A SOUTH Cerney RAF veteran celebrated a huge milestone over the weekend.

Squadron leader Eric Downs MBE celebrated his 102nd birthday at an intimate gathering at his home in South Cerney surrounded close family on Sunday, September 24.

Two years ago, his neighbours organised a Spitfire flypast from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight for his 100th birthday which was covered by BBC Points West.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Eric Downs on his 102nd birthday at his house in South CerneyEric Downs on his 102nd birthday at his house in South Cerney (Image: Camilla Foster)

Since then, Mr Downs has spent his days reading the Telegraph, watching sport on the television and spending time with his family at his home in South Cerney which he initially bought as a plot of land at a pub auction for £12,025.

On Sunday Mr Downs reflected on his exciting career and shared some secrets with the Standard behind his good health.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard:

Mr Downs was born in Bermondsey and grew up in Lewisham as one of 11 children during the Blitz.

He joined the Royal Air Force at 18-years-old and was sent to the US for pilot training, hoping to join the frontline in the air on his return.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Eric Downs at 18-years-old Eric Downs at 18-years-old (Image: Camilla Foster)

Mr Downs said: "Being a pilot was a very exciting life for a young man, it allowed me to travel the world.

"In my career I flew 24 different planes - including Lancasters and Dakotas - to 182 different air fields across the world.

"A poem called High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr distils what it feels like to fly a plane."

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: High Flight poem by John Gillespie Magee JrHigh Flight poem by John Gillespie Magee Jr (Image: Camilla Foster)

Mr Downs was supposed to join the Bomber Command to fly a new aircraft called the Mosquito but because a production delay he became a flying instructor instead.

His daughter Anita Rich, who lives with Mr Downs, said: "His main regret is that he never got a shot at the enemy.

"He feels like he never did his bit but he did as he trained so many pilots that went on to fight on the front lines and died for their country."

During his varied career, he piloted Dakotas to evacuate people from Shanghai as Chairman Mao came to power.

In his early 40s he set up the Primary Flying Squadron training pilots on Chipmunks at RAF South Cerney and also had a brief stint as an air accident investigator. 

Mr Downs said: "During my time as an instructor I could tell if someone who going to be a good pilot or not within ten hours of meeting them.

"Flying requires coordination and a good level of education and fitness."


The former World War Two flying instructor's retirement consisted of what Anita calls 'the three Gs' - gardening, golf and grandchildren.

He used to go to Cirencester Golf Club three times a week and had a handicap of five.

Mr Downs even won the senior cup when he was 88, beating players in their 50s.

Anita said his unwavering love for sport is one of the primary reasons behind his good health. 

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Eric Downs playing hockey Eric Downs playing hockey (Image: Eric Downs)

Mr Downs said: "I have played sport all my life.

"Over the years I have played hockey, football, squash, cricket and I partially excelled in all those games."

Anita said: "Sport is probably the reason he is still here today, he has stayed active all his life."