RAF News

War hero and member of the Caterpillar Club sadly passes away

Picture of Flight Lieutenant John Tilston.

A War hero who flew Spitfires for the RAF during World War Two and member of the Caterpillar Club, has sadly passed away aged 100.

Known as ‘Tilly’, Flight Lieutenant John Tilston, joined the RAF in July 1940. After training on Tiger Moths, he was posted as an instructor to 5 SFTS, Tern Hill, and then moved on to convert Spitfires with 52 OUT, Aston Down.  An accident slipping off a Spitfire wing left Tilly unable to fly for several months.

A Spitfire on the airstrip.
A modern day Spitfire; the aircraft flown by Tilly during World War Two. 

In March 1941, Tilly joined 118 Squadron and then 66 Squadron, Raf Ibsley, on convoy patrols and bomb escorts.

In September 1941, Tilly was posted overseas to Takoradi in West Africa, picking up Spitfires to fly over to Egypt.  He then joined 601 Squadron in Libya, until he was shot down by an enemy aircraft flying over the North African desert.

A Spitfire in flight.
A modern day Spitfire flying during the Battle Of Britain 80th anniversary.

Tilly went on to Tunisia, Malta, and Sicily doing bomb escorts and patrols, before Italy and Anzio, where he engaged in attacking enemy trains and further patrolling activities.

He returned to Egypt in April 1944 to instruct on Harvards, Hurricanes and Spitfires in Ismailia, then to India as a test pilot.  He finally returned home to the UK in February 1946 joining 610 (County of Chester) Squadron to fly Spitfire Mark XIVs - considered by many to be the best Spitfire ever.

Secret Spitfires lined up on the airfield.
The Secret Spitfires built by the factory girls during World War II; the aircraft Tilly flew during service. 

Tilly maintained a lifelong passion for aviation, joining the Auxiliary Air Force 610 Squadron after the war and teaching navigation to Air Cadets.  He was also a proud member of the Caterpillar Club – an exclusive group for those who successfully parachuted from a disabled aircraft.

A Spitfire in flight.
A restored Spitfire that fought during the Battle of France in 1940, providing air support for the evacuation of Dunkirk.  Here, the Spitfire flies again during the RAF Cosford Air Show 2018.

Tilly’s funeral will take place on 6th of July 2021.  The RAF would like to extend its sincere condolences to his daughters and son - Ruthie, Cara and Peter and thank Tilly and all of the veterans on their extraordinary contributions during World War 2.

You can listen to John Tilston recount his exploits through the Imperial War Museum audio file.

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