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RAF 100: Chigwell veteran’s pride and frustration in wartime service

PUBLISHED: 11:00 16 July 2018

Former World War Two RAF pilot John Marks. Photo by Ellie Hoskins

Former World War Two RAF pilot John Marks. Photo by Ellie Hoskins

Ellie Hoskins +44(0)7743306087 www.elliehoskins.com

Being a pilot in the Royal Air Force is a source of pride for many, but for one veteran it was also a cause of frustration.

Former World War Two RAF pilot John Marks with his Great Grandsons Aaron Mathews, 11 and Daniel Mathews, nine. Photo by Ellie HoskinsFormer World War Two RAF pilot John Marks with his Great Grandsons Aaron Mathews, 11 and Daniel Mathews, nine. Photo by Ellie Hoskins

John Marks, from Chigwell, was 20 and fed up of his factory job when he volunteered for the RAF keen to join the fight against Nazi Germany after surviving countless enemy air raids in the Blitz.

After passing entry and medical tests with flying colours he was identified as pilot material.

“I was impatient to start. I wrote to the RAF and said when are you going to call me up? They told me I had to be patient,” he chuckled.

A three month wait turned into nine before Mr Marks – now a great-grandad of nine – finally got his wish and began training in December 1942.

Former World War Two RAF pilot John Marks. Photo by Ellie HoskinsFormer World War Two RAF pilot John Marks. Photo by Ellie Hoskins

After learning flying theory in Stratford-upon-Avon he ran the risk of U-Boat attacks in an Atlantic crossing aboard the RMS Mauretania.

He finally took to the air at flying school in Ponca City, Oklahoma, piloting light aircraft before progressing on to Harvard training planes.

Mr Marks recalled: “Night flying was a bit hairy. Once you get in the air you’ve got to come down again and we only had runways lit with flares.”

Sgt Marks completed training and arrived back home but too late to join the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.

He and his fellow airmen waited for a posting before getting called up to fly gliders in the Far East.

The Hackney-born 95-year-old trekked to Mount Everest and visited the Taj Mahal in between keeping up his flying skills over India.

And he has never eaten chicken since seeing Himalayan villagers chop off the birds’ heads letting them run around before dropping them in the cooking pot.

Although Mr Marks didn’t engage in combat during the war, he was realistic about what fate might have awaited him. Especially in light of the Battle of Arnhem where the British 1st Airborne Division saw heavy losses trying to secure bridges and towns along the Allies’ line of advance to the Netherlands.

“I was disappointed not to fight, but it probably saved my life because the number of aircrew dying was pretty heavy,” he said.

“But I enjoyed my time and I was proud to be in the RAF. No one can say I dodged it,” he said.

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