Remembered by: David Walker
Date added: 31 May 2013
Flight Lieutenant William Louis Buchanan Walker, (24 August 1913 - 21 October 2012) was, at the time of his death aged 99, the oldest surviving pilot from the Battle of Britain. His poem "Our Wall" about the Battle of Britain is inscribed on a special plinth aside the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall of the Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne, Kent.
Walker was born on 24 August 1913 in Hampstead, London. He was educated at Brighton College, an independent school in Brighton, East Sussex. Following schooling, where he was a contemporary of the actor Sir Michael Hordern, he followed his father into the brewing business. In 1931, he began as a pupil brewer at a brewery in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire to learn the trade. In 1933, he moved to Ind Coope brewery in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire.
Walker joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve on 2 September 1938 as an Airman u/t Pilot. He then under went pilot training at RAF Kidlington, Oxford, flying his first solo on 28 September. He was called up on 1 September 1939, the day World War II broke out. He was posted to 1 Initial Training Wing, Cambridge on 15 November. On 17 February 1940, he was posted to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire to undergo officer training, where he joined 2 Flight Training School. On 18 June 1940, he was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation. He was given the service number 82662.
He was immediately posted to No. 616 Squadron RAF, who were based at RAF Leconfield, East Yorkshire and flew the Supermarine Spitfire. "I think anybody who flew a Spitfire knew they were flying something rather special," Walker once said.
While he was still in training the Germans showed up. "I realised I'd never fired a gun, nobody had even shown me how to fire a gun, and I had no idea what happened when you did fire the guns," he said. "There was a button on the joystick which said 'fire on and off'. I thought I'd better turn it onto on, and I approached a Dornier ... There was a trace of bullets flying all over the place all appeared to be hitting the Dornier, which caught fire and I saw it crash into the North Sea, and I was absolutely thrilled."
However, when he landed he was also brought down to earth metaphorically. "The flight sergeant came in and said, 'Excuse me sir, did you know your guns weren't loaded?'" He realised the plane had been hit by two of his comrades.
He regarded the Germans dispassionately. "They were simply the enemy and shooting down a German meant little or nothing in terms of inner feeling," he said. "But I remember when for some time I flew with some Poles, and their hatred had to be seen and heard. A great friend of mine was Jeffrey Page, who was terribly badly burnt. We were in hospital together and I can remember him saying – he had something like over a dozen operations – that his ambition in life was to kill one German for every operation he had. And he succeeded."
Within weeks, the Battle of Britain began. RAF fighters took on swarms of Luftwaffe bombers and their fighter escorts in a life-or-death struggle for air supremacy over south-east England, prerequisite for a German invasion. Their initial strategy was to knock out the RAF, its airfields and radar chain.
It was with 616 Squadron that he would fight in the Battle of Britain. On 15 August, the squadron was scrambled to intercept a Luftwaffe attack on the North of England. During this engagement, he flew on the wing of his section leader. The result of the action was a success for his squadron, with six enemy bombers shot down. On 19 August, the squadron moved to London and was based at RAF Kenley.
On the morning of 26 August, 616 Squadron was scrambled to intercept 40 German bombers. Over Dover and Dungeness they were engaged by Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters as they climbed to attack the bombers. During this engagement, his plane was attacked by Werner Mölders, a leading German fighter ace. His Spitfire was hit from behind and the controls were shot away. With a bullet in his right ankle, he was forced to bail out of the plane at 20,000 ft. He landed in the English Channel and clung to a shipwreck on the Goodwin Sands.
He was pulled from the water by a fishing boat, suffering from hypothermia. A large crowd cheered as he was landed at Ramsgate, but the badly damaged hospital there was unable to deal with his wound. The next day, he was taken instead to the hospital at RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire, where a .303 bullet was removed. As the surgeon extracted the armour-piercing bullet from his right ankle at the RAF Hospital, it shot out and hit the ceiling, a souvenir he kept for the rest of his life.
After six months recovering, he was posted to an aircraft ferry unit which would deliver new aircraft from their factories to the operational units. His commission was confirmed on 18 June 1941 and he was promoted to the war substantive rank of flying officer.
He later transferred to No. 116 Squadron RAF, an anti-aircraft unit. On 18 June 1942, he was promoted to war substantive flight lieutenant. He was demobilised in September 1945 and received the Air Efficiency Award. On 24 August 1958, he was granted permission to retain the rank of flight lieutenant.
In August 1941, Walker married Claudine Mawby, one of The Mawby Triplets. Together they had seven children, including Tim Walker a columnist for The Daily Telegraph. Two of the children pre-deceased their parents. Claudine died on 13 September 2012.
Post-war, he returned to his pre-war career of brewing. He would go on to become the chairman of Ind Coope's brewery in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, a role previously held by his father.
Upon retirement, he turned to poetry. He was a strong supporter of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust. He would attend the annual remembrance held at the Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne, Kent. His poem 'Our Wall' was inscribed on the monument alongside the 2,937 names of The Few in July 2010 as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations. To great acclaim, Walker then read the poem, which describes the “many brave unwritten tales/That were simply told in vapour trails”. He was featured in the 2011 documentary "Battle of Great Britain" hosted Ewan and Colin McGregor on the BBC.
As a member of The Few, he was awarded the 1939–45 Star with an additional Battle of Britain clasp. He died on 21 October 2012, having suffered a stroke three days earlier.