Colne RAF navigator’s heroic life retold in new book


The heart-wrenching story of seven RAF heroes whose lives were cut short in the Second World War has been told by a British Airways pilot.

“Seven Short Lives: Pro Libertate” has been penned by Steve Potter, and includes a touching and informative account of navigator William Wilkinson, from Colne.

Mr Wilkinson was killed with all six of his fellow crew members when their plane came down in France on July 8th 1944.

The aircraft crashed on a wooded hill top on the land of Mr Jean Have, near the village of Bures-en-Brey.

Now, after a 10-year project of research and discovery, his bravery and strength can continue to live on - in a book that combines personal testimonies with official and archive sources.

In the foreword, Mr Potter, a relative of Flt Sgt Des Potter who died in the crash, said: “This is not a detailed analysis of the battle in which the young men died - that has been done already, by others more able than me to explain the depths of immortality to which men can sink when he embarks upon the pointless destruction and savage killing of warfare.

“This is an account of the strength and courage which can be summoned from ordinary men, plucked from the street and placed in a relentless fight for life or death almost beyond human imagination.”

Among those who helped collate information for the new book is William’s brother Jack, of Coniston Grove, Colne.

He also makes an appearance in “Seven Short Lives”, giving details of his brother’s family background, and showing the author various photo albums. He tells how his younger brother was born in 1921, went to the local grammar school and excelled at sport. He very nearly did not make it into the RAF, after being graded level four, unfit for aircraft duties, following an injury on Pendle Hill. But his determination saw him apply for another interview and medical examination, and after being made grade one, he joined the RAF in 1942. Talking of the book, Jack, whose older brother Frank has now also died, said: “The author visited me with his wife back in 2006.

“I had all the details of how my brother was when he was younger.

“The book has come to fruition now, and it is very interesting.”

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