A DROMORE native and former local headmaster is to feature on a BBC Radio Ulster programme recalling the day he took to the skies to fulfil his childhood dream.
William Ward, now a Lisburn councillor, earned his pilot's wings in 1975, taking his first solo flight on December 22 that year, an experience he will recount on Radio Ulster's 'Days Like This' programme on Saturday 24 October at 7.55am.
Councillor Ward is a former elder of First Dromore Presbyterian Church and taught at Dromore Central Primary School for some three or four years before taking the post of headmaster at Dromara Primary School (where, coincidentally, he was succeeded 13 years later by another First Dromore Presbyterian Church-goer, the present principal, Mr. Stanley Poots).
It was while walking with his mother on the family farm at Aughandunvarran, near Dromore, that nine year-old William Ward listened as his mother spoke of her longing to be 'up in the blue' aboard a distant aeroplane and was first struck by "the desperate urge to fly", so much so that the youngster answered a wartime radio appeal for recruits by writing to the RAF in the hope of persuading them to provide some very early training.
"I reckoned I could kill two birds with the one stone by getting away early from the hated school and enjoying my dream ambition," said Councillor Ward, on whom the irony of his hatred for school, given his later career, is not lost.
He went on, "However, I soon regretted my action; the recruiting officer had given details of my letter to the newspapers who published my article, warts and all, under the title, 'His Day Will Come'.
"The amount of teasing from family and school pals made me regret my action, so much so that I hid under a pile of hay for the good part of the next day to avoid any more taunts."
Young William Ward's ambition grew stronger just the same - never moreso than when his elder brother joined the RAF and came home on leave in his shiny new uniform - until at last, 40 years after his mother spoke of her own longing, he took his first flying lesson at Newtownards.
"My flying instructor was the late Tubby Dash, a wartime ace pilot who could manoeuvre any plane as easily as an eagle in full command of its ethereal domain," said Mr. Ward. "I cannot easily describe my inner joy of floating over those beautiful islands of Strangford Lough, in a sheer blue sky, all the while remembering the longing of my mother 40 years earlier – 'Wouldn't I love to be up there in the blue in that plane' - Sadly, she never did manage that, but how I wish she was now around for her wee son to take her up into the blue."
Eventually, there followed Mr. Ward's first solo assignment, to fly to and land at an international airport – Aldergrove.
"My heart did miss more than one beat when several miles from Aldergrove I looked up to see a massive passenger jet on exactly the same flight path, but obviously heading for a landing some minutes before my tiny Cessna," he said. "All ended well when I heard the words, 'clear to land' over my radio and then feeling 10 feet tall as I walked across the tarmac to make my report.