Today We Remember: William Robinson Clark
William Robinson Clark was born on 4th October 1895 in Kingston, Jamaica. Naturally gifted when it came to vehicles, William was one of the first people in Jamaica to learn to drive, so it was no surprise that he would go on to become the first black pilot to fly for Britain.
When war broke out in 1914, William was 19 and paid for his own passage to England so he could volunteer. The British Armed Forces had a colour bar in place and very few people of colour were accepted. However, as the casualties rose, the need for men overrode the institutional racism and the colour bar was relaxed.
He joined the Royal Flying Corps on 26th July 1915, putting his mechanical skills to good use as an air mechanic and then as a driver for an observational balloon company.
He was accepted for pilot training in December 1916, gaining his wings on 26th April 1917. He received the Royal Aero Club (RAeC) Aviators’ Certificate number 4837.
William was promoted to Sergeant posted to Abeele in Belgium at the end of May 1917, where he flew R.E.8 biplanes. The RAF Museum has a full size replica of the R.E.8, ‘A3930’ that William would have flown, as well as his RAeC photograph.
William flew over the Western Front for nearly two months, but it was common for a pilot’s operational service to be brief. On 28th July 1917, he set out with his observer Second Lieutenant F.P. Blencowe on a photographic mission and was shot at by German scouts over Ypres. William was seriously wounded and when he lost consciousness, Blencowe had to bring the plane back to British lines, but crashed upon landing.
William survived his wounds, but didn’t return to the Front. He served the rest of the war as a mechanic in England before he was honourably discharged in 1919, with a then substantial pay out of £60 and a Silver War Badge.
After the war, fully recovered, William returned to Jamaica where he became life president of the Jamaican branch of the Royal Air Forces Association. He died in 1981 in his hometown of Kingston.
The RAF Museum in has a full size replica of the R.E.8, ‘A3930’ that William would have flown, as well as his RAeC photograph.