Heritage: A plane crashed into a steamroller at the new Fairlop airfield

Leading Aircraftsman (Group 2) John Wilkinson.

Leading Aircraftsman (Group 2) John Wilkinson. - Credit: Archant

Former RAF Leading Aircraftsman (Group 2) John Wilkinson, in conversation with David Martin

John, then 23, served at RAF Hornchurch during the Battle of Britain, then heard about a new airfield at Fairlop, decided he needed a change, so he volunteered.

When he arrived runway construction was still under way, and he was part of a squad whose main task was to help set up the billets around the airfield. He also manned a Lewis gun near to Fairlop Station, then went to man another to the west of Lehmann Archer and Lane factory.

He acted as a waiter in the officers’ mess in Hainault Lodge, Hog Hill. The kitchen was on the ground floor, a recreation room that contained a grand piano on the second, and the mess on the third floor. The officers always had two eggs for breakfast.

In keeping with his new duties, John had two beds – one in the Hainault Lodge mess and the other in Site Number Two, which later became occupied by German POWs, displaced Russians and Poles.

Official records show that on September 10, 1941, Group Captain Harry Broadhurst, C.O. of Hornchurch, was the first to land at Fairlop.

According to John, that honour fell to an unknown pilot flying a small unidentified aircraft, which landed at Fairlop prior to the runways being completed. On take-off it hit a scaffold pole and crashed into a steamroller with disastrous consequences.

Most Read

One of his fellow ‘erks’ arrived at Fairlop Station by steam train during the blackout. The train driver probably confused by the darkness, stopped his train only partially in the station. Hearing the announcement and thinking he had arrived at Fairlop, the friend opened the carriage door and climbed out, unaware that he walked out onto the railway bridge. He fell over the low barrier to land on the roadway 20 feet below, breaking both legs.

Around Christmas 1941, a Tiger Moth landed at Fairlop, the pilot declared that he was going home for the holiday, so would they look after it for him. John thought this a cheek but was not in a position to refuse.

Early in 1942 a Blenheim Bomber crashed landed near to Barkingside Station.

John used to visit a canteen held in the Methodist Church in Fremantle Road, where he met his future wife.

He left Fairlop in October 1942.

When I met John and his family, I found him to be a charming, sprightly and active 83 year old. I am most grateful to him for sharing his precious memories with me.