John Beckett was born in Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland, the son of Samuel Nicholl Beckett and Elizabeth Swanton Beckett. He was educated at St. Enoch's Public Elementary School, Belfast. Beckett worked as a fitter for the Coombe Barbour textiles company and at the Harland and Wolff shipyard.
In the RAF
Beckett joined in the Royal Air Force in or around January 1935. In 1940 he was evacuated from France and he then served in Canada for two years. In 1944 his duties took him to Egypt and then in 1946, to Palestine.
On the night of 28 March 1947 at Ein Shemer Air Headquarters in the Levant, Sergeant Beckett was the driver of a refuelling vehicle which was refuelling a Lancaster of No. 38 Squadron. Suddenly, a violent fire broke out in the vehicle's pumping compartment; flames enveloped Sergeant Beckett and set alight the front of the Lancaster's fuselage. Another airman beat out the flames on Sergeant Beckett but not before the latter had sustained very severe burns on the hands and face.
There was a grave danger that the main tank of the refuelling vehicle would explode, killing or seriously injuring personnel who were working in the vicinity and destroying the twenty or more aircraft in the park. Mindful of this danger and in considerable pain, Beckett got into the driver's seat of the blazing vehicle and drove it a distance of about four hundred yards to a point where it could do no further damage.
At this point Beckett collapsed and he was taken by ambulance to the Station's Sick Quarters in a dangerously ill condition.
The fires in the Lancaster and in the vehicle were eventually brought under control and extinguished with no further damage to persons or property.
Beckett died of his injuries on 12 April 1947.