Many Irish men and women have served in the Royal Air Force down the years.
Dublin-born Wing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane (DSO, DFC and two bars) fought in the Battle of Britain and later. Finucane just was one of the Irish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, the others being: Wing Commander F V Beamish, Pilot Officer B B Considine, Flight Lieutenant. R S J Edwards, Pilot Officer G J Grogan, Squadron Leader H Harkness, Flying Officer J A Hemingway, Flight Lieutenant N L Ievers, Flight Lieutenant J I Kilmartin, Pilot Officer W W McConnell and Flying Officer W S Moore.
Air Commodore Joseph Aidan MacCarthy OBE GM served as a medical doctor in the RAF. He was born in Castletownbere in Co Cork in 1913 and studied at Clongowes Wood College in Dublin. He won a Munster trophy with UCC’s rugby team when studying medicine there in the early 1930s. When the Second World War broke out, he joined the Allies in their war against Germany. The story of his phenomenal courage and deep religious faith is told in a book entitled “A Doctor’s War” and recently a film entitled “A Doctor’s Sword”.
The four Beamish brothers from Dunmanway in Co Cork served with distinction in the RAF in World War 2; Group Captain Francis Victor Beamish DSO & Bar DFC AFC, Air Marshal Sir George Robert Beamish KCB CBE, Group Captain Charles Eric St John Beamish and Air Vice Marshal Cecil Howard Beamish CB FDSRCS.
Percy Ronald Gardner, the Earl of Bandon, served in the RAF in WW2 and rose to the rank of Air Chief Marshal. He was involved in Operation Dracula, the airborne and amphibious assault on Rangoon as well as other actions in WW2.
In addition to the above, there were many other Irish airmen who flew as fighter and bomber crew and in Coastal Command and many other roles.
There were also many who served as groundcrew male and female. One such individual was the late Brother Columbanus Deegan, a Franciscan monk. He landed on Sword beach on D-day and was tasked with checking crashed aircraft for salvage and to save the crew where possible. He went through France into Belgium and Holland and eventually into Germany where he saw the horror of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.
It is sometimes forgotten that there were also exceptionally skilled women pilots such as those who served in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). One of these pilots was Annette Elizabeth Hill née Mahon who was born in Dublin on 21 October 1918. The ATA comprised 168 pilots from many different countries. They were trained to fly 38 types of aircraft, an astonishingly large range.