Thomas Dobney applied to join the RAF in 1941, aged just 14, after a dare from a school friend. He flew a Tiger Moth of No 2 Elementary Flying School near Gloucester six days after his 15th birthday. He went solo after 12 flying hours.
After being sent to Canada to complete flying training, he gained his pilot’s wings whist still only 15 years old. He returned to Britain and was posted as a sergeant pilot to a squadron flying twin-engined Whitley bombers.
After completing at least 20 missions over Germany, his secret was discovered when his father, who was estranged from his mother and out of touch with Tom, identified his son among a group of airmen talking to King George VI on a visit to bomber bases in East Anglia. Mr Dobney then rang the Air Ministry to ask why his 15 year-old son was in an RAF uniform shaking hands with the King.
Tom was discharged from the RAF with a letter which explained “The reasons are solely that you are below the minimum age.” But it promised that he would be entitled to wear his pilot’s wings if he ever rejoined at a later date.
The youngster then went to work in a Coventry aero engine factory but, as soon as he turned 16, he joined in quick succession the Fleet Air Arm and the Air Transport Auxiliary. In 1943 he was at last allowed to join the RAF legally