Flight Lieutenant William Joseph Eames B.E.M. served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Born on 27th May 1923, Bill was the only son of confectioners and tobacconists William Eames and Mrs. Eames of 41 Darling Street, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh.
Bill attended the Model School, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh and Portora Royal Grammar School. At the Model School, he recalled a teacher bringing the class outside to watch a Royal Air Force plane flying overhead. A lifelong interest in aviation was born.
In 1936, he took his first flight aged 12 years old when C.W. Scott’s International Air Circus visited his hometown. Bill and his friend George McVitty paid 7s 6d for their flight and Bill decided that he would become a Pilot. To that end, he joined the Officer Training Corps at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh.
In 1941, Eames joined the Royal Air Force aged 17 years old and travelled to England for training. Induction training took place at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London and from there Bill went on to Scarborough and Brough where he flew De Havilland Tiger Moths. The next stop was a holding camp at Heaton Park, Manchester, England, and then on to the United States of America.
He trained as a Pilot at Souther Field, Americus, Georgia. It was here, Eames made his first solo flight as part of the Arnold Scheme. Of 175 members of Class SE-42-K, 138 completed primary flying successfully. Afterward, came the journey to Monkton, Ontario to train along with the United States Army Air Corps in Canada in 1942. On his return to the United Kingdom, he found himself at R.A.F. Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England. There, he flew planes made by Whitley and Albermarle before joining R.A.F. 570 Squadron at R.A.F. Hurn, Dorset, England.
In the early part of the war, my uncle’s pub in Sheffield was destroyed by bombs. Fifty people sheltering in the cellar were killed, including my uncle and aunt. My cousin Jean, who was just a baby, had been evacuated to Enniskillen and she grew up as part of my family.
D-Day and the Battle of Arnhem
On D-Day, 6th June 1944, 21-year-old Eames was the Pilot of an R.A.F. 570 Squadron crew towing Horsa Gliders towards Ouistreham and Caen in Normandy. The crew had been training in secret and Bill had recently celebrated his 21st birthday. He remembered having a bacon and egg soda before departing from R.A.F. Harwell, Oxfordshire, England. His crew flew out in darkness just before 0000hrs on 6th June 1944. Below them, ships waited in the darkness ready for Operation Overlord.
Their mission was a success, using the moonlight reflecting off the Orne Canal and avoiding heavy Anti-Aircraft fire. The Allied troops from the 6th Airborne Division onboard those gliders would help secure Pegasus Bridge. The return journey took half the time without the weight of the gliders and Eames’ crew was back in base and fast asleep by the time the landings began.
I was footloose and fancy-free at the time and not particularly frightened, but we did indeed realise the significance of what we were doing that day.
William Eames – Interviewed by Belfast Telegraph – 6th June 2014.
In September 1944, Eames was part of Operation Market Garden. The ill-fated operation attempted to secure the Rhine crossing near Arnhem, Netherlands. For the first 2 days, Eames flew successful drops but during a flight over Arnhem on day 3, he sustained injuries when Anti-Aircraft Guns attacked the plane. Although seriously injured, he helped the crew return to their base in England before collapsing and having a lengthy stay in a hospital.
After recovering from injuries sustained during Operation Market Garden, Bill returned to flying duties. He joined R.A.F. 196 Squadron operating Short Stirling Bombers, dropping supplies across occupied Europe towards the end of the Second World War.
Life after the War
Following the Second World War, Bill became a Royal Air Force Air Traffic Controller having risen to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. During wartime, he met Fay who he would go on to marry. She was working as a parachute packer at an airfield in England during Bill’s time there.
Flight Lieutenant Eames left the Royal Air Force in 1947 and began working as an Air Traffic Controller with the Ministry of Civil Aviation. This job brought him back to Northern Ireland, where he found employment at Nutt’s Corner Airfield, and then Belfast International Airport. Bill continued to fly long after his Royal Air Force service came to an end. He retired as a Chief Instructor at the Ulster Flying Club at Newtownards Airfield, Co. Down aged 80 years old.
Other than aviation, Bill also had a keen interest in boating. He regularly spent time out on Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh, even in August 2020, when he returned to his home county for a Victory in Japan Day event at Enniskillen Royal Grammar School. He also had an interest in steam engines and the railways of Northern Ireland.
In later years, Eames was President of the Co. Fermanagh branch of the Royal Air Forces Association and took part in the annual Wings Appeal collection. He was also involved with the Air Crew Association, Ulster Aviation Society, where he regularly spoke to visitors, and he was Vice-President of the Ulster Flying Club at Newtownards, Co. Down. He spent a great deal of time in the community talking about his wartime experiences and educating younger generations. He was a familiar face in Co. Fermanagh and beyond as he regularly visited schools and other organisations to tell of his time in the Royal Air Force.
To the children, Bill is revered as a hero, but in his humble way Bill reminds them he is a survivor and war is not something to glorify, but to remember the sacrifice and the consequences that might have been, should we not have won.
Selwyn Johnston – Headhunters Railway Museum Chairman – Interviewed by BBC Northern Ireland – 28th December 2019.
Awards and Recognition
For his wartime service, Bill Eames received The 1939-1945 Star, The Aircrew Europe Star (with France and Germany clasps), The Defence Medal, The War Medal (with Oak Leaf), and the Légion d’Honneur for his role in the liberation of France. In 2019, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II awarded Eames the British Empire Medal for his services to the R.A.F. Association and work in the community.
Bill Eames died peacefully at his home at 29 Pond Park Road, Lisburn, Co. Antrim on 15th November 2020 aged 97 years old. A funeral service took place at 1300hrs on 19th November 2020 at St. Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh. The Very Rev Kenneth Hall, Dean of the Diocese of Clogher led the ceremony.
Following the much-respected veteran’s death, tributes came from many people and groups. These included Northern Ireland’s First Minister and M.L.A. for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Arlene Foster. Speaking to the Impartial Reporter newspaper, she said:
I was blessed to have Bill as a friend. In some difficult moments over the past 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.
Other tributes flooded in from Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau (U.S. Consul General), Air Marshal Sean Reynolds (Air Officer Northern Ireland, R.A.F.), Viscount Brookeborough (Lord Lieutenant of Fermanagh), Ray Hall (Chairman of the Co. Fermanagh Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association), John James (Enniskillen Branch of the Royal British Legion), Ernie Cromie (Ulster Aviation Society).
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