Terry Clark, aged 91, was an air gunner in a Blenheim light bomber aircraft, used as a night fighter, during the Battle of Britain. His initial job was to defend York and the surrounding airfields from German attacks.
He joined the Auxiliary Air Force at the age of 19, training in Surrey and on the Isle of Man. He said:
The station commander signed my log book but nobody said whether I’d passed the course. I assume I must have done because they sent me off to join 219 Squadron, a Blenheim fighter unit based at Catterick.
Mr Clark and his squadron mates spent much of the Battle of Britain quietly playing pontoon as they waited for a call to arms. But the silence was shattered when the phone rang - it was the signal to scramble. A couple of flicked switches fired up the Blenheims and within minutes crews were airborne:
Spitfire pilots couldn’t see in the dark, but we could,” he said. “Blenheims carried an early form of radar which at the time was unknown to the Germans. We also had ground control radar which was used to get us to the main body of the bombers. But while it could see the big picture, it was down to us to identify the individual aircraft with our radar before opening fire.
A British radar system was well known to the Luftwaffe from intelligence gathered before the war, but the system linked with fighter control had been a well-kept secret and, even where information existed, it was largely ignored as being implausible.
As the conflict reached its zenith and at night the feared Blitz began in earnest, more radar specialists were needed to deal with the threat. so Mr Clark was sent to fly on the Beaufighter long-range heavy fighter aircraft.
His job was to track enemy aircraft and guide the pilot towards the selected ‘contact’. And he was pretty good; one night the pair shot down two enemy fighters.
For his wartime bravery Mr Clark was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal which to this day he wears with pride alongside five others, including the rare Battle of Britain medal and clasp.
Mr Clark becoming the inspiration for a new blend of tea came about when Henrietta Lovell, of the Rare Tea Company, met him last year while shooting a video and was so taken by his presence that she decided to prepare the ‘Tea for Heroes’.
On the label for her latest blend Henrietta has written:
I first created this tea for a wonderful man called Terry Clark. It was a great honour to make tea for him and he thought it was rather good.
‘Tea for Heroes’ is a traditional British tea, a blend from two plantations, the Makaibari Estate in Darjeeling and the Satemwa Estate in Malawi, and comes in a presentation tin bearing the RAF roundel. Inside, the label features a wartime picture of Mr Clark wearing his uniform. He said:
When Henrietta asked if she could use my photo, I wasn’t too sure. But when she told me that some of the proceeds would go to the Wings Appeal, I thought well why not.
It’s a very good brew and far better than the wartime tea we had in the NAAFI [Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes].
Tea for Heroes is now on sale, with 7 per cent of the proceeds going to the RAF Wings Appeal which raises money to support serving and former RAF personnel and their families.
But Mr Clark insists he is not a hero. Like most war veterans, Mr Clark frowns on the ‘h-word’ and says he was just doing his bit for King and Country:
The real heroes were in Bomber Command,” he said. “Then there were the ground crew. If they didn’t service the aircraft we’d have never got off the ground, but no one seems to remember them.
Nor can Mr Clark be termed an ‘Ace’. Although he was responsible for the requisite number of confirmed kills, the nomenclature applies only to pilots.
It’s not something that bothers him though because, apart from his family, Mr Clark’s fondest memories are of a pilot, his pilot, the one who saved his life. He explained:
I was with Dudley Hobbis for three years and it was almost like a marriage really. We were very close; we had to be to do our job. After Hobbis stopped flying he planned one last patrol, but by then we were on different flights, so he took the spare navigator. It was the last time I saw him.
I think the Battle of Britain proved to be the turning point of the war,” Mr Clark added. “But at the time we were unaware how vital it was to win. Then Churchill made his famous speech and we realised what it all meant.