Nevil Shute Norway Foundation


Ronnie Clarke

Al Beggs

I'm Ronnie Clarke, the guy Nevil Shute chose to narrate "The Rainbow and the Rose". Now in 2002 I'm nearing my 90th birthday, still reasonably healthy living in Melbourne. I've been asked to tell a bit more about my life than we included in the book we wrote some 44 years ago.

I was born in 1913 in the City of Leicester (named "Leacaster" in the book). My father was a solicitor-and-sometimes-coroner there. When I was only 3 years old, the RAC (Royal Air Corps in those days) converted a pasture in the edge of town to an air training school and began flying lessons for the young men who would fight in France during WW I. Our home was not in line with the prevailing winds, so planes didn't fly over often. I remember when I was 5 years old every time I heard a plane I'd rush outdoors to fascinatedly watch it. That's when my love for aircraft and flying first began, a love that has been constant throughout my life.

By 1919 all activity on the airfield ceased leaving the hangars empty until 3 years later when a few enthusiasts bought an old Jenny and formed a Flying Club. It slowly grew and in 1928 they took on a manager/instructor named Johnny Pascoe, a Canadian who had flown through the War. I was now a gangling boy of 15 and biked daily to the field to just "be around planes and fliers". It wasn't long before the taciturn, all-business Johnny became my idol.

A couple of years later Brenda Marshall, ten or twelve years my senior, took up flying - and I had found my first "true love". All was fine until I spotted Johnny and Brenda kissing behind a plane in the hangar. I was devastated. On the other hand I suddenly realized that both had been inordinately happy recently - and besides, Brenda was much too old for me. I took vicarious pleasure in being the only one who knew they were in love with each other.

Brenda and her mother went to France later that year and were still gone when I turned 18 and took my first flying lesson from Johnny. I soloed and was an "experienced pilot" by the time Brenda returned. She was flying her own plane shortly afterwards and I watched in horror as she stalled it into a spin just 600 feet over he airport. The crash killed her and seemed to about kill Johnny, too. I couldn't convince my father, the coroner, that it was suicide. He was just too stupid about mechanical things and ruled it an accident. It wasn't until much later that I discovered how smart he was to avoid all of the guilt and gossip that would have ensued ! After the inquest Johnny Pascoe took a job with an airline in the far east.

During WW II I was a flying instructor for a time and finally shipped out to Burma as a Spitfire pilot. I was slightly wounded and was shipped home by air. The pilot was Johnny Pascoe and we had a chance to renew our friendship. In hospital I discovered the girl who would become my life's partner, Sheila Thompson. We married in 1945.

Living was tough in Britain after the war, so Sheila and I decided to try Australia. I was tall, just under 6 feet, with reddish-brown hair - pretty good looking, I suppose. I got a job selling autos in Ballarat and got by, but my heart was still in the air. Luckily a pilot/instructor job opened up with the local flying club, and I was back where I belonged. By 1950 I was hired by Australian Continental Airlines as a second officer and promoted to Captain 3 years later 7#45; a position I held until my retirement in 1973.

I did a good bit of flying from Melbourne to Sydney and usually had several hours in the pilot's lounge at Kingsford. There I several times ran into my old friend and instructor, Johnny Pascoe, who was on the Vancouver-Sydney run for Auscan. It was always good to visit with him. He was a down-to-earth, practical chap - except for one instance when he blew his top over some little child desertion story in the paper. When he chose to retire to Tasmania, I carried him as a passenger several times.

I wont repeat the experiences I had after Johnny's crash in wild, western Tasmania except to say that my dreams while over there trying to rescue him were a bit weird. I'm sure Johnny and the big Skymaster arranged for me to have them. I have never had a repeat.

My daughter, Diana, was married in 1970 and Peter in '71. Peter is an engineer in Perth and Diana lives 2 miles from me. Unfortunately Sheila was "called yonder" ten years ago, but I am happy in a retirement apartment and see Diana's youngsters often. Australian Continental hauls me to Perth pretty regularly for visits with Peter's pair. Mine has been a long and happy life. Johnny wasn't quite so lucky.