The Tale of a Torrisholme Headstone.
Flight Sergeant (pilot)
John Charles Wilson
Died of Injuries
23 August 1944
This lone Kiwi airman now lies in the cemetery on Westgate, Torrisholme, Morecambe, Lancashire. How did he come to lie here, far away from home and well away from any fighting of World War Two?
This is his story: -
John Charles Wilson, Son of George Charles and Mary Ellen Wilson was born on 2nd May 1920 in Christchurch, New Zealand. On completion of his secondary education at Christchurch Technical College he then trained to be a motor mechanic with Hutchinson Motors in Christchurch. He volunteered to serve in the Royal New Zealand Air Force on 12 May 1942 and was posted to RNZAF Blenheim ADU (Aircraft Delivery Unit) as an Aircraft Charge Hand. This grand sounding title actually meant that he could ordered to do any menial job in the Air Force that he was required to do.
After being on ground duties for about a year he volunteered for Aircrew duties, which any ground trade Airman could do, and after passing the very precise physical and medical tests was re-mustered as a Pilot U/T (under training). On the 8th of March 1943.he commenced his primary flying training at No.3 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) at Harewood Christchurch New Zealand. At Harewood on 23rd March 1943 during his first solo flight, he had to crash-land his aircraft and luckily managed to walk away uninjured from this accident. He then was posted on the 1st May 1943 to No2 SFTS (Service Flying Training School) at Woodbourne near Blenheim and he was awarded his Pilots badge (Wings) there on the 5th July 1943. The rank of Sergeant (Pilot) followed on the 26th August 1943 and with this came news of a posting overseas, to the UK.
He arrived at No.12 (RNZAF) PDRC (Personnel Dispatch Reception Centre) at Brighton on the 4thth December after the long sea voyage from the sunny climes of New Zealand. He may have thought that he would now see the action that he had heard so much about, however this was not to be. His service record states that He was posted on the 22nd February 1944 to No 24 EFTS in Sydenham. Here he is most likely to have served as an Instructor of trainee pilots, who like him only 6 months earlier had maybe never seen, never mind flown an aircraft before. He would teach the pupils to fly by the "follow the numbers", a specific program of flying lessons to enable these "Sprog" (trainee Pilots) to take to the air and not end up crashing on their First Solo like him. Being at the EFTS for a period of 6 months as he was, he could have trained over 30 novice pilots to gain valuable flying experience that would lead to their "Wings" at
John Wilson like other Pilots who completed their time as instructors were then moved on to an Advanced Flying Unit (AFU), here they would learn to handle the more modern, more agile aircraft that behave like fighters and bombers of the front line squadrons. The unit, to which he was posted No 5 AFU Ternhill, was equipped with single seat aircraft like the Hurricane and this could lead him to believe he was bound for a fighter squadron. This again was not to be the case; he was posted to 650 Squadron at Cark in Cumbria. 650 Squadron was again a training unit, this time for Air to Air Firing. He must of felt that he was destined to be a "Taxi Driver" for his part of the war.
At Cark his duties were to tow the drogue that other pilots would fire at to improve their aim and target hit rate. I am sure in some cases he would utter the words that many target drogue towing pilots would shout over the radio "shoot the drogue, not me !!! You stupid fool."
One other famous Drogue towing pilot whom was known to have used similar words, but in a even stronger in tone, was the comedian Jimmy Edwards who flew with my father, Flight Lieutenant R G Cameron RAFVR, at 31 SFTS Kingston in Ontario Canada in July 1942. I feel that John Wilson would, in his future-flying career, have liked to be similar to Jimmy Edwards and to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross and flown into battle against the enemy. This was not to be the case, after only being stationed at Cark for six days; he was involved in a flying accident that was to cost him his life and seriously injure his Air Gunner assistant.
The story that went around at the time and still is told today was that Sgt Wilson had been a victim of the so-called "Friendly Fire" from the Anti aircraft guns outside Heysham this has proven to be incorrect.
What actually happened was the following.
On the 21st August 1944, Sgt. John Wilson was the pilot of Miles Martinet TT Mk1 serial # JN554 on target towing duties over Middleton Sands near Heysham. He and Flight Sergeant C Harris RAFVR took off at 15:05 to carry-out their assigned task and on completion of the exercise at 16.45 released the drogue and returned to Cark airfield by flying low over the firing range at Middleton Sands.
It is believed that John Wilson by flying into the sun lost his perception of height between the Aircraft and the sand and on banking to port to head towards home allowed the wingtip to make contact with the ground. This caused the Martinet to cartwheel and crash onto the sands, catching fire. The crew were rescued and taken to the RAF hospital Morecambe; now The Midland Hotel, but sadly John Wilson succumbed to his injuries and passed away on the 23rd August 1944. Flight Sergeant Harris survived his injuries and it is believed returned to his duties.
Flight Sergeant John Charles Wilson now lies in Torrisholme beside others who lost their lives serving King & Country in the Wars of the 20th Century. He, like other RNZAF personnel who lost their lives in conflict, are commemorated in the books "For Your Tomorrow" Volume I & II by Mr Errol Martyn of Christchurch New Zealand. It is from the details in these volumes and with his assistance from the next as yet unpublished Volume III, I have written this "Tale of a Torrisholme Headstone".
My thanks go to Mr Errol Martyn and also to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for their assistance in the researching of this story. Without their knowledge this article may never have been able to be written.
Morecambe Militaria Society
The Commonwealth War Grave
Flight Sergeant John Wilson in Torrisholme Cemetery