Poignant farewell to last Battle of Britain hero
Northern Ireland was today preparing to bid a final farewell to the last of its Battle of Britain heroes.
Spitfire pilot Flight Lieutenant Harry Clarke, who died on Monday aged 92, was due to be laid to rest after a service in Belfast this morning.
Hundreds of people were expected to attend Roselawn Crematorium.
Mr Clarke was among 28 Ulster airmen who flew in the famous aerial dogfight 70 years ago — seven of the pilots died during the Battle of Britain and 11 others never saw the end of the Second World War.
Add the number of RAF ground crew killed and the grim total of Northern Irish men and women who lost their lives during the Battle of Britain stands at 72.
Little is known about Flight Lieutenant Clarke's wartime achievements as the pilot never spoke to the Press nor made his logbook public.
However author, aviation historian and friend of 20 years John Hewitt described the distinguished holder of the Air Efficiency (AE) award as a “lovely man” who would be sadly missed.
“I was very honoured to have had his story in my book. He was a lovely man but a very private person,” he said.
During the Battle of Britain, Flight Lieutenant Clarke AE flew with 610 Squadron in a Spitfire, registration DW-D.
Unfortunately his flying career in battle came to an abrupt end in September 1940 while engaging in a practise dogfight with a pupil.
When the pupil hit his aircraft head on, Harry's parachute harness was sliced. He bailed out and luckily his foot caught in a strap and Harry came tumbling to earth upside down, with only one leg in the parachute harness.
Amazingly, he survived the fall but suffered head and neck injuries and was returned to Northern Ireland as a test pilot.
Harry Clarke was educated at Dale Holme Private School on the Ballygomartin Road, Belfast, joining the RAFVR (volunteer reserves) in July 1939 aged 22. He was called up for full-time service as soon as war was declared.
He did his initial training at St Leonard's-on-Sea and the Elementary Flying School in Brough before being posted to the RAF base at Kinloss in Scotland.
He lived most of his life in Saintfield and died after a short illness at Tullywest Manor Residential Home.