RAFA mourns loss of National Standard Bearer

John Kirkpatrick was awarded the MBE in 2009  for services to RAFA.
John Kirkpatrick was awarded the MBE in 2009 for services to RAFA.

Larne man John Kirkpatrick MBE was a familiar figure in the Royal Air Forces Association in Northern Ireland and for many years the National Standard Bearer at the annual festival of remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.

Born in Brookeborough in Co. Fermanagh, John Herbert Kirkpatrick was the eldest of a family of four, with two younger brothers, Bill and Reggie, and a sister, Wilma.

In 1956 the Kirkpatrick family moved to Larne, where his father worked for a firm contracted to put the roof on the British Thomson Houston (BTH) factory then being built in the town.

John Kirkpatrick started in the first intake of the new Greenland Intermediate Secondary School at Sallagh Park, now Larne High School, and he became the first head boy of the school. After leaving school he worked in Milford and Rodgers shop in Pound Street, Larne, until he was the age to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

However, when it was discovered that he was colour blind he was unable to join the local police, so as an alternative in 1961 he joined the Royal Air Force Police, where he worked as a dog handler for nine years.

When he left the RAF John spent a period working in Ballylumford power station at Islandmagee and with the Rhodesian Iron and Steel Company in what is now Zimbabwe. It was during this period also that his two daughters, Tracey and Tanya, were born. He returned to Northern Ireland and in 1977 started work at Larne Harbour and remained in employment there until his retirement in 2006.

In 1983 he joined the Larne Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association and was its chairman for 34 years. He became the National Standard Bearer for the Association and served in that position for 27 years. Many local people used to watch the National Festival of Remembrance very carefully to catch a glimpse of John bearing the RAFA standard down the steps of the Royal Albert Hall.

In 2009 his outstanding service to the Royal Air Forces Association was marked when he was awarded an MBE from Her Majesty the Queen with the citation ‘for welfare services to the Royal Air Forces Association.’

Paying tribute at his funeral at Larne Gospel Hall, the secretary of the Curran Road assembly, Noel Davidson, highlighted the key role which John and his wife Margaret had played since becoming members of the Gospel Hall in 2000.

Mr. Kirkpatrick had been a tireless worker in the local assembly, helping in the children’s meeting in years past, and being responsible with his wife for the catering at the family service as well as always being on hand to assist with jobs which needed doing in the building.

Referring to a passage in the Bible where Paul gives instruction to Christians relating to their employment, Mr. Davidson quoted: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”

He outlined that this was the manner in which John Kirkpatrick conducted himself. “Whatever did John Herbert Kirkpatrick do? A lot. In his work for RAFA, his family and this church. He was always diligent in attention to matters in relation to RAFA and at this time of year he organised the annual street collection which involved a considerable amount of work.”

“How then did he do these things? Heartily, is the answer to that,” Mr. Davidson said.

“That allows me to flow easily into my final consideration. The motive for doing things, ‘As to the Lord and not to men.’ When informed in early summer that his condition was terminal, the medical staff told him to do all the things he most wanted to do. John’s response with the family later was simply: ‘All I want to do is be able to get out to church on Sunday morning to remember the Lord.’ His predominant wish concerned the Lord. Not himself, not even the family he loved so much – it was the Lord.”

Mr. Kirkpatrick’s funeral was attended by over 300 mourners, a testimony to the high regard in which he was held in the local community. Following the service in Larne Gospel Hall, interment took place in the town cemetery. Donations in lieu of flowers were encouraged to Macmillan Cancer Unit (cheques made payable to NHSCT) c/o Mr Joe Jamieson Funeral Director, 102 Carnlough Road, Broughshane, Ballymena BT43 7HQ.

Mr. Kirkpatrick is survived by his wife Margaret, daughters Tracey and Tanya, and their families.