One Pilot's War - The Battle of Britain and Beyond, W.A. Wilkinson

One Pilot's War - The Battle of Britain and Beyond, W.A. Wilkinson

Many RAF memoirs follow a similar pattern - wartime call-up, training and into combat, with anything after service on a front line squadron dealt with very quickly. Wilkinson followed a different career path, and his memoirs reflect that. He entered the RAF in 1934 as an 'Aircraft Hand' - very much at the bottom of the pile. His first year was spend serving as an RAF policemen, followed by a period training as a parachute packer, before he moved to the workshops at RAF Cranwell. His life changed when he successfully applied to become a Sergeant Pilot. His flight training ended rather dramatically in May 1940 when his entire Hurricane conversion unit was ordered to France to take part in the desperate attempts to hold back the onrushing Germans. Escaping from France, he took part in the early part of the Battle of Britain, flying alongside some of the best known pilots of the war.

In August 1940 Wilkinson's career took another twist, when he was posted north. This led to a period flying the faithful Anson on anti-submarine patrols over the Irish Sea and the west coast of Scotland, a very different task that required different skills. Much to his disappointment Wilkinson was then taken from this duty to train as an instructor at Cranwell, and spent the rest of the war working as an instructor, including a period on beam landings.

What makes this memoir so valuable is that Wilkinson divides his text evenly between the various phases of his career, so we are given a rare view of the life of a non-flying member of the pre-war RAF, and of life inside the training units that made the massive expansion of the wartime RAF possible. Many authors of RAF memoirs spent time serving as instructors, but tended to skip over these periods in their own memoirs, so this is quite rare material. 

The text was written after Wilkinson retired from the RAF and entered the Civil Service, and was found after his death, written on sheets of 1970s computer paper. Although not intended for publication it is a well structured, well written and very readable account of the author's service in the RAF, and comes highly recommended.

1 - A Burning Ambition
2 - Motor Boats and Parachute Packing
3 - Soccer and Studies
4 - Marshall's Flying School
5 - Little Rissinton
6 - War is Declared
7 - Night-flying Nightmares
8 - Sergeant Pilot
9 - En Route to France
10 - 501 Squadron
11 - Evacuation from France
12 - 'Scramble!'
13 - Faithful Old Annie
14 - Port Ellen
15 - Convoy Patrols
16 - Back to Cranwell
17 - Pupils, Promotions and a War-time Wedding
18 - BAT Flight
19 - Crowded Skies
20 - The End of the War
21 - Buckmaster, Mosquito and Lancaster
22 - Preparing to Fly a Desk: Over and Out

Author: W.A. Wilkinson
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 204
Publisher: Windsor Books
Year: 2010

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