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Wings Over Wick
|W LeRay, Kent
I arrived at Wick during December 1940, posted to 269 squadron of Coastal Command, a young, totally inexperienced Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. The tasks the squadron were asked to perform were varied. We flew Lockheed Hudsons, described as medium bombers and as such we bombed Norwegian ports and any German shipping we could find. We also performed a valuable task first finding then escorting convoys from the United States and Canada in the vast expanse of the Atlantic. Our presence over a convoy was supposed to keep the hunting U-boat packs below the surface thus deterring them from attacking the ships full to the brim with invaluable cargo, so vital to our survival. My task, as an Air Gunner in my turret at the rear of the aircraft was to try and spot any tell tale wisps of foam from a U-boat periscope. With a wild, raging ocean beneath you this was an impossible task but we tried.
My first operation trip was wildly exciting with me expecting to be shot at from all sides immediately we were airborne. I craned my neck endlessly looking for German aircraft about to attack us until my neck ached abominably and my eyes complained bitterly from staring into the sun where we were told the attacks were likely to come. After a couple of hours of this I was shattered and exhaustion compelled me to relax and just ease off a bit. Flying at about 250 feet at about 240 mph everything below whipped past at quite a speed. Huge chunks of driftwood and debris from previously torpedoed ships were swiftly identified and dismissed by my still vigil eyes. Then suddenly I could have sworn that I had seen something more substantial beneath me, and wasn't that a body waving at me. I switched my microphone on and reported the possible sighting to my pilot who immediately began to back track on our course. With commendable skill my pilot returned to the very spot and we found a lifeboat in which an exhausted man was trying desperately to wave at us before repeatedly collapsing into the lifeboat. We circled him for as long as we could whilst awaiting the arrival of an aircraft despatched from Limavady, Northern Ireland. Quite by chance I learnt many months later that the man had been rescued by a destroyer and was a survivor from a torpedoed Norwegian freighter. I bumped into the pilot of the relieving Anson in a mess bar somewhere and he related the end of the story.
One other first, was my first bombing of a Norwegian port and being on the receiving end of FLAK (anti aircraft guns to you). I think I might reasonably describe this as being very exciting. I was having kittens when we got caught by the searchlights. Duck and dive though we did we just couldn't shake them off. Fortunately, I had a very good pilot that night, a S/Ldr Grant, he simply stuffed the nose of the aircraft down, escaping the searchlights and we were soon skimming the surface of the sea in Trondheim harbour. I remember thinking how quiet it was but then I swallowed, permitting the air pressure in the inner ear and outer ear to equalise and the roar of the engines came flooding back. I had simply forgotten to clear my ears during our desperate dive to escape the searchlights and their attendant guns.
My recollection of the town of Wick itself is really quite scant, my world was contained to the RAF station. I do not recall very many excursions except when it was my turn to get fish and chips. I only met one local family during my stay in Wick and they were very hospitable. I regret that I cannot now recall how I met them or what their names were but, they did make me very welcome. It should be realised that with our pay being about 6 shillings per day, even in 'old' money we weren't exactly big spenders, in fact I must admit that I can only recall two establishments in Wick. One was the fish and chip shop and the other a popular cafe. Anyone would think we were half starved whereas in fact, we were well fed particularly on our return from an operational sortie.
My squadron, 269 departed Wick during 1941 for a remote base at Kaldedarnes, SE of Rekjavic, Iceland to carry on the good work. One of our aircraft performed the incredible by persuading a U- boat to surrender on the surface.