Belfast Telegraph

One of last Battle of Britain Spitfire pilots dies at age 99

By David Wilcock

Tributes have been paid to one of the last remaining Battle of Britain Spitfire pilots after he died aged 99.

Ken Wilkinson, who was among those famously dubbed "The Few" by Winston Churchill, passed away on Monday.

The charismatic former Flying Officer once shared a risque joke with the Duke of Cambridge - also telling him off for "flying choppers" - and was described by the wife of a fellow RAF pilot as one of the "the Brylcreem Boys with a twinkle in their eyes".

The head of the RAF led tributes to the former fighter pilot, who battled the Luftwaffe from bases in East Anglia in the dark days of 1940 when the Nazis threatened to invade the UK.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, the chief of the air staff, said: "Ken, as one of The Few, represented an extraordinary generation to whom we owe a great debt that should never be forgotten, our freedom being won by their sacrifices."

The chartered surveyor, from Solihull, Birmingham, was born in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. He found his love for flying while watching aircraft tests at Farnborough. At the outbreak of war he joined the RAF and flew its famous fighter with 616 and 19 Squadrons, protecting industrial targets in the Midlands.

He met the Duke of Cambridge during celebrations for the centenary of 29 (Reserve) Squadron at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

Mr Wilkinson said he was "under instruction not to tell dirty stories", prompting William to request a tale.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust said it had learned "with great sadness" of Mr Wilkinson's death, describing him as a "true gentleman".

Its chairman Richard Hunting said the death of a man he had known since 2001 was a "sad moment because he was a symbol of what was done" to protect Britain.

Former RAF navigator John Nichol, who was shot down and captured during the 1991 Gulf War, tweeted a picture of himself with the veteran pilot, writing: "He was a true gentleman & loved a glass of red. RIP Sir."

Frank Crosby, who knew Mr Wilkinson through working at the aviation-themed Imperial War Museum Duxford in Cambridgeshire, said he would remember the ex-pilot's "robust" sense of humour.

He told how the Battle of Britain veteran reacted at an event after a pilot namesake died and people thought it was him.

"People had contacted his family and offered their condolences," Mr Crosby said.

"He arrived and asked if he could contribute to a whip-round for his own wreath."

Mr Crosby said the pensioner was always happy to talk about his experiences during the war, adding: "Their way of surviving was hardening themselves to what happened around them.

"But he was very aware of the men who died around him in the sky. He would talk about them and he wouldn't get sentimental about them, but he never forgot."

Mr Wilkinson is survived by his daughter Penny and grandson Piers.

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