Sgt J Wilkinson
Lancaster serial number: ED934/G
Call sign: AJ-K
Second wave. Shot down on outward flight and crashed into sea.
John Wilkinson was born on 2 May 1922 in the village of Antrobus, near Northwich in Cheshire. His father Thomas was a farmer, and he had an older brother and sister. His mother Ethel died of TB when he was only one year old. He went to Antrobus School, and left at 14 to work on the family farm.
He joined the RAF as soon as he turned 18. His older brother signed up for the army but was refused because, as a farmer, he was in a reserved occupation.
Wilkinson qualified as a wireless operator/air gunner in the summer of 1942. He was posted to 29 OTU in September, where he appears to have met up with pilot Vernon Byers and others in his crew. Together, they went to finish their training in 1654 Conversion Unit in December 1942 and were posted to 467 Squadron in February 1943.
Byers flew on two operations as second pilot, but the crew’s first operation together was “Gardening” in the Silverthorne area on 9 March, and they would undertake just two further operations before transferring to 617 Squadron on 24 March. Towards the end of the training period in 617 Squadron the crew was given some leave, and Wilkinson travelled home to the family farm in Antrobus in time to celebrate his 21st birthday on 2 May. The two Canadians in his crew, pilot Vernon Byers and rear gunner James McDowell, who presumably had no close family in the UK who they could visit, went with him.
Exactly two weeks after this birthday, on Sunday 16 May 1943, Wilkinson was in his seat in the body of AJ-K when a lucky shot fired from behind brought it down just after it had crossed the island of Texel on the Dutch coast. John Wilkinson’s body was never found and he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, along with five of his colleagues.
Thanks to June Morris for help with this article.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High 2013
The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.
Further information about John Wilkinson and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.