Flying Officer Jack Spark DFM RAFVR. 103 Sqdn
John Robinson Spark was born on 19th October 1922, at 24 Herbert Street Harraby in Carlisle. He was the second son of Mathew Wilkinson & Ellen Robinson Spark and a younger brother for Thomas William Spark, nine years his senior.
He grew up in Harraby where he attended his local junior school, Brooke Street Primary before transferring later to Creighton Central Secondary School. Here despite claiming not to have been academic his examination passes included, Mathematics, Geography, English, Art & French. His sporting prowess at Creighton included Rugby, Tennis, Boxing & the High Jump in which he had some success. During this period Jack & his brother made repeated visits their grandparents & extended family in Alston. Here his brother introduced him to the joys of fly fishing & hiking in the hills around Alston.
On leaving school he took a Job with Prices the tailors a well established & respected company in Carlisle. Here he settled into part time education to acquire the skills of Book keeping and Window Dressing to improve his knowledge of his chosen profession. Then as he progressed in the Rag Trade as he knew it, the world plunged into the Second World War & Prices closed many of its shops. Jack was one of those loosing their jobs, but he quickly found another at the newly built RAF’s No.14 Maintenance Unit Depot in Carlisle as a Junior Stores Clerk. He stayed here until 1941 when he left to join the RAF as a Wireless Operator to follow his brother who had become a Pilot in the RAF.
Fred Brownings’ crew - Jack Spark front row left with another RAFEW Assn Member Ken Smart back row left
On completing his training in February 1944 he is transferred to 103 Squadron Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire. Here his crew had to complete 30 Operational bombing raids against the enemy before being rested to train new crews. His first four raids were a nightmare they were attacked by night fighters on each one. The fourth trip was the worst, ‘Berlin’ they were attacked three times on the way to the target. The rear gunner 19 year old Bob Thomas was killed in the first attack & the aircraft badly damaged in the next two attacks. Despite this the crew continued onto the target and delivered their bomb load onto the German Capital. Then on the run home they were coned by searchlights & because of the damage to the aircraft were not able to shake them off. Jack remembered seeing a German night fighter fire of coloured flares to extinguish searchlights he was caught by. He immediately fired of the same colours & low & behold the searchlights went out.
They managed to limp back to England to make an emergency landing at Dunsfold airfield. During the landing their Lancaster slewed off the runway into the darkness & collided with an American Flying Fortress that had crashed two days earlier.
For his part in saving the Lancaster Jack was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal. Their Rear Gunner Bob Thomas was buried with full military honours but the crew had to return to Elsham Wolds to complete another 26 Ops to finish the tour. In June 1944 he was informed of the death of his brother in a flying accident in North Africa when the aircraft he was a passenger in crashed in the Atlas Mountains. At the end of his tour he was commissioned to Flying Officer and transferred to Sandtoft airfield to train other aircrew.
At the end of the war he was transferred Back to Carlisle where he was Officer in charge of No.5 Depot No.14 Maintenance Unit where had started as a stores clerk back in 1940. In 1947 Jack was demobbed & went back into Tailoring when he as appointed Assistant Manager of Jackson the Tailor’s shop in Carlisle. Then in 1948 he married Jean Campbell a girl he had been to school with back in the 1930’s. After living with his parents they eventually found a small double fronted bungalow on the Kingstown Road Carlisle. Settling back into civilian life Jack buy’s an old Ford 8 car in 1952. Then in 1958 he was offered the position of Manager of his own shop in South Shields & they move to the north east of England. While working in South Shields jack received a telephone call from relatives in Carlisle his parents had been involved in an accident. He arrived at the hospital to find his parent had been knocked down by a motor car, one week later his 74 year old mother died of her injuries.
Then the following week his 77 year old father died of his injuries. Jack returned to South Shields to continue to set up home there. Here he built up the new shop to become a thriving business. But In 1963 fate dealt Jack a further blow when Jean died after a long illness. Jack had to get along on his own again, In 1964 he joined the Cleadon Village Theater working behind the scenes. Then in 1965 he met & married Dorothy Young who worked at Boots the chemists across the street from his shop. They moved to Wardley in Gateshead. Jack & Dorothy travelled widely to Venice, Spain & Canada where he visited his crewmate from the war. They in turn visited the North East & Jack showed then Bamburgh Castle, Holy Island & other places in Northumbria.
Jack joined Wardley Golf Club to continue his love of the sport, but he never gave up his first love Fly fishing. He also became involved with Probus a nationwide organisation of business people. In 1979 Jack moved to take over the bespoke side of the business still in Shields, before they transferred to Sunderland in 1982. In 1986 Jack retired to continue with his golf, fishing & holidays with Dorothy. He joins Elsham Wolds RAF Association where he meets up with old comrades from WW2 & re-new friendships with local villagers. There were visits to France to pay homage to those from Elsham Wolds who did not survive their tour of duty.
It was about this time he approached the American Embassy in London enquiring about the Flying Fortress he had crashed into during the war. To his surprise two of the crew were still alive & one of them was the wireless Operator a George Silva. The two of them made contact & have remained good friends over the following twenty odd years. In 2002 Jack celebrated his eightieth birthday with a large party of friends & relatives. One week later after what seemed a minor accident Dorothy collapsed & died. Jack was once again plunged into mourning & grief. Family & friends gathered round to support him during this period. In time Jack picked himself up & continued with his visits to his RAF Reunions & trips to France. In addition his friends rallied round inviting him to regular gatherings in Grantham & lunch in the Officers Mess at Cranwell, here while his friends viewed this famous College Jack would sit in the reading room. When his friends returned, Jack would be surrounded by young officers of all nationalities, listening to his reminiscences from the WW2. At the request of local schools Jack would give talks about the war as part of the children history studies. Jack believed it gave them a sense of history being more meaningful when they could talk to people who took part in it. Now in his late eighties Jack still talks to George in the USA & is visited by his own friends & family on a regular basis, though his short term memory has started to diminish.
On the morning of Sunday 31st October 2010 at 07:30am aged 88 years Jack Spark passed away peacefully, in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead.
Jack was a man who gave so willingly of himself & his time to others, it is sad he had to suffer so much in his personnel life. He will be remembered by so many for a long time. David Crawford