Personal belongings of a hero RAF pilot who flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain including his flying jacket, RAF logbook, canvas bag and boots are being sold at auction for £8,000.
Flying Officer Ken Wilkinson, who died aged 99 in 2017, was one of the last surviving Battle of Britain pilots who are known as The Few and were immortalised by Winston Churchill’s famous ‘never was so much owed by so many to so few’ speech.
Mr Wilkinson once jokingly told off Prince William at an event at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire in 2015 for ‘flying choppers instead of proper aeroplanes’.
His daughter, Penny Cooper, has now decided to sell some of his wartime mementoes because she feels she is unable to keep them in good condition.
Flying Officer Ken Wilkinson was one of the last surviving Battle of Britain pilots who were immortalised by Winston Churchill’s famous ‘never was so much owed by so many to so few’ speech’. Mr Wilkinson is pictured in front of a Spitfire in 2010 at the 70th celebrations of the Battle of Britain at Northolt Air Base
The items, which also include his papers and photos, will be sold at Dominic Winter auctioneers, of Cirencester, Gloucestershire for £8,000.
Mrs Cooper, 74, of Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, said she was selling the items ‘with a heavy heart’ and had sought her father’s permission to do so before he died.
She said: “We didn’t want to sell his items but I live in a very small house and my son doesn’t live in a big house and the truth is we can’t do them justice.
“The items, for example his flying jacket, are 80 years old and they need to be looked after properly and we don’t have the facilities to do that. They will deteriorate otherwise.
“So, with a heavy heart, we are selling them. We spoke to my father about this before his death and he gave us his permission.
“Every time he went up, it must have been so frightening. These men were heroes who knew they were our last hope against Hitler. Without their bravery, Britain would have been lost.
“My father was very reluctant to talk about the war, he would only really do so with other Battle of Britain veterans as only they would have truly understood what they went through.
“My father once showed me a photo of four smiling pilots holding their beers outside a pub and told me they were all killed in the space of 24 hours. You just can’t comprehend it.”
Mr Wilkinson was born in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, in 1918 and educated at Cheltenham Grammar School before joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve in March 1939.
Spitfire pilot Ken Wilkinson’s jacket, boots, canvas bag and a mahogany propeller blade are some of the items going under the hammer
Mr Wilkinson once jokingly told off Prince William at an event at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire in 2015 for ‘flying choppers instead of proper aeroplanes’
He was called up for service at the outbreak of WWII and completed his flying training in August 1940.
He initially joined 616 Squadron before moving to 19 Squadron that October who were based at RAF Duxford, Cambs.
He flew Spitfires for the unit which was part of legendary Group Captain Douglas Bader’s ‘Big Wing’.
The Spitfires engaged the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter escorts so Bader’s Hurricanes could attack the German bombers heading for industrial targets in the Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Recounting later his Battle of Britain experience, he said: “The first time you see that gaggle of German bombers coming towards you, you think how on earth are we going to deal with them? There are so bloody many, an awful lot.
“At Duxford we were often scrambling at noon, climbing up over the Thames Estuary with the midday sun in our faces – that made us vulnerable so the Germans often engaged us as we were still climbing and couldn’t spot them.
“I was ‘tail end Charlie’, weaving left and right at the back of the squadron, scanning the sky above and to the rear for 109s attempting an ambush.
“In that position you’d be the first to get the chop so you keep your eyes open, within a matter of seconds you split up and you’re not looking around for a beautiful sunset, you are concentrating as hard as you can on the business of either being on the tail of a German or getting away from a German who’s on your tail.”
Later in the war he served as a pilot gunnery instructor before once again flying Spitfires in 165 Squadron.
He left the RAF in November 1945, although he once again served in the RAFVR from 1947.
He worked as a quantity surveyor on projects including the Birmingham New Street Railway Station and also caused headlines in 2015 when he cheekily told Prince William off for ‘flying choppers’.
During the encounter at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, he also told a ‘dirty story’ at the Prince’s request after stating he had been banned from doing so.
One of the marquee lots in the collection is Fly Off Wilkinson’s brown leather Irvin flying jacket with a sheep fleece.
Also being sold are his 1936 black leather flying boots, Air Ministry canvas bag and two logbooks, which reveal he flew over 1,200 hours.
Mr Wilkinson, of 19 Squadron, flew in Spitfires which duelled in the skies with the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. He is pictured sitting on a Spitfire in 1940
Mr Wilkinson, who once jokingly told off Prince William for ‘flying choppers instead of proper aeroplanes’, died aged 99 in 2017. One of his photos which is going under the hammer is pictured
The items, which also include his papers and photos, will go under the hammer at auctioneers Dominic Winter, of Cirencester, Gloucetershire for £8,000. One of Mr Wilkinson’s photos is pictured
Mr Wilkinson was born in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, in 1918 and educated at Cheltenham Grammar School before joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve in March 1939. Papers and magazines belonging to him are being put up for auction
The first dates from March 3, 1939 to January 29, 1943, and the second covers February 25, 1943 to his final entry, November 6, 1945, which is signed off ‘end of service’.
There is a dried rose in one of the logbooks and the collection also boasts personal photos and papers.
Henry Meadows, specialist at Dominic Winter, said: “The sale includes photos relating to his service, paperwork, his logbooks taking you all the way through the Battle of Britain, his flying jacket, flying boots and kit bag – all sorts.
“He was a hero, one of the last surviving members of what were dubbed by Churchill as The Few.
“It is an important sale and we expect a lot of interest from collectors, particularly in flying jacket and logbooks.”
In the summer of 1940, 2,937 aircrew took part in the Battle of Britain, of which 544 were killed.
Churchill summed up the contribution of RAF Fighter Command to the war effort with the words ‘never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’.
The sale takes place on May 16.