VIDEO: Community turns out to pay their respects at funeral of Wigan Second World War hero

The community has turned out in force to say goodbye to a decorated Second World War hero from Wigan.

Tuesday, 4th June 2019, 6:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th June 2019, 7:41 pm
The funeral of World War Two hero Joe Wilson
The funeral of World War Two hero Joe Wilson

Family, friends and well-wishers paid their respects at the funeral of Joe Wilson, an RAF navigator and bomb aimer during the second world war, who died last month aged 95.

His funeral service took place at St James’ Church in Orrell today (Tuesday), with residents turning out in force to pay their respects and stage a guard of honour as he was carried into the church.

Ahead of being laid to rest, Mr Wilson’s family shared their father’s remarkable and inspiring story.

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The funeral of World War Two hero Joe Wilson

Born in 1923 and brought up in Orrell, Mr Wilson was just a 17-year-old when he signed up for the war effort following his education at a grammar school in St Helens.

As he was training to become a pharmacist, he was on the list of reserved occupations, but volunteered anyway to serve in Bomber Command, which suffered horrendous losses with more than one in three of those who served being killed in action.

Mr Wilson himself narrowly avoided death in 1943, when at the last moment he was withdrawn from a mission to bomb a factory, having developed a severe rash that was too painful to wear an oxygen mask over. Tragically, the plane he should have been on crashed over Denmark, killing the entire crew.

His navigational and mathematical skills caught the attention of military command, and he was selected to join 624 squadron, a special operations division air-dropping agents, supplies and weapons to anti-Nazi resistance groups across the continent, mainly flying at night with poor visibility.

Floral tributes at the funeral of World War Two hero Joe Wilson

In 2016, he was awarded the Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur (France’s highest honour and equivalent to a Knighthood) for his part in fighting the Nazis and aiding the French resistance.

After the war, Mr Wilson moved to Twickenham to train be to be a teacher, meeting future wife Alice while studying. After marrying, they left Britain together for Rhodesia in 1953, before moving back to the UK in the early 1960s and working at various schools in the North West and had their three children, John, Jenny and Louise.

They moved once more in 1968, to South Korea for two years so Mr Wilson could teach mathematics.

They settled in Billinge in the early 1970s and Mr Wilson retired in 1984 living the rest of his life at the family home in Moss Road.Alice passed away in 2004, and it was only after her death that the family was stunned to learn she had served at Bletchley Park during the famous enigma code cracking operation.

Joe Wilson with his children Jenny (left), John and Louise

She had kept her key role in the war effort a secret her entire life, a proud symbol of her commitment to her country.

Mr Wilson was also a keen sportsman, played for Orrell RUFC and was “very well read” according to his family, and when not writing his own poems, had a fondness for quoting the likes of Shakespeare and Keats on many an occasion.

Joe and wife Alice
Joe during the war