The eldest son of former RAF Flight Lieutenant Bill Eames has paid tribute to his late father, who instilled a love of aviation in him.

William Joseph (Bill) Eames, BEM, (RAF), formerly of Enniskillen, passed away peacefully at his home in Lisburn on November 15 at the age of 97.

Describing his father as a “very active and very sociable” person, David Eames – Mr. Eames’ eldest son – said: “My father was all go; he was very energetic. He might have lived a long time, at 97 years, but he packed everything into those 97 years.

“He used to leave me feeling exhausted,” he added with a laugh.

A ‘dyed in the wool’ Enniskillen man, Mr. Eames was born between the bridges of the town, at Darling Street, in 1923.

As a child, he attended the Model School, where he fondly remembered his teacher bringing his class outside to see an RAF plane fly overhead.

Mr. Eames’ first flight in an aircraft was in 1936, aged 12, when C.W. Scott’s International Air Circus visited Enniskillen.

He paid seven shillings and sixpence for the pleasure flight with his good friend, George McVitty. From that moment, he realised that he wanted to be a pilot.

Mr. Eames joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1941 and was posted to the USA. On returning to the UK, he was stationed at RAF Ashbourne in Derby, flying Whitley and Albemarle aircraft, before joining 570 Squadron at RAF Hurn near Bournemouth.

On the morning of D-Day – June 6, 1944 – Mr. Eames was involved in towing gliders to Ouistreham, Northern France, where the troops on board helped secure Pegasus Bridge, a very important target for the Allied invasion forces.

Later, in September, 1944, he took part in Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated Allied attempt to secure the Rhine crossing at Arnhem. He was badly injured during this operation, but although wounded, he carried on and helped the other members of the crew.

Upon his recovery, Bill returned to active flying duty with 196 Squadron, flying Shorts Stirlings, dropping supplies to The Resistance and taking part in the surrender of German forces in Norway. He later became an air traffic controller in the RAF, with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Mr. Eames met the love of his life, Fay, during his time in the RAF, while they were both based at one of the airfields south of Oxford. “My mother was a parachute packer, who he met during wartime,” explained David, adding: “She supported him throughout his career until she passed away in 1993.”

Mr. Eames was the holder of several medals, including the 1939-1945 Star, the Aircrew Europe Star with France and Germany clasp, the Defence Medal, and the War Medal, with Mentioned in Dispatches Oak Leaf.

He was also awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest award, for his services in the liberation of France.

In 2019, he was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) by Her Majesty The Queen for his community work and services to the RAF Association in Fermanagh. “That really meant an awful lot to him,” said David.

Aside from aviation, Mr. Eames had a great interesting in boating. “His main interest was aviation, and anything to do with airplanes, but his second was boating here on Lough Erne.

“I spent a lot of time in Enniskillen in my childhood staying with my grandparents, and a lot of my memories are about boating on the lake with my father,” reminisced David.

“Right up until just a couple of years ago, he had his own boat here on the lake. The last time he was in Enniskillen, I had to take him boating on the lake. That was in August, when they had the event at Portora [Enniskillen Royal Grammar School] for VJ Day.

“My father was down for that, but I thought when that had finished, he would be tired as he wasn’t terribly well then. As we were driving back to my house, he said: ‘We better go boating now’, so off we went,” recalled David, fondly.

David noted how his father was also very interested in steam engines and the railways in Northern Ireland.

On leaving the RAF in 1947, he started work as an air traffic controller with the Ministry of Civil Aviation. This work brought him back to Northern Ireland, to Nutt’s Corner, the then Belfast Airport.

“I was born at Nutt’s Corner, when it was the airport before Aldergrove. That’s where my father worked then.

“We used to live on the edge of the airfield in old RAF accommodation, from where I would go to the control tower with him. His interest in aviation, he instilled that in me,” said David.

“I went on to have a career in flying, but I always thought of my father as I was doing it,” he added.

Beloved husband of the late Fay, dearly loved father of David (Valerie), Peter (Jenni), and a much-loved grandfather and great-grandfather, Bill is lovingly remembered by his family and the family circle.