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Michael Edward Dark: Late war hero one of last to land flying boat on Lough Erne

By Laurence White

Published 04/02/2016

Michael Dark (bottom row, second from right)
Michael Dark (bottom row, second from right)
A Sunderland flying boat

Retired RAF Squadron Leader Michael Edward Dark, who has died at the age of 85, was one of the last pilots to fly a Sunderland flying boat into Castle Archdale in Co Fermanagh.

The Sunderlands played a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic, helping to pinpoint and destroy German U-boats.

Squadron Leader Dark was one of five generations of his family to serve in the RAF since its formation in April 1, 1918.

His grandfather, Albert, an ex-Royal Navy gunner, joined on that date and served in its technical branch.

Michael's father, Edward, served from 1928-56 and was part of an Allied forces scientific team which visited Hiroshima in September 1945 to determine the effects of the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan the previous month.

Michael's eldest son Jonathan also served in the force as did his granddaughter Rebecca, whose five years in the RAF included going to the Falklands. She later trained as a nurse in the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corp.

Born in Putney, Michael Dark attended Hailey Bury & Imperial Service College in Hertfordshire as a young man and excelled academically and in sport, becoming head boy and captain of the rugby team.

One of his classmates was the famous racing driver Stirling Moss.

Michael graduated from the RAF Flying College at Cranwell in April 1952 and the following year was posted to the Far East, flying Sunderlands.

He took part in 36 missions in the Korean War and later said that the weather, which could include freezing conditions or monsoons, which meant flying by instruments only, posed as big a danger as the enemy forces to the pilots.

He also took part in 10 Firedog operations - flushing out Communist terrorists from the Malayan jungle by strafing their positions or dropping bombs on them.

It was on November 3, 1956, that he landed a Sunderland flying boat at Castle Archdale, one of the last pilots to perform that role.

The following year, while stationed at Ballykelly, he met his wife-to-be Ann Thompson, whose father was a doctor and whose mother was a member of the Brewster family which owned a famous bakery in Londonderry.

They were married on January 31, 1959, at First Dunboe Presbyterian Church, Articlave - in which churchyard Michael will be laid to rest on Saturday.

Last Sunday, two days before his death, the couple celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary.

Michael returned to flying duties after his marriage and at the 1960 Farnborough Air Show demonstrated the endurance capabilities of the latest Shackleton aircraft by flying a 22-hour return trip to Madeira.

After leaving the RAF in 1970, Michael spent the next eight years as recreation manager for Magherafelt District Council and Larne Borough Council.

On moving to Castlerock, he became a volunteer at Coleraine Citizens Advice Bureau, retiring in 1989.

He spent 26 years as a member of the Causeway Coast branch of the RAF Association and of the Aircrew Association NI. He is survived by his wife Ann, children Jonathan, Nicholas, Patrick and Annabel, and a number of grandchildren.

Belfast Telegraph

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