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Mark Collier

Mark Collier Sometime in 1978, I was talking with ‘Pinkie’ Stark over a cup of tea and I clearly remember agreeing with him, “that to see a Hawker Typhoon flying would be a wonderful sight and sound”.  As an aerospace engineer in training, and with ‘Pinkie’ being the Airport Manager at Rochester, Kent, we would visit him in his office to hear his wartime exploits. He was fascinating and as a young man, he left a deep impression on me. Squadron Leader Lawrence ‘Pinkie’ Stark was one of the most successful Typhoon fighter pilots of the Second World War. He joined No 609 (West Riding) Squadron in 1942 and eventually became the commanding officer in March 1945. He undertook 255 sorties in Typhoon’s alone. He retired from the Royal Air Force in 1963 and died at the age of 84 on 1st August 2004.

pinkie stark
I was raised on the former site of Gravesend Airport which was a Battle of Britain Airfield and where Typhoons operated later in the war. My family had many stories to tell, consequently, I was totally immersed in the history of local aviation and was involved in the warbird scene in the 70s and 80s.

38 years later in November 2016 and while I was reading warbirdnews.com, a headline appears, “Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group Launches Preservation Project”. I could not believe it and could not contain my excitement. My first thought was of my time with “Pinkie”. I made so much noise my wife ran into the room wondering what was happening, WOW…. I did not sleep very well that night, I was just too excited. The day after I had some exchanges with Sam Worthington-Leese to get details of the trustees and to establish the credibility and professionalism of the project. I bought life membership number 14 without any hesitation.

I work and live near Toulouse in the South of France. “How can you help and participate from 800 miles away?” said Cattie (my wife) inquisitively. Hmmm… It got me thinking!I started to research on the web and bought a copy of ‘Pinkie’s’ logbook which is an annotated version of his four logbooks with various anecdotes and illustrations. It identified that ‘Pinkie’ had been shot down in July 1944. He was returned to the UK via the French resistance and was not able to return to operations in case he was shot down again, interrogated and potentially revealed the resistance network. He was posted to Gloster’s Hucclecote Factory in August 1944 on test flying duties where the Typhoons were assembled. ‘Pinkie’s’ logbook for his time at Hucclecote just shows the number of flights and hours as it really concentrates on his operational duties. As RB396 went into service in January 1945, I realised that ‘Pinkie’ may well have made the first flight and needed to prove it. After a few more months work with the help of Mark Crame and Chris Thomas we had the evidence. ‘Pinkie’ undertook the first flight of RB on the 16th November 1944.

In following ‘Pinkie’s’ trail, Mark Crame gave me the salvaged parts of a 56 Sqn Typhoon dig from the 1980s. It is mostly engine parts and they are now at our base at Uckfield, East Sussex. I visited the pilot’s grave at Coltishall and laid flowers. He was from Australia, a young lad far from home who crashed while on a training flight. I experienced my first wave of sentimental emotion on RB and there was more to come!

This success from a historical research perspective, and holding real Typhoon parts, really gave me the RB bug. This was the real start of my continued research about the physical aircraft and the people involved both military and civilian. Most weeks lead to conversations and occasionally some trips around Europe.

Most of my working career has been within the aerospace industry, which has enabled me to build a good network of contacts. My work colleagues are naturally interested and this has led to several activities occurring that should hopefully bring results for RB in the future. Dave Robinson will ask me a question about a location or a contact and, quite frequently, we can evolve this lead into something more tangible.

The research process is fascinating and reveals many new things to the team, a lot of which you can do from the comfort of your home. For example, did you know De Typhoon was one of the news sheets for the Dutch Resistance throughout the war? They were searching for a new name when Typhoons attacked. Knowing the fear it brought, they had the name! The previous name was considered too provocative…

de typhoonThere is a lot to discover and the digitization of archives reveals more information each year. This will all contribute to the final home of RB in due course. I volunteered to participate in the Flying Legends and Farnborough air shows in 2018. These events have been well documented by Sam and Tim in previous accounts. Yes, it is hard work, but what a unique experience. The key objective is to make money for the project preservation, selling new memberships, clothing and explaining the project to the public.

It is the elation and emotions of the veterans, of former pilots, ground crew and the civilians of Napier, Hawker, Gloster’s and others, and their families, that you are not prepared for when you meet them. Some people are in tears. Some take moments to compose themselves in order to tell you their story. The Dutch, Czechs, French, Belgians, Germans and beyond are fascinated and each give you their unique insight. You get to realise there is an aircraft story and a people story and this project is the first time where there is a focal point for many individuals to tell their account.

Most Typhoon pilots had such a dirty war they returned home never to speak about it. Their families were not aware of what they did in any detail. RB396 is now revealing their stories in so many ways.I will participate in some of the air shows this year and at various team events. The analysis and research continues, which takes me to some interesting places.  This is really a once in a lifetime experience. I absolutely recommend getting involved in any capacity. You will get a lot of satisfaction, have a lot of fun, will be constantly amazed and can tell fascinating stories to your families and beyond.
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Mark Collier February 2019

If you want to join our Team, the first step is to join the Supporters’ Club.  Our membership packages for 2019 are described here and are available through by clicking the Join Now button below.
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