft.

He made a safe landing, without the use of flaps, back at base and was immediately awarded the DFC. Bennett received a DFM.

After a further five operations Clark and his crew were rested and he became an instructor at a bomber training unit.

In all the crew went to Hamburg four times, Berlin and Cologne on three occasions each and Manheim twice.

Their other targets included Dusseldorf, Bochum, Turin, Essen, Remscheid, Nuremburg, Peenemunde, Leverkusen, Rheydt, Milan and Munich.

In 1945 he was posted to No 7 Squadron which was earmarked for Tiger Force, Bomber Command’s contribution to the attack against the Japanese mainland. Before the force could deploy to the Pacific however the atom bombs were dropped, bringing the war to an end.

Clark was loaned to BOAC and he joined the company after leaving the RAF in 1946 as a flight lieutenant. Initially he flew flying boats from Calshot in Hampshire, before flying converted Halifax bombers and the York transport.

After transferring to Heathrow he flew the Argonaut and the Douglas DC7 and spent his final years, before retirement in 1976, as a senior captain on the VC10j.

A passionate gardener and cyclist Mr Clark was a keen member of the 100 Squadron Association and when its standard was laid up in Ripon Cathedral in 2011 he was invited to address the large congregation.

Ron donated his original flying jacket to the flight some time ago, amazingly it still fitted him. He said: “I hope the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will continue to commemorate all who have served in the Royal Air Force, and that future generations may cast an eye aloft and take a moment to remember, when they hear that unique sound of Merlin engines.”

His family are remembered in Distington by Christopher Lamb. “My late grandparents Albert and Annie Dixon, who for many years ran a green grocers shop in King Street (where Co-op Travel is now), were good friends with the Clarks.”

His funeral was held at the RAF church, St Clement Danes in London.

He is survived by his wife Molly (nee Fowler) and two daughters.

Have your say

A wonderfull fitting tribute,well written and fitting to such a hero,thankyou for not being PC and remembering the efforts of Mr clark and all of bomber command and the 55,000 casualties they suffered.I would have liked to know what he thought of only recieving a campaign medal within the last couple of years as they were often brushed under the carpet to keep a minority happy and their monument was only opened within the last 2 yrs because of this attitude towards bomber command it was long overdue.RIP and thankyou

Posted by James O on 6 January 2014 at 22:11

Little did I know that a Fellow Cumbrian had done sorties out of Waltham 34years before I arrived. I still live here in this lovely Lincolnshire village which is quite a contrast to Cumbria as it is so flat here. A very brave chap indeed, the bomber squadron is often talked about with such pride!

Posted by Patricia Lawson on 5 January 2014 at 00:04

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