20 Aug 2015
Ken Wilkinson, was one of the UK’s last surviving former Spitfire pilots from the Battle of Britain.
During the war he flew with 616 and the 19 Squadron and said his role was to 'keep the German fighters away from Britain’s Hurricane planes.'
After the war Ken trained to be a quantity surveyor and qualified shortly after, becoming FRICS by 1950. He lived in Solihull, Birmingham; his wife Josephine died in 1979 and they had one daughter, Penny, and a grandson, Piers.
In his own words
I live in the same house I bought with my wife, Josephine, in 1951. She was the love of my life, but she died 36 years ago, so I live on my own now. I’ll turn on Classic FM, get ready, then go downstairs and make myself a cup of coffee and scrambled eggs on toast.
Lately, my mind has been on the long summer of 1940 and what became known as the Battle of Britain. During the war, I was a Spitfire pilot and every day we were up at 4am to wait for our flight commander to tell us that German planes were on their way. We would then run like hell to our planes. The Luftwaffe began its campaign to bring Britain to its knees in early July. By mid-August, they’d launched their main assault.
As a kid I’d play cricket whenever I got a chance. I was born in Barrow-in-Furness, but my parents moved to Cheltenham when my father got a job at the Gloster Aircraft Company. That’s when I first became interested in planes. Dad would bring me with him to watch aircraft tests at Farnborough, and by the time I left school I wanted to be a pilot.
When the war broke out, my worry was I’d be called up for the army or navy. Luckily, I got selected for the RAF and was chosen to fly a Spitfire. I was assigned to 616 and 19 Squadrons in East Anglia, where our job was to protect the industrial Midlands and north from the German bombers. 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. I’m not sure younger generations really appreciate how close we came to being a suburb of Berlin. When the war was over, I became a chartered surveyor and settled down to normality.
I still go to RAF dos, especially for the Battle of Britain Fighter Association. The thing is, there aren’t many of us members left. But I’m so glad to see all these events commemorating the battle this summer, including a big gathering of Spitfires and war planes at Goodwood Revival, in West Sussex, from September 11-13.
Recently, I was invited to Buckingham Palace to watch a fly-past of old aircraft with the Queen. I loved dressing up for it and I pinned all my flying medals on. After, we were taken to the RAF Club for a slap-up lunch with Prince Philip and Prince William.
Author: Jeremy Taylor
- Ken with Spitfire: Credit Olton Golf Club
- Young Ken: SWNS.com
- Ken with his medals: The Telegraph
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