Kofi Annan, George H.W Bush and earlier in the year, his wife Barbara together with Senator John McCain, Professor Stephen Hawking, Denis Norden, Ray Galton, June Whitfield, VS Naipaul, Anne Olivier Bell, John Julius Norwich, Aretha Franklin, Ken Dodd, Roger Bannister, Peter Carrington, Tessa Jowell, Paddy Ashdown, Jeremy Hayward and the astro-physicist Stephen Hawking are just some of the list of politicians, authors, top civil servants, scriptwriters, entertainers, sportsmen and others who took their leave of us during 2018.
Of the above, I had personally known only Lord Carrington and then only for a couple of years during his later life. However, one day in the future perhaps, there may be a story to tell of my encounter on live radio interview when I battled to win an argument with the late Senator John McCain!
Mr real purpose today however is to recall lives of former members of the Armed Forces who took their leave of us during 2018. My apologies to the families of the great many former service men and women whose deaths were recorded in 2018 that I am unable to mention here.
It is particularly sad that in the year that marked the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force we bade farewell in 2018 to no fewer than three former RAF Chiefs – Marshall’s of the Royal Air Force, Sir Peter Squire, Sir Michael Beetham and Sir Keith Williamson.
Others who left a huge mark gratitude from those with whom they served and who died in 2018 included Surgeon Captain Rick Jolly, a naval surgeon who through outstanding personal bravery saved the lives of a great many British and Argentinian combatants during the Falklands War and who was subsequently to be decorated by both Britain and Argentina.
Another extremely interesting individual who died in July at the age of 101 was pilot First Officer, Mary Ellis, a Spitfire delivery pilot whose feats delivering new aircraft to RAF squadrons during WW2 and whose humbled stories of treatment on arrival by supposed equals who all but failed to accept that she could possibly have been the pilot that had actually delivered an aircraft to the base, caused equal amounts of amusement and shock, particularly in this day and age when recalled to television audiences.
Sadly, we said goodbye to more of the now dwindling number of ‘the few’ including Wing Commander Tom (Ginger) Neil, Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum and Flight Lieutenant Ronald Mackay. If I am correct, of an original list of some 3,000 Battle of Britain pilots and referred to as ‘the few’ only seven known individuals survive.
Last, but by no means least of the dwindling list of Battle of Britain Spitfire pilots to mention and who died last year, in this case at the age of 99 in June, is that of Flying Officer Kenneth Astill Wilkinson AE. His funeral, held at an overflowing St Alphege’s Church in Solihull, was typical of how these much revered men are remembered by those of us who understand all that they did so that we may be free.
Whilst I recall seeing Ken at the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain commemoration event held at RAF Northolt three years ago, I never actually met him. However, it was easy to see that Flying Officer Wilkinson was a truly lovely man, one with a twinkle in his eye, an apparent taste for red wine I am told, one who was very humbled by the attention that he received and also, one that I am reliably informed was performing ‘blue’ jokes right up to the end,
His funeral, at a church that I personally knew very well in my formative years, was attended by former Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen and by Air Commodore Jeremy [Jez] Attridge on behalf of the Chief of the Air Staff CAS,
As an example, Wilkinson’s fine career in the Royal Air Force makes interesting if fairly typical reading:
With his flying training completed on 31st August 1940, Wilkinson arrived at 7 OTU Hawarden on 2nd September. After converting to Spitfires he joined 616 Squadron at Kirton-in-Lindsey on 1st October and then went to 19 Squadron at Fowlmere on the 17th. Wilkinson was then posted away 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.
He then 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 before being posted away to 53 OTU Hibaldstow on 27th December 1943, was commissioned in February 1944, and remained there until 7th June.
He moved on to 24 OTU Honeybourne (a few miles south-west of Stratford upon Avon) on 28th August and then moved on to 10 OTU Abingdon on the 27th May 1945.
Wilkinson was released from the RAF in November 1945 as a Flying Officer although he served in the RAFVR from 1947. Becoming a Quantity Surveyor after the war, one of Wilkinson’s major projects would be the development of Birmingham New Street Station in 1964.
In respect of other former Royal Air Force personnel who died in 2018 may I also record my personal sadness on the death, following a short illness, in April of Group Captain David John Salusbury, ex Royal Air Force Regiment. I had known David very well for many years and in retirement he had long become a devoted reader of this column and making some very interesting comments in return which I much respected. Carrying on the fine tradition, both his sons – Julian and Austen are also in the military.
Finally, may I record with particular sadness the death in November this year following a short but difficult illness at the age of just 47 of Wing Commander Philip Lamb.
As others on my list particularly those who are members of the Air Power Association and Aviation Focus Group also had, I had known Philip personally for many years, originally during his time at NATO Brussels but subsequently, in various posts he held including as Station Commander RAF St Mawgan. Philip was still a serving officer at the time of his death and had latterly been the Defence Attaché in Sweden. Our thoughts are with his wife Lorna, a GP, and his two children.
Another retired Royal Navy Officer to take his leave in 2018 was that of Lieutenant Commander Brian Dutton who was twice honoured for bravery and expertise in mine clearance and perhaps best known for his work in the Falklands War when an Argentinian bomb became lodged in HMS Argonaut’s Seacat magazine during an attack on May 21st 1982. In April the death was also announced of Commander Ken Frewer who, in 1967, was appointed the first commanding officer of HMS Resolution, one of the Royal Navy’s Polaris nuclear powered, ballistic missile-armed submarines.
Finally, I should also mention the death in April 2018 of Brigadier David Baines, an officer who had a very distinguished career in both the Army and Security Services.
RIP to all those I have mentioned above, particularly those that served their country with distinction and also those who gave us leadership, guidance or indeed, simple honest humour, laughter and wit, during their lives.
CHW (London – 31st December 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785