Kenneth Astill Wilkinson was born on 29th June 1918 at Barrow-in-Furness, joining the RAFVR in March 1939.
Ken completed flying training on 31st August 1940 and arrived a few days later at 7 OTU Hawarden on 2nd September to fly Spitfires.
Sergeant Wilkinson joined 616 Squadron based at Kirton-in-Lindsey on 1st October 1940 – allowing the squadron more valuable practise on Spitfires. He was then posted to 19 Squadron at Fowlmere, in the Duxford Sector of 12 Group on the 17th October. 19 Squadron famous for being the first Squadron to be equipped with the now legendary Spitfire in 1938, and also one of Douglas Bader’s early squadrons.
Following the Battle of Britain Ken was posted to 56 OTU Sutton Bridge on 27th January 1941 as an instructor. On 23rd October he joined 1488 Flight at Shoreham. He was sent on a course to COS Sutton Bridge on 10th May 1942, to become a pilot gunnery instructor, after which he was posted to 11 Group Practice Camp at Martlesham Heath.
Ken went to 61 OTU Rednal on 23rd February 1943 for a refresher course on Spitfires before joining 234 Squadron on 23rd April at Skeabrae. He moved to 165 Squadron at Ibsley on 8th July and was posted away to 53 OTU Hibaldstow on 27th December 1943, was commissioned in February 1944, and remained there until 7th June.
A few other postings followed before Ken was eventually released from the RAF in November 1945 as a Flying Officer. He completed around 500 operational hours on Spitfires, around 1,300 total hours flying time and always revered the Mk. XIV as the greatest.
Ken became a Surveyor after the services and also played golf with Douglas Bader, George Unwin and other fellow former RAF colleagues. He became a regular, proud attendee of Battle of Britain reunions and events. In his later years he was very much a regular on TV interviews and media coverage of the Battle of Britain.
I first met Ken at a signing event in Wendover in early 2016, and when I asked for a picture with him, he joked ‘You know lad, having me in this will ruin your photo!’ to which I replied ‘Sir, you are making my photo, thank you’. Little things you always remember.
I last met Ken when I accompanied Tom Neil as his honoured guest to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flights 60th Anniversary Celebrations at RAF Coningsby on 11th July 2017. Ken was then a very frail figure and had sadly lost his eyesight – despite which he made the incredible effort to attend and had a touching reunion with HRH Prince William. The BBMF had also marked up their Battle of Britain veteran Spitfire P7350 with Kens 19 Squadron Markings on its Starboard side in tribute – QV-E.
Ken very sadly died merely a couple of weeks after this event on 31st July 2017 aged 99. Very grateful I got to see and shake Ken’s his hand one final time – may he rest in peace.