Rank: Sergeant
Service Number: 1025280.
Regiment: 617 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Killed In Action Sunday 16th May 1943 Age 21County Memorial Antrobus
Commemorated\Buried RUNNYMEDE MEMORIAL
Grave\Panel Ref: Panel 169.
United Kingdom

Born 2nd May 1922, John was the son of Thomas and Ethel Wilkinson of Antrobus. Thomas was a farmer, Ethel sadly died from TB when John was just one year old. He went to school in Antrobus an then at 14 worked on the family farm.

Age 18 John joined the RAF and, in the summer of 1942, qualified as a wireless operator/air gunner. He was posted to 29 OTU in September of the same year and finished his training in December. February 1943 he was posted to 467 squadron it is here that he first flew combat missions with Vernon Byers, although it is believed that John had met Byers while training. The crew flew on three combat raids with 467 squadron before being transferred to 617 squadron on March 24th, 1943.

617 Squadron was commanded by Guy Gibson, the squadron would become famous for its specialist precision bombing including attacks on the Tirpitz in 1944.

After specialised low level flying training was completed John returned to Antrobus 2nd May 1943 to celebrate his 21st birthday.

16th May 1943 just two weeks after his 21st, one of the most famous air operations of the second world war took place. The Dams Raid known as operation Chastise, at 21:28 on the 16th 19 specially converted Lancaster bombers took off in three waves from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, their targets were three dams in the Ruhr Industrial region of Germany, they were the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe. Each aircraft carried one “Bouncing Bomb” developed by Barnes Wallis.

John was the wireless operator on AJ-K (“King”) piloted by Vernon Byers in the second wave, their target was the Sorpe, this wave had further to fly and so took off first, around 23:00 flying at 300 feet on the outward leg of the mission they were crossing the island of Texel near to the Dutch coast, an area known for flak, the aircraft was hit and it crashed into the Waddenzee west of Harlingen all the crew were killed, John’s body was never found and so he is remembered on the Runnymede memorial along with the rest of the crew except for James McDowell, his body was found 22nd June 1943 and he was laid to rest at Harlingen General Cemetery, Netherlands.

The crew were:

Pilot Officer Vernon William Byers J/17474 RCAF Age 32

Flight Engineer Sergeant Alastair James Taylor 575430 RAFVR Age 20

Navigator Pilot Officer James Herbert Warner 128619 RAFVR

Air Bomber Sergeant Arthur Neville Whitaker 144777 RAF

Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sergeant John Wilkinson 1025280 RAFVR Age 21

Air Gunner Sergeant Charles McAllister Jarvie 1058757 RAFVR Age 21

Air Gunner Sergeant James McDowell R/101749 RCAF