BMC member Eric Atkins passed away in November 2011, aged 90. As well as being an active climber and walker, Eric had a remarkable and distinguished career in the RAF, piloting Mosquitoes in World War Two, and later founding the Mosquito Aircrew Association.
Eric was born in Mansfield on the 19th March 1921. The family later moved to Dagenham and aged 14 Eric obtained a post as a messenger boy at Unilever, a firm he worked for until his retirement. Already as a boy and young man he was demonstrating the determination to equip himself for later life.
In 1940 he joined the RAF, obtaining his wings in 1941. He flew a variety of aircraft, completed 78 operations and after the end of the war made over 60 flights as personal pilot of General Thomas GOC 1st Corps, British Army of the Rhine. He left the force in 1946.
In his service he was involved in three outstanding operations. In November 1941 he flew his Blenheim bomber from the UK to Gibraltar. From there he rendezvoused with the Ark Royal 350 miles away. He led 12 Hurricanes from the carrier to Malta. He later found himself in Cairo, and from Egypt he flew an amphibious Catalina to Gibraltar, and then for 17 hours to England. He took part in the two epic raids on the Gestapo prisons at Amiens and Copenhagen. Eric was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Polish Cross of Valour in recognition of his skill and courage as a wartime pilot.
After the Second World War his career took him to Chester, where he stayed until 1971, having joined the Chester Mountaineering Club in 1966. Brian Nichols recalls hill walking trips with Eric to Torridon, Arran, Pembroke and Patterdale, all immaculately organised by Eric the “organisation man”. Eric’s career on the mountains eventually wound down, but not his connections. He was a member of Croydon Mountaineering Club, and a representative on the BMC London & South East Area Committee. He would appear at dinners, always accompanied by Sheila, his wife, with whom he practised his other love, dancing.
In 1991 he founded the Mosquito Aircrew Association for old comrades and crew of the Mosquito. This was very successful until in 2005, with the numbers of veterans very much reduced and falling rapidly, the decision to wind it up was made. If you are ever in London in the vicinity of St. Clements Danes church in the Strand, you can view a memorial plaque to all Mosquito air and ground crews.
Eric’s autobiography, Flying High, Memoirs of a Mosquito Pilot, was published by Atkins Heneghan. It is available in both hardback and paperback, and can also be viewed online at www.blurb.com/books/2492388
The BMC wishes to thank Brian Nichols for providing much of the information in this article.
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St. Clement Danes Church