Home News One of last surviving WWII Spitfire pilots dies aged 99

One of last surviving WWII Spitfire pilots dies aged 99

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A Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot who has died aged 99 has been described as a “true gentleman”.

Flying officer Ken Wilkinson was one of the last surviving such airmen who battled the Luftwaffe in 1940 and were dubbed “The Few” by Winston Churchill.

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He once shared a risque joke with Prince William, a helicopter pilot, and told the royal off for “flying choppers instead of proper aeroplanes”.

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.”

In the skies above the UK 77 years ago, Spitfire pilots from East Anglian bases fought the Nazis, who were threatening to invade the country.

Born in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, Mr Wilkinson, who became a chartered surveyor, discovered his passion for flying while watching aircraft tests at Farnborough.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the RAF and flew their famous fighter with 616 and 19 Squadrons, protecting industrial targets in the Midlands.

In an interview for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in 2015, he said: “I didn’t carry any lucky charms, but I did wear a pair of my wife’s knickers around my neck.

“And I was one of the lucky ones. I saw friends fall out of the sky, aircraft go up in flames … terrible things.”

John Nichol, a former RAF navigator shot down and captured in the 1991 Gulf War, tweeted a picture of himself with the veteran pilot.

He wrote: “He was a true gentleman & loved a glass of red. RIP Sir.”

Writer Frank Crosby said he had a “robust” sense of humour and told how the Second World War veteran reacted at an event after a pilot namesake died and people thought it was him.

Mr Crosby said: “People had contacted his family and offered their condolences. He arrived and asked if he could contribute to a whip-round for his own wreath.”

He was described by the wife of a fellow RAF pilot as one of the “the Brylcreem Boys with a twinkle in their eyes”.

Mr Wilkinson, of Solihull, Birmingham, passed away on Monday and is survived by his daughter, Penny, and grandson, Piers.

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