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Arlene Foster leads tributes after death of Co Fermanagh D-Day veteran Bill at 97


Inspiration: Bill Eames, who was in the RAF during WWII

Inspiration: Bill Eames, who was in the RAF during WWII

Inspiration: Bill Eames, who was in the RAF during WWII

First Minister Arlene Foster led tributes to one of Northern Ireland's last World War Two veterans who has died aged 97.

Bill Eames, from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, served as an RAF pilot and was involved in the securing of Pegasus Bridge on the eve of D-Day in 1944.

He received several medals of honour, as well as the British Empire Medal in 2019 for his community work in Co Fermanagh and services to the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA), where he was president of the Co Fermanagh branch.

Mrs Foster said she was "deeply saddened" to hear of the death of her "dear friend" on Sunday.

"Today we honour his service during World War Two and his quiet dignity," she said.

"Bill was very badly injured by anti-aircraft fire. Although wounded, he helped to bring the bomber home but was hospitalised upon return.

"I was blessed to have Bill as a friend. In some difficult moments over the last four years, Bill would remind me to focus on Kipling's poem 'If'. He had gifted me a framed copy with all the appropriate underlined quotes. I will miss his quiet support."

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Flight Lieutenant Eames joined the RAF in 1941. One of his first missions was dropping supplies to French Resistance operators during the Nazi occupation.

He was injured in September 1944 during Operation Market Garden, a mission to secure the Rhine crossing at Arnhem.

However, he recovered and returned to active flying duty with the 196 Squadron, flying Shorts Stirlings, which included taking part in the surrender of German forces in Norway.

After the war ended, he worked as an Air Traffic Controller with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, based initially at Nutts Corner and later at Aldergrove.

US Consul General Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau said it was a "profound honour" to have known Mr Eames.

"On many occasions when we formally commemorated our shared history during World War Two, Bill Eames was rightly acknowledged as a true inspiration to us all," she said.

Chairman of the Co Fermanagh branch of the RAFA, Ray Hall, said Mr Eames was a "real ambassador" and that his "quiet determination, drive and inspiration" was realised by all who met him.

Enniskillen Royal British Legion's chairman John Jones, said that he had lost a true friend and that Mr Eames' death has resulted in the loss of "one of our last true heroes".

Ernie Cromie from the Ulster Aviation Society stated that Mr Eames, who was a member of the group, "lived and breathed aviation".

UTV's Paul Clark, who knew Mr Eames for many years, said: "I've always maintained that we owe Bill and his generation a debt of gratitude that we can never adequately repay."

Viscount Brookeborough, Lord Lieutenant of Fermanagh, added that his loss will be felt across the county.

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