Born: August 24, 1913; Died: October 21, 2012.
William Walker, who has died aged 99, was the oldest surviving Battle of Britain pilot whose poetry, often read at memorial services, will provide a lasting tribute to The Few. He was shot down in his Spitfire in 1940, landing in the Channel and clinging to a shipwreck before being rescued by a fishing boat.
Already in his mid-twenties by the time the Second World War broke out, Flt-Lt Walker was among the older RAF Volunteer Reserve pilots to take part in the Battle of Britain. He served with 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron, first in the air defence of important industrial sites in the north-east of England, and then at RAF Kenley where he was shot down by a Messerschmitt 109 in a sortie from the Surrey air base. Hit by a machinegun round that smashed his ankle, he was out of action for six months.
More than 70 years later, he has his special place in the annals of the Battle of Britain as a chronicler of the heroic deeds of its RAF pilots in a succession of poems he wrote. They were published in 2011, with the proceeds donated to the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, and one of them, Our Wall, was chosen to adorn a stone memorial at Capel-le-Ferne in Kent which celebrates the 2937 Battle of Britain pilots.
During the 70th anniversary commemoration service of the Battle of Britain at the monument in July 2010, the patron of the Memorial Trust, Prince Michael of Kent, unveiled a carved copy of Flt- Lt Walker's poem, which its author then read to the assembled audience. The peom describes the "many brave unwritten tales/That were simply told in vapour trails".
William Louis Buchanan Walker was born into a branch of the Ind Coope brewing dynasty in London in 1913 and educated at Brighton College. After leaving school, he joined the family trade. With war clouds gathering, he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in September 1938 and trained as a pilot.
When war broke out in September 1939, he completed fighter pilot training and was posted to 616 Squadron based at Beverley in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It went into action against the Luftwaffe during the early part of the Battle of Britain. On August 15, 1940, Flt- Lt Walker was involved with his unit as wingman to a section leader, as it intercepted a large formation of enemy bombers of Luftflotte 5 approaching the coast in what was intended as a flank attack to the main Luftwaffe thrust much farther south. In a brisk engagement against heavy odds, No 616 repelled the German attack, shooting down six aircraft in what was to be the busiest day of the Battle of Britain.
The urgent situation developing in the south east of England now required the posting of No 616 to RAF Kenley, where it moved on August 19. On August 26, it was scrambled to intercept a force of enemy fighters and bombers approaching Dover.As it strove to gain height the squadron was assailed by a large formation of Me109s, one of which closed in on Flt-LtWalker's Spitfire from astern as he manoeuvred to attack another Me109 ahead of him. Hit in the foot by a machinegun bullet and with his controls shot away, he baled out at 20,000ft and parachuted down into the sea. He was able to swim ashore at Ramsgate, cheered all the time by onlookers. Rescued from the bank by a fishing boat, he was taken into the town where the machinegun round was removed from his foot. It was a souvenir he retained for the rest of his life.
On returning to flying duties, he was posted to an aircraft ferry unit of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), whose members were fondly described as "Ancient Tattered Airmen" to distinguish them from their glamorous "Atagirl" female counterparts. He was posted to 116 Squadron, whose main task was the calibration of predictors and AA radars used by numerous AA batteries in the UK. Flt-Lt Walker served with the squadron until the end of the war when he was demobbed and awarded the Air Efficiency Award (AE). Returning to his pre-war occupation, he rose to become chairman of Ind Coope as his father had before him. He retired in 1972 and never lost his liking for a pint.
In later life, he was a strong supporter of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust. Fit and well into old age, he was ever-present at the annual service of remembrance held at Capel-le-Ferne, which always concluded with him stepping forward and reciting, in a strong voice, one of his poems.
Flt-Lt Walker married Claudine Walker in August 1941. They separated later in life and she died in September 2012. They had seven children. Two children predeceased them.