On Monday 4 February 2019, RAF veteran John Oliver 'Jo' Lancaster celebrated his 100th birthday surrounded by friends, family and his comrades from Bomber Command at Princess Marina House in Rustington.
The RAF Benevolent Fund was proud to host the celebrations of its oldest fundraiser at its respite facility on the South Coast as it is somewhere he visits regularly. The centre 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, Jo and the Bomber Command Air Crew Veterans Group (Sussex), were recognised by the RAF's leading welfare charity at their annual awards for their extensive fundraising support, walking away with the Special Recognition Award.
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."
Jo attended and flew in the first ever Farnborough Air Show in 1948 and has returned several times including last year when he attended the 70th anniversary show. For many years, Jo has dedicated hours to fundraising and advocating on behalf of the RAF Benevolent Fund.
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 air shows.
"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 in aviation spanning half a century. Starting out in 1935 as an engineering apprentice with Armstrong Whitworth, Jo went on to fly 54 operations against the enemy 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 30 May 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 had two birthday cakes, both displaying models of the Lancaster and a miniature ejector seat, a card from The Queen and guests were treated to a buffet lunch, music and a photo presentation documenting Jo's life.