Taken from his service record and “Air Gunner” Flying Log Book, and aided with my memories. The albums contain many more aerial photos of Iraq and Egypt taken on his flights in the Wapitis, and have included a photo of his canvas flying helmet (note flap at back to prevent sunburn of the neck and see photo of him wearing it, kitted out ready for one of his flights in a Wapiti) and a photo of his medals – note the oak leaf on one of them, which he got (Mentioned in Despatches), I believe going behind enemy lines in to retrieve a downed crate in North Africa when he was one of the Repair and Salvage Units.
Flight Sergeant Ronald Sparks 560997, would have been made WO, but worried (!) about getting a job in civilian life, so left the RAF after 27 years man and boy. I think on reflection, he regretted not staying a bit longer and gaining promotion. He would never have had trouble getting a job in engineering, which he did for the rest of his life as a maintenance engineer with Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, the famous makes of combined harvesters, ploughs and latterly lawn mowers. But I digress. I have put his progression through the ranks in brackets, taken from the “Mustering” column on his service record.
Joined the RAF as a 15½ year old apprentice at RAF Halton in 1926 (A/A-Aircraft Apprentice?), transferring to I Wing (?) in 1929 (AC2), and then going on to RAF Hendon to join the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment in 1932 (AC1).
And in 1933 he was sent to Iraq on the HMT Lancashire (see photos) to join the A&AEE in 1934 (see crash incident in 1935 below**) and in 1936 joined 55 (B) Squadron (LAC), which was then transferred to India where he later on joined the 31 [AC] Squadron. Then he came back to England in 1938 to join the Hawker Aircraft Company for further training in A&AEE and in 1939 was made a Corporal. In early 1940 he was admitted to the Didsworth Military Hospital, which in his service record shows it as clearly, but the only thing I can find near that name is maybe, Dodsworth. What he was in there for, for such a long time, it is not shown and I don’t remember him saying anything about it.
**What I do remember, hospital wise is the time he must have spent (oddly not shown in his service record) was when he was in a Wapiti that nose dived on landing in February 1935, which is shown in his Flying Log Book – see scan of that page AND photo of the crash.
He recounted that they had strapped his chest with some wide plasters and when the ribs healed, the doctor came round to remove same, and said to him, “Do you want this taken off slowly or ripped off in one go?” My Dad opted for in one go, and said his eyes did water for a while!
So, out of hospital in 1941, and now a Sergeant, he was then sent to Italy, North Africa and the Middle East in the 57 and 61 Repair and Salvage Unit until 1942*, when it then gets a bit confusing as it shows him in 229 Squadron, 6629 SE, 6603 SE, 57 OTU and 6065 SE in 1945. Then in 1946 he had a posting to RAF Fassburg 151 RU via Draft 13047 DX (?) cancelled, where he came out of that melee as a Flight Sergeant and in 1947 was stationed at RAF Upwood, then in 1948 had a short posting to RAF Cosford (A) and back to RAF Upwood in the same year. Now this is where I come into the picture I would think, as I was born in 1945 and one of my earliest childhood memories was us being as a family on that base. We lived at house number K4, which was in the married quarters, and is still standing – the end house in a block of four.
*He never drove a car, but did drive one of the recovery lorries with the 61 RSU (see photos) because he said in the desert there was nothing to hit!
And he said he never went in another plane after the Wapitis for all his life – he said that at least if they conked out you could glide to earth, not like later heavier aeroplanes!
Then in 1952 he was transferred to RAF Mildenhall as a Flight air frame fitter, which at that time was shared with the USAF, where he remained until his demob on the 30th May 1953 – a day I’ll never forget as I fell into a pit and ripped my leg open on a piece of jagged metal. My father, who was having his demob party had to be summoned (I bet he was pleased) and an American neighbour drove me and Dad to the hospital, but it was closed!?
OR, there was no one there who could deal with it, and so he took us to the American hospital and I clearly remember seeing my Dad’s face upside down as he tried to keep me calm, as the USAF officer doctor stitched the gaping hole under my knee-cap.
Owing to my situation, me and my Mum and Dad were taken home and into civvy street in an RAF ambulance, and I’ll never forget when I got out of it at home there were a crowd of kids around this exciting sudden arrival of a RAF ambulance, and as I spoke to them they said “Oh! You’re American!” – I didn’t realise how much accent I had unwittingly taken on from the American kids! I still bear the scar under my knee-cap.
From the “Special Qualifications” column on his Service Record, it shows he was trained and worked on various aeroplanes, including the Wapiti (which he also flew in a number of times – see Flying Log Book), Bulldog (?). Siskin, Grebe, Vildebeest, Spitfire, Hurricane, Defiant, Beaufighter, Wellington, Lancaster, Mosquito, Mustang and Tempest (Hawker – not the modern fighter, of course! Also trained as a rear air gunner for the Wapiti.
I remember the Lancaster well, for on one occasion my father took me to see one close up and for a treat I was allowed to get inside and have a go at “flying” it in the cockpit – despite my being only 7 and having no height to speak of, I still managed to crack my head on one of the internal frame struts. Also remember being woken by the sound of them flying low over our base house and I rushed to the front bedroom window to see three of them go over – a wonderful sight for a 1950s sprog!
A tale relating to his time in the desert recovering downed crates. I can’t remember what aeroplane it was now, but they were as usual in the middle of nowhere in the desert, and it was carrying a very large bomb, which had burst its way out of the fuselage and was resting under one of the wings. Two Americans drove up in a Jeep and said “Gee, that’s a large wing fuel tank there, Buddy” and when my Dad explained that it was actually a bomb, he said you have never seen to men shift so quickly back into their Jeep and within a matter of seconds, they were a dot on the horizon! My father and his crew were in hysterics.
He was my hero, and I surprised myself when he died in 1984 (year I will never forget, as our 19-year-old cat died and many stars did to that year, including Eric Morecambe, Tommy Cooper, Diana Dors, John Betjeman, Flora Robson, James Mason, Richard Burton, JB Priestley, Leonard Rossiter etc. etc.) as I was so matter of fact about it when my wife told me of the phone call see had received from my Mother.
So, the necessary arrangements were made as though I was arranging someone’s party and I couldn’t understand why I was so collected and calm about it – BUT…………………..
One the day of the funeral, and as I walked towards the chapel of rest with my Mum and wife, there were two men from the British Legion/RAFA standing either side of the doorway (I’m welling up now, thinking about it even after all this time), and as the coffin passed through the chapel door, they lowered their standards, and at that point, and I still don’t know whether it was a ghost, I saw my Father proudly standing there to attention in his dress uniform, saluting. In that instant I became a sobbing wreck and had to be half carried into the chapel by my wife and Mother. While all my relatives were singing heartedly, I went through the service in stunned silence.
Supplied by his son, John Sparks, May 2021