A BOOK which belonged to a schoolboy who went on to fly, fight and die in the Battle of Britain in 1940 has been returned from Australia to his family in Pembrokeshire following a remarkable series of co-incidences.

Entitled ‘The Story of Mankind’ by Henrik van Loon, the book was given to a young Rodney Levett Wilkinson in 1922.

Rodney’s mother, Ruth, was a member of the Mirehouse family and the nearest relatives are John and Rosie Allen-Mirehouse and family of The Hall, Angle.

Rodney joined the pre-war Royal Air Force and trained as a pilot, reaching the rank of Squadron Leader. In June 1940, as the Battle of Britain aerial confrontations began, Rodney converted onto the famous Spitfire fighter and took command of No 266 Squadron RAF. Just 41 days later he was killed in combat with the German Luftwaffe over the south of England.

When training on the Spitfire Rodney loaned his copy of ‘The Story of Mankind’ to fellow pilot Graham Manton who never had the opportunity to return it. After Graham’s death in Australia the book was passed to a friend and neighbour, Noel Sattler, who was determined to find a family connection.

Noel discovered that Rodney Wilkinson is remembered in a special Battle of Britain display at Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre and contacted aviation historian John Evans of the Sunderland Trust. Through the Trust links were made with John and Rosie Allen-Mirehouse at Angle and the book was posted on to them.

The book is inscribed to Rodney from his Aunt, Cicely, as a Christmas present.

“We did not know of the book and are so pleased as a family to have it in memory of my cousin Rodney,” said John Allen- Mirehouse. “Rodney was the only son of my Great Aunt Ruth, sister of Cecily, and nephew of my grandmother Gladys. His father, Clement Wilkinson, was killed in the trenches during the Great War, leaving Ruth widowed with a small son. She never remarried after the war. I knew Ruth well; she was an amazing lady and lived to 100.

“Rodney spent many childhood holidays at The Hall, Angle, with his grandparents. He went to Cranwell and then the RAF and I heard my father speak of him often and with great affection. He is buried at Margate and I have visited his grave.

“In an aircraft museum is a description of his last action. The story is told that during his last flight he dived after a German Messerschmitt Me109 fighter and hit its tail as he pulled out of the dive. The German pilot survived but Rodney died when his Spitfire crashed.”

Rodney Wilkinson’s sacrifice in the Battle of Britain is remembered on a memorial plaque in Angle Church and on a planned war memorial at Rotherfield, East Sussex, where his mother Ruth lived during the war. He is also commemorated among 2,937 names on the Battle of Britain Monument on London’s Victoria Embankment.