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Wings Over Wick
Hubert Nettleton, Leeds, West Yorkshire
I joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in August 1939 and was called up for service as soon as war broke out in September. At first I was stationed at RAF Harwell in Berkshire where I worked as a clerk. Then, in December, one of my colleagues and myself were posted to RAF Wick. I must confess that at this time I did not know that such a place existed. When I managed to find a map of the British Isles in the camp library and located Wick I felt that I was being sent to the ends of the earth!
We eventually arrived at Wick in the later afternoon just as it was getting dark. We made our way, with some difficulty, to the airfield to find that the RAF camp was still being built. There were a few huts built but these were already filled to overflowing. We were given a straw mattress and a couple of blankets each and told to bed down with some others in a classroom of an empty school.
Up to now I had no idea why I had been sent to Wick but later the next day I was summoned to appear before a Flight Lieutenant who informed me that I was to work at a new wireless station being built near the village of Thrumster. This wireless station was very secret and it was impressed on me that under no circumstances was I to tell anyone about my work there. So that I, and the six or seven other airmen involved would not be tempted to talk to any of the airmen at the camp, we were to be removed from the camp to civilian accommodation nearer the wireless station., (We later found out that the wireless station was an early experimental version of what later became known as Radar). Along with one of my colleagues, I went to live with Mr and Mrs Stewart at Hempriggs Farm, about 1.5 miles from Wick on the road to Lybster and we had a great time with them. Mrs Stewart was like a mother to us and fed us very well indeed.
Since the Wireless Station was not yet completed there was little work for us to do and most days we would walk down into Wick and explore the town and the coastline. Our saving grace was the Church of Scotland hut in the town, which had been made available to the Service personnel. Here it was warm and we could buy pots of tea and cakes. There were a couple of table-tennis tables and we would spend hours in there. There was a piano and, since I could play, I became quite popular. Before long some of the men from the camp who could play other instruments joined me and we formed a dance band.
The camp officers, anxious about the morale of the men, encouraged us in our venture and soon we were playing every Wednesday night for dancing in a cinema in the town (all the seats were moved to make way for the dancers). Soon our band was in big demand and in the months that followed we played at many village dances as far down as Berriedale and also at the John O'Groats Hotel.
In the early months of 1940 there was not a great deal of flying activity at Wick airfield. I think there was a squadron of Skua Aircraft belonging to the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy and there was a squadron of Avro Ansons doing reconaissance flights under Coastal Command. There was also a civilian passenger plane (a Dragon Rapide) which flew in from Kirkwall on it's way south to Glasgow. When our wireless station eventually went on the air (early February) most of our work was plotting the movements of these aircraft and reporting them by telephone to the Control Room at Wick Airfield.
My time in Wick came to an end in November 1940 when I was posted to London en route to Singapore. But that is another, not so happy story.
Altogether my time in Wick was very pleasant and I met many very friendly people. In particular I recall the Minister at the Church who, after Sunday evening service, would invite service men into his vestry for a cup of tea and fascinate us with stories of his exploits when doing missionary work in far off places.