RAF charity hosts 100th birthday party for its oldest fundraiser, a Bomber Command pilot who made aviation history

A man who made aviation history has celebrated his 100th birthday surrounded by friends, family and his comrades from Bomber Command.

John Oliver ‘Jo’ Lancaster was the first pilot to eject from an aircraft in an emergency situation using a Martin-Baker ejection seat.

Since that day, May 30, 1949, Martin-Baker ejection seats have saved more than 7,420 aircrew lives worldwide.

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The RAF veteran, who lives in Hassocks, is a regular at Princess Marina House in Rustington and it was there he held his birthday party on Monday.

John Oliver 'Jo' Lancaster admires his Lancaster bomber cake

Jo said: “It’s been wonderful, I’ve had a very good day indeed. I’ve been overwhelmed by all of the people who have joined me here today, old faces who I haven’t seen for years. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable day.

“Us Bomber boys have been coming to Princess Marina House for about eight years now and the staff here look after us so well. They’ve been fantastic in pulling this party together for me and I am really grateful to each and every one of them.

“My nephew even surprised me and travelled from Spain. Thank you to the staff at Princess Marina House and to everyone who has joined me today.”

For many years, Jo has dedicated hours to fundraising and advocating on behalf of the RAF Benevolent Fund, which owns the respite centre.

Flt Lt Jo John Oliver 'Jo' Lancaster, centre seated, with Roy Smith, left seated, back row, Flt Lt Harry Hacker, Wg Cdr John Bell, Flt Lt George Dunn and Flt Lt Hal Gardner

The charity was proud to host the celebrations of its oldest fundraiser, as Princess Marina House is somewhere he visits regularly.

Heather Kemp, regional fundraiser at the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “From the first moment I met Jo, he has been such an incredible inspiration to me and everyone at the RAF Benevolent Fund. He has have given so much of his time and energy, not only to fundraising on behalf of the Bomber Command Memorial but to signing books day in day out in all sort of weather with me at airshows.

“We cannot thank Jo enough for everything he has done for us. We’re delighted that he is celebrating amongst fellow Bomber Command veterans at Princess Marina House, and are honoured to be a part of this truly special occasion.”

Jo had a remarkable career, spanning half a century. Starting out in 1935 as an engineering apprentice with Armstrong Whitworth, Jo went on to fly 54 operations during the Second World War.

He also took part in the Thousand Bomber Raids in 1942 while an instructor at an operational training unit. Post-war, Jo took up numerous appointments as a test pilot and on May 30, 1949, while flying the A.W.52 Flying Wing, he became the first pilot to use a Martin-Baker ejection seat in an emergency.

Jo flew in the first Farnborough Airshow in 1948 and has returned several times, including last year, when he attended the 70th anniversary show.

Jo had two birthday cakes, both displaying models of the Lancaster and a miniature ejector seat, and was delighted to receive a card from the Queen.

Guests were treated to a buffet lunch, music and a photo presentation documenting Jo’s life.

Princess Marina House offers Jo and his comrades, affectionately known as the Bomber Boys, the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones.

In 2017, members of the Bomber Command Air Crew Veterans Group (Sussex) was recognised by the RAF’s leading welfare charity at its annual awards for their extensive fundraising support, walking away with the Special Recognition Award.