FOR more than 70 years Dumbo the elephant had accompanied Ronald Clarkson.
It may have seemed to be a children’s toy, but it was much more – a symbol of the aerial fight against Nazi Germany in World War II.
It was signed by the crew of Mr Clarkson’s Halifax bomber, Friday the 13th, and bears the destinations and dates of 36 sorties. So having joined Mr Clarkson on his return from Europe, move to Wodonga and retirement to Albury, it was no surprise it featured at his funeral.
As mourners bore witness to the RSL farewell at Albury’s Hossack funeral home, Dumbo adorned a table – testament to Mr Clarkson’s brave deeds which could easily have seen him shot down.
Mr Clarkson died on November 9, six months after his 98th birthday. The great grandfather had been using his computer until a fortnight before his death from old age.
Mr Clarkson was born in South Australia and left school at the age of 13 during the Depression to help his family.
After initially enlisting in the army in World War II, Mr Clarkson joined the Australian air force and became part of the Royal Air Force in England.
The success of Friday the 13th, which flew 128 sorties, the most of all Halifax bombers, resulted in it receiving the Victoria Cross.
"I think the good fella upstairs put in a word for us," Mr Clarkson said in 2015 of his survival.
His fortune was clear in a diary entry from 1944: "This is one of the worst trips I have been on. I saw 12 bombers go down in flames in as many minutes – it was hell.”
The gunner was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in the wake of the war and then 70 years later was recognised by the French government with a Legion of Honour.
After the war, Mr Clarkson moved to Wodonga and became a barber at the Bandiana army base.
He married Berenice in 1943 and his first son Terry was born in Melbourne while he was on war service. The Clarksons had another son, Leigh, in 1946.
It was only in the 1970s that Mr Clarkson started marching in Anzac Day parades and as grandchildren showed interest he opened up about his war experience.
Mr Clarkson is survived by his sons, daughters-in-law Sue and Marilyn, six grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
He was buried in Wodonga cemetery next to his wife of 68 years, who died in 2011.
As for Dumbo the family are looking to donate him to the Yorkshire museum which houses Friday the 13th.