Wanless, John Thirlwell (1904-1945)

Transcription of obituary published in the Minutes of Conference

JOHN THIRWELL WANLESS: born at Craghead, County Durham, in1904. He was accepted as a candidate for the Primitive Methodist Church in 1928, and after three years in Hartley College, Manchester, was appointed to the Motherwell Circuit. After serving in the Chipping Norton Circuit and in Stroud, he was commissioned chaplain to the Royal Air Force in 1940. After some eighteen months in England he was posted to the Far East, arriving in time for the collapse of Singapore. He was evacuated to the Dutch East Indies, but was taken prisoner of war and for three and a half years was in prison camps in Borneo, until his death on 25th May 1945, in the fourteenth year of his ministry. 

Jack Wanless was an outstanding student in his Hartley days, and his gifts of leadership were reflected in the many college offices he held. In his first circuit he rapidly disclosed the high ministry to which he had been called, distinguished as a preacher, careful and conscientious in his pastoral duties, and with great human sympathy and understanding. With his wife at Cirencester, he continued a great ministry to young people, many of whom today owe their spiritual awakening to him. He was the ‘perfect colleague’, and his alert and vital outlook on life made him an instinctive leader of men. 

In the Royal Air Force his gifts found full and mature expression, and he revelled in the unique opportunities given to him of bringing men to Christ. Officers and men in great numbers have borne witness to his faithfulness in the things of the Gospel. The last chapter of his life was epic. Throughout the hazards of battle and imprisonment he showed an amazing courage, and during the long, terrible imprisonment he moved among officers and men, calm and resourceful, and with a complete disregard for his own safety and comfort. Chaplains of other denominations, and officers and men of both Army and Royal Air Force, have written their tribute to his selfless ministry, and have confessed their own hold on hope and sanity as being due to Jack Wanless’s life and example. He will for ever remain the high-light of chaplaincy service in the Royal Air Force.


John was born on 13 December 1904 at Crawcrook, Ryton on Tyne, to parents Thomas Cathron Wanless, a coal miner, and Mary Thirwell.

He married Florence Mary Haskins (b1911) in late 1935 in the Swindon Registration District, Wiltshire.

John was taken a prisoner of war on 8 March 1942 at Tazik Maraza, Java by the Japanese.

John died on 25 May 1945. He was buried at Kranji, North West, Singapore.

Florence married Frederick B Field in 1948.


  • Hartley
  • 1931 Motherwell
  • 1935 Chipping Norton
  • 1940 Chaplain, H.M. Forces – RAF


Methodist Minutes 1946/126

W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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