Trib­utes as one of Churchill’s fi­nal Few is laid to rest

Town stops for Bat­tle of Bri­tain pi­lot’s fu­neral

Solihull News - - NEWS - ANDY RICHARD­SON andy. richard­son@ trin­i­tymir­ror. com

IT was a fit­ting trib­ute to a hero. A lone Spit­fire thrice flew low over a cof­fin draped with the Union Jack.

The gut­tural growl of the fa­mous fighter plane pierced the si­lence as Ken Wilkin­son was laid to rest.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple had gath­ered to pay their re­spects to one of the last re­main­ing Bat­tle Of Bri­tain fighter pi­lots – one of the fi­nal Few.

Mr Wilkin­son, they said, was “a hero who laid his life on the line so we could all be free”.

The for­mer pi­lot from Soli­hull died on July 31 at the grand age of 99. Last Thurs­day roads were closed around St Alphege Church in the town cen­tre as the fu­neral cortege of this rare hero passed through.

Scores of peo­ple lined the streets while hun­dreds more gath­ered in­side.

Those at­tend­ing the ser­vice in­cluded Air Chief Mar­shal Sir Michael Gray­don, rep­re­sent­ing The Prince Of Wales. Other top brass from the RAF and Royal Bri­tish Le­gion were also in at­ten­dance. Mr Wilkin­son’s grand­son Piers Cooper read a mov­ing eu­logy, re­veal­ing that this hum­ble hero had a pas­sion for cricket and red wine.

“He was my hero,” said Piers. “He was a very spe­cial man who was very hum­ble but as a fam­ily we were all so proud of him.

“He used to say ‘ once a fighter pi­lot al­ways a fighter pi­lot.’

“He had a twin­kle in his eye, a taste for red wine and blue jokes to the end.”

In fact, said Mr Cooper, Mr Wilkin­son once shared a risqué joke with the Duke of Cam­bridge – telling him off for “fly­ing chop­pers”.

In 2015 he had met the Duke 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 just such a tale.

RAF Group Cap­tain Pa­trick Tootal added: “Ken was very spe­cial.

“He had tremen­dous skill as a Spit­fire pi­lot and later went on to in­struct other pi­lots dur­ing the war. He was the salt of the earth, a charm­ing man who had time for ev­ery­one no mat­ter how old you were and what back­ground you were from. I will miss our chats so much.”

Mr Wilkin­son had been a for­mer cap­tain of Ol­ton Golf Club, and was a key fig­ure in the Birm­ing­ham and Edg­bas­ton De­bat­ing So­ci­ety and a lead­ing light in the So­ci­ety of Freema­sons.

In a 2015 in­ter­view 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.” Mr Wilkin­son was the son of an air­craft man­u­fac­turer in Bar­row- in- Fur­ness, Cum­bria.

The young Mr Wilkin­son found his love for fly­ing while watch­ing air­craft tests at Farn­bor­ough and at the out­break of war in 1939 was se­lected by the RAF to fly a Spit­fire.

He went on to see ac­tion with 616 and 19 Squadrons, on mis­sions pro­tect­ing in­dus­trial sites in the Mid­lands dur­ing Bri­tain’s dark­est hour.

It was his in­cred­i­ble brav­ery and skill which led Win­ston Churchill to dub him and his fel­low pi­lots dur­ing those fraught months “The Few.”

Af­ter the war he be­came a quan­tity sur­veyor and played a cru­cial role in the de­sign of many build­ings in Birm­ing­ham, in­clud­ing the 1960s New Street Sta­tion re­de­vel­op­ment.

As his fu­neral drew to a close, The Last Post was played and, as the red, white and blue cof­fin was car­ried out, the Bat­tle of Bri­tain Memo­rial Flight Spit­fire soared over­head. The leg­endary fighter flew over the church three times as the crowd broke into spon­ta­neous ap­plause.

Mr Wilkin­son, said friends and fam­ily, would have loved it.

Ken Wilkin­son dur­ing the Bat­tle of Bri­tain in Oc­to­ber 1940 at RAF Fowlmere, in Cam­bridgeshire. Be­low: His fu­neral which was held in Soli­hull last week

Ken Wilkin­son pic­tured in 2015

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