Hero Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot dies aged 99

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
Battle of Britain hero Ken Wilkinson has died aged 99 (Getty)

A hero Battle of Britain pilot who once told a ‘dirty story’ to the Duke of Cambridge has died at the age of 99.

Ken Wilkinson was one of the last surviving Spitfire pilots from the World War Two battle and was among those famously dubbed “The Few” by Winston Churchill.

The chartered surveyor, from Solihull, Birmingham, died on Monday, according to the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust (BBMT).

Ken once told the Duke of Cambridge a dirty joke (Getty)
Ken also gave William a ticking-off for his choice of aircraft (Getty)

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”.

Born in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, the son of an aircraft manufacturer found his love for flying while watching aircraft tests at Farnborough.

At the outbreak of war he was selected for the Royal Air Force and chosen to fly a Spitfire.


12 inmates escape prison after smearing their cell numbers with peanut butter
Gas fitter’s ‘ban the burka’ campaign backfires after armed police surround him when he wears one in Debenhams
Catholic priests asked to leave Cardiff pub after being mistaken for a stag party
The government has ‘wasted the first year of Brexit negotiations’
Mysterious ‘gas bubbles’ blowing up Siberia could pose warming danger to planet

Assigned to 616 and 19 Squadrons in East Anglia, he was among the brave airmen whose role was to protect industrial targets in the Midlands from the Luftwaffe.

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.”

Ken was one of the last surviving spitfire pilots from the Battle of Britain (Getty)

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 chartered surveyor found his love for flying while watching aircraft tests at Farnborough (Getty)
The 99-year-old was among those famously dubbed “The Few” by Winston Churchill (Getty)

Mr Wilkinson told the BBC he had also given the Duke a ticking-off for his choice of aircraft, telling them: “He doesn’t fly proper aeroplanes – he flies choppers.”

Former Royal Air Force navigator John Nichol, who was shot down and captured during the 1991 Gulf War, tweeted: “Very sad to learn that Battle Britain Spitfire pilot Ken Wilkinson has died aged 99. He was a true gentleman & loved a glass of red. RIP Sir.”

In tribute, Mr Nichol also posted a photograph of himself with Mr Wilson, plus images of Mr Wilkinson as a young pilot and also with the Prince of Wales.

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