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 boys, there were a large number of comics and magazines, featuring real aviators and fictional ones like the famous Biggles.

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 Australian Frances McEgan. (See Tales from the Archive 4. 18 January 2018)

In the archives is a charming picture of future PFF pilot Ernest Sumner Clarke as a boy in Northern Ireland attending an airshow. This would have been around 1935.

Ernest Clarke as boy at air show 2

Ernest volunteered at the age of 17 in 1939, some months before the war started. By 1942,  he was at Upavon, on No 14 OTU course. He went on to become a Pathfinder with 97 Squadron.

Clarke at Upavon 1942
Ernest Sumner Clarke, centre – Upavon 1942

Ernest Clarke was killed with all his crew in March 1944.

All pictures courtesy of David and Barbara McMahon.