DEREK CHARLES GRAY CLINKARD

39855 Flying Officer (Pilot), 61 Squadron, Royal Air Force

 

Derek charles gray clinkard

photo from John Williams, Zillah's nephew

killed in action 8th March 1940 aged 24

Derek was born on 19th April 1915, the eldest son of Cecil Henry and Margaret Tessier Clinkard (nee Gray) of Wanganui, New Zealand.

He had a younger brother named Ian Gray Clinkard and their father, a lawyer, became a Member of Parliament for Rotorua at the 1925 General Election.

In 1921 Derek went to St. John's Hill School in the town. He enrolled at the Wanganui Technical College in 1929 and swam and played rugby and tennis for them.

He moved to Wellington and became a clerical worker for the Shell Oil Company.  Derek joined the Waiwhetu Golf Club and also got a private pilots licence.

In April 1936, with an 'A' licence and 10 hours flying experience, he applied to join the Royal Air Force under the 'Dominion Special Service' scheme.  He was accepted and guaranteed a 'Short Service Commission' upon his enlistment in Britain.

Derek came to England at his own expense, working in the engine room of the Port Bowen to get his passage, and arrived in March 1937.

He trained at Brough Civil School, Yorkshire and then at No.7 Flying Training School in Northamptonshire.  The 40 trainees on his course were allocated to various Squadrons.  By the end of 1940 only 10 of these men were left.

On 19th February 1938, Derek reported to RAF Hemswell and joined No. 61 Squadron, part of 5 Group, Bomber Command.  He was affectionately nicknamed 'Clink'.

Derek married Zillah Christina Marris at St. Peter's Church on 11th December 1939.  Their witnesses were his friend Charles Glover and her father Harry Marris, who ran the village butcher shop on Messingham Road.
 
The couple set up home at ‘Lyndene’, Scotter Common.  When returning from a mission he would fly the plane low over their bungalow to let his wife know he was safe.
 
Derek took part in the Heligoland and Wilhelmshaven raids, reconnaissance flights over Germany and spent Christmas Day 1939 flying over the North Sea in a snowstorm.  He was promoted from Pilot Officer to Flying Officer on 10th January 1940 and became an experienced pilot with 475 hours in the air.

At 20:18 on 7th March 1940 his Handley Page Hampden Mk1 bomber, number L4111, went on an 'offensive patrol' to attack the Luftwaffe base at Sylt, one of the German Frisian Islands.

The plane suffered severe damage during the raid and the crew struggled to bring it home.  At 2am they were plotted just off the English coast but no requests for bearings were made until 3 hours later.  They flew up and down the coast but enemy action and mist over the whole of England stopped them trying to land.

They managed to get as far as R.A.F. Digby near Lincoln.  The usual method of landing was to perform a left hand turn but, perhaps due to rudder problems, they had to attempt a right hand turn.  The airfield's lights were not put on and in the darkness, at 5:30am, the plane crashed into a nearby field.

They were the first aircrew of 61 Squadron to be lost in the war.  Derek's comrades were Sergeant Charles Carlile Hobbs, Sergeant Ronald Philips Glasson (aged 19) and Leading Aircraftman Winston Kitchener Wood (aged 20).

Due to the unknown extent of their difficulties no recommendations were made for posthumous decoration.  It is probable they had been engaged by the enemy because the body of LAC Wood, the wireless operator, had sustained gunshot wounds.

The medals Derek received for active service were:-

   1939-1945 Star
   Air Crew Europe Star
   Defence Medal
   War Medal 1939-1945
   New Zealand War Medal
   New Zealand Memorial Cross

Family and friends were informed the funeral service was to be held on 12th March 1940. Zillah wrote:-

  'Our life together was short and sweet,  
   But our love will live forever'

The service for Flying Officer Derek Clinkard was held at St. Peter's Church and officiated by the Reverend A.R. Johnson who had performed his wedding service just three months earlier.

The coffin was draped with his cap and the Union flag.  It was conveyed through the village from the Church to the cemetery and all the houses along the route drew their curtains as a mark of respect.

Derek was accorded full military honours and after a short service the Last Post sounded and a volley was fired over the grave.  About 200 of his colleagues filed past to pay their last tribute to a brave comrade.  Among the many wreaths and tributes was one from his parents in New Zealand.

In June 1954 Derek's mother travelled to see her son's resting place.  She regularly placed fresh flowers on his grave and ended each visit by reading a verse by Sir Henry Newboult which is inscribed on the gravestone:-

  'To count the light of battle good,
  and dear the land that gave you birth,
  and dearer yet the brotherhood
  that binds the brave of all the Earth.

Underneath are the words 'A son of the Southern Seas'.

His tombstone says he was 25 when he died; surprisingly it is almost certainly incorrect.

Derek is also remembered on the Roll of Honour, Wanganui Technical College and at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby, near Spilsby.

 

The 'best man' at the wedding, Charles William Glover, lost his life just 2 months after his friend when Hampden L4119 crashed during the return from a raid over Denmark.

Two years after returning to New Zealand his mother died in a motor accident.
 

On the day of Derek's funeral, with many RAF Hemswell personnel in Scotter, the base suffered its second lost plane crew of the war.  There would be many more...