NEWS
02/08/2017 12:12 BST | Updated 02/08/2017 19:22 BST

Tributes For Battle Of Britain Spitfire Pilot Who Told William A 'Dirty Story'

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 Battle of Britain Memorial Trust (BBMT) said.

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 desperate 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, the son of an aircraft manufacturer.

He found his love for flying while watching aircraft tests at Farnborough.

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

In a 2015 interview for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 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."

In the same year, 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.

He recounted his story about a man called Joe who becomes the captain of his golf club and insists on only being referred to by his new title at a dinner where he receives his honour.

Mr Wilkinson said at the end of the event the man goes home, gets undressed and, as he gets into bed with his wife, announces himself as the "captain", and she replies "You have to be quick, Joe will be home soon".

The BBMT said in a statement that it had learned "with great sadness" of Mr Wilkinson's death, describing him as a "true gentleman who we shall miss dearly".

Its chairman Richard Hunting described the death of a man he had known since 2001 as 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.

The heritage consultant and writer 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 to people 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."

Deborah Burns, whose late husband Flight Lieutenant Owen Burns was also one of The Few, said outgoing Mr Wilkinson loved to talk and always made those around him feel special.

"Ken would have been 20 or 21 when he joined up and when he was fighting," she told the Press Association.

"To think of people that age defending their country up there - they were constantly on call day after day.

"Most of their memories were of sitting in the mess, waiting for the call and then going up, time and time again."

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