Covid-19 delays 95th birthday celebrations for WWII RAF veteran

Harry Lye 17 April 2020 (Last Updated April 17th, 2020 16:05)

A planned medal ceremony and 95th birthday celebrations for British WWII Veteran Dennis Earlam have been called off due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Covid-19 delays 95th birthday celebrations for WWII RAF veteran
From right to left, Flight Sergeant Holland, Flight Sergeant Earlam, Flight Lieutenant J.D Brayshaw, Flight Lieutenant Mount, Warrant Officer J. Green, Sergeant Wards, and Sergeant Fenner. Image: 578 Squadron Association.

A planned medal ceremony and 95th birthday celebrations for British WWII Veteran Dennis Earlam have been called off due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The pandemic has delayed a ceremony where Earlam, a former Bomber Command airman, was due to be presented with medals by the Royal Air Force (RAF). The veteran will also see in his 95th birthday without family and friends at care home Clough House in Leyland, where visits have been restricted as part of the UK’s fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The RAF told Air Force Technology that it plans to reschedule the presentation of medals to Earlam once the UK’s period of social isolation has ended. Earlam is also a candidate for the Legion d’Honneur from the French Government.

RAF Leeming SNCO Discip Sergeant Allan Waring told Air Force Technology: “It is so very important that we recognise our veterans for all that they have done in service not only for the Royal Air Force but also for their country.

“Mr Earlham is a fine gentleman and will always be part of the RAF Family – we owe him a great deal and wish him a very happy birthday. Per ardua ad astra!”

On one mission in January 1945, Earlam flew as a mid-upper gunner on a mission over Stuttgart, Germany where his Halifax bomber came under fire from a German Messerschmitt 109.

In the ensuing combat, a member of the aircraft’s seven-man crew Sergeant Fenner was killed, Flight Sergeant Green suffered injuries and the aircraft was badly damaged, limping back to France. Earlam and the rest of Halifax’s crew were uninjured in the attack.

In the war, Earlam served as a rear gunner in the RAF’s 578 Squadron before later being transitioned to 51 Squadron at RAF Snaith, England, as the war began to wind down. At 21, Earlam was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer.

Earlam also flew in a 1944 Christmas Eve raid over Essen and Mulhein.

In order to join the service, Earlam lied about his age, signing up to the RAF at 17 where he was known as one of the ‘Brylcreem boys’. Throughout his career in the RAF Earlam flew 20 sorties.

He was also an active campaigner in the push to build the Bomber Command memorial in London’s Green Park, which unfortunately, due to his age, he has not seen in person.

Earlam flew his last mission on the 28 April 1945, shortly after his 20th birthday. For his service, Earlam earnt the Bomber Command Star (1939-45), France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, the Asia Medal (1945-46), the National Service Medal, and the War Medal (1939-45).

Mr Earlam will be 95 on 27 April, almost 75 years after his aircraft was shot down in France during the war. Earlam’s family told Air Force Technology that they hoped members of the public and defence community would join their campaign to not let his 95th birthday go unmarked.

578 Squadron Burn Association spokesperson and editor of its LK Times Mk II magazine Emily Horton told Air Force Technology: “578 Squadron Burn Association was started when the squadron was disbanded in 1945 and has seen surviving vets make an annual pilgrimage to their old stomping ground in Selby, North Yorkshire, for the past 75 years.

“To discover a surviving veteran is very precious indeed. We look forward to welcoming Dennis to our 150+ strong membership that includes just nine other known surviving veterans, the youngest of whom is 94.

“Perhaps we might be able to welcome Dennis and his family back to his old airbase – now Burn Gliding Club – for next year’s annual gathering of remembrance.”

Members of the defence community and the public are being invited to send birthday cards or letters to Dennis Earlam, Clough House, 7 Worden Lane, Leyland, Lancashire PR25 3EL.