Cambridge university graduate, RAF pilot, Member of Parliament and novelist, the life of John Wilkinson, was celebrated in a service at Arbory parish church last Wednesday, March 12.
He was born in Slough during the Battle of Britain, in September 1940. ‘When the all clear sounded, I came into the world,’ he joked in an interview with this newspaper last year.
A very bright child, he gained a scholarship to Eton College and then went to the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell and Churchill College, Cambridge.
He was a pilot in the RAF and worked for many years in aviation. He was an MP for Bradford West, from 1970 to 1974, and Ruislip-Northwood, from 1979 to 2005. He remained on the backbenches for most of his parliamentary career, apart from two brief periods as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State for Industry from 1979 to 1980 and to the Secretary of State for Defence from 1981 to 1982, which was also during the Falklands War.
As a former member of the RAF, he spoke frequently in debates on defence and from 1979 to 1990 he was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Western European Union. He also served as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He was one of the Maastricht rebels, voting against legislation to ratify the Maastrichy Treaty on European Union. With the other rebels, he continued to oppose the European policy of Prime Minister John Major for much of the 1992 to 1997 parliament.
He applied this commitment to excellence in his working life to his private life and he enjoyed a very successful marriage to Cecilia, who he met in February 1986. She said: We met at a party in London, I’m Chilean. It was love at first sight, immediately. It was very romantic. He said he was a corporate director (although he was an MP). The wife of an MP is a terrible life, sometimes they were home at 5am ... There was a lot of divorce.’
The couple were even featured in the Evening Standard for their special status as being happily married! ‘They said he was the only MP who held hands with his wife,’ said Cecilia.
Their son, Alexander, born in July 1990, was the ‘apple of his eye’ said Cecilia.
By the time he retired as an MP, in 2005, he has been one of the longest serving Conservative MPs.
They bought land in Chile, cleared very arid scrubland and built a house, creating productive farmland from wilderness and split their time between there and the island (where they had already bought a flat overlooking Port Erin bay in 2003). But the work was hard physically, as the years passed and his health deteriorated they would spend less time there and more time in the island. The novelist in him emerged once he moved to the island. In an interview when he published his second novel, The Huaso (written under his pen name John Du Cane), he said: ‘I only write here ... We are blessed in the Isle of Man with a wonderful public library system. It’s a great place to concentrate on abstract themes, I can develop thoughts in my soul and mind in a way I could not in other places. It is no accident all those Celtic healers in the medieval times sprung up here and it was an appropriate place to contemplate God and their maker. So much comes out in the soul and spirit so you are inspired to get on with the job, what is hard is to cope with is the clutter of the everyday world.’
His first novel, The Cry of the Jets, is set in the Cold War; the second novel is a hypothetical scenario if Argentina once more lay claim to the Falkland Islands, what would Britain do with its dimished armed forces?
He continued to write, even as his health suffered, and was well into the third novel about European politics. He ensured the funeral, attended by people who travelled from the Bahamas, Switzerland and Spain, the eulogy was given by former Consrevative MP Toby Jessel, had a careful and tasteful selection of music and religious texts and hymns chosen by him.
Reverend Dr Jules Gomes gave the sermon and said of his friend, ‘this world, our island and our parish church will be a poorer place without you. But heaven will be a richer place with you.’