Fighting for King and Country
Shelton Flamer- Caldera

One of Ceylon’s first Fighter Pilots in Britain’s Royal Air Force during WWII

Nestled in the archives of the Flamer-Caldera’s family history lies the story of a man whose life embodied the kind of service and bravery equivalent to that of a mighty hero. His name was Shelton Flamer-Caldera.

Although one of the first Ceylonese to join the Royal Air Force as a Spitfire pilot, Shelton and his service remained out of the spotlight and in the shadows, on its way to being overlooked, had it not been for the curiosity of his grand nephew Adam Flamer-Caldera. Aged 12 and captivated by the family stories, Adam wrote to the War Records office in the UK to seek further information on his great uncle Shelton’s record as a serviceman.

What came back was a story for Ceylon’s history books. The year was 1939 and the United Kingdom had just declared war on Nazi Germany after the German invasion of Poland. On September 3, 1939 the news shot through electric telegraphy signals from London to Ceylon, automatically fastening the small island to the British Empire’s declaration of war.

Against this backdrop, several young Ceylonese, overcome by a combination of bravado, civic duty and adventure had decided to join the Allied Forces. Sharing their intrepid spirit, a young Shelton Flamer-Caldera volunteered to be a Royal Air Force pilot. In doing so he was chosen for 1 of the 15 coveted spots – beating out 15,000 other applicants and joining the elite group for training at the Cranwell Flying School in the United Kingdom.

The second son of Dr J B Flamer-Caldera and Lena Barber, Shelton was intelligent and sharp minded, with a thirst for adventure running through his veins. His time as a student at S. Thomas’ College in Mt. Lavinia could attest to this persona of his, where he infamously skipped school one day to go to the airfield and fly a plane instead. His intention to “buzz” the S. Thomas’ cricket pitch as a joke resulted in him crashing into the sea just outside of the school.

Shelton’s bold temperament was synonymous with that of the British “Fighter Jockeys”, who stood apart from bomber pilots. And as such Shelton soon found himself selected as one of four pilots from the elite 15 for fighter training. As part of their training the trainee pilots also flew Tiger Moth biplanes at Cranwell, later graduating to fly the Master I, which qualified them to fly fighters in combat.

A young man in his thirties, Shelton was in the prime of his life. As a Spitfire pilot he carried out dozens of sorties protecting the Lancaster bombers over Germany and eventually came good in the Battle of Britain, earning himself the Flying Cross.

During his time in England, Shelton attended several community meetings with the Rotary Club where he spoke of life in Ceylon. Letters exchanged between the Rotary club of England and Ceylon reveal that Shelton was well received and that they appreciated his contribution to the war effort.

After the United Kingdom emerged victorious from the Battle of Britain, the Ceylonese fighter pilots were sent to operational squadrons. Shelton returned to Sri Lanka and was stationed in Sigiriya with a Spitfire squadron. However, just a year later, tragedy struck when Shelton was practicing aerobatics in preparation for an RAF display. His Hurricane went into a spin while flying over Minneriya and crashed, killing Shelton instantly. Soon after his death the Flamer-Caldera family received a letter signed by King George VI expressing his condolences to the family.

There is much to be said about Shelton Flamer-Caldera. His high-energy and lionhearted spirit spurred him in his pursuit of service and adventure. There was no stopping Shelton Flamer-Caldera, not even the reality of taking up arms to defend a nation ever averse to returning such a favor. While the pilot’s dark complexion and citizen- of-a-colony status often called for him, along with his fellow Sri Lankans to be the subject of British racism and prejudice, Shelton never waivered in his choice to risk his life for the British Empire. A valiant hero, who served the allied forces with pride, Shelton Flamer-Caldera, loving son and sibling, was finally laid to rest in the War Graves section in Kanatte.

Text Amira Rajasingham