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Wings Over Wick
Walsall, West Midlands
At that time I was a flight mechanic (ground crew) with no. 42 squadron coastal command, and we were in the process of being equipped with the latest torpedo bomber called the Bristol Beaufort with twin engines and a crew of four. Eventually the air battle ended. The enemy over ran Norway in a few weeks. Now Wick aerodrome comes into the picture, because if you look at a map of the North Sea you will notice that Wick is near to Norway. The enemy moved his large battleships by passing into the fiords of Norway with the intention of raiding our shipping lifeline around the North of Scotland and into the Atlantic Ocean.
Wick had now become a strategic part of the overall defence and 42 squadron of coastal command was sent from the south of England to Wick. This was late summer of 1940. In those days there was no concrete runway only grass, and being as aircraft were getting bigger and heavier a runway was started. Remember there was no earthmoving equipment in those days, a few tractors, a few lorries and mostly pick and shovel. The earth and rock that was removed was dumped in huge heaps all around the edge of the drome.
We did not see much of the town for we were waiting for those battleships, Bismark, Graf Spey, Prince Eugene, Scharnhorst and many more to appear so we were on twenty four hour standby. Some of our aircraft were busy at night laying magnetic mines in the Norwegian waters. On one occasion three aircraft set out, we waited and waited for their return so when their endurance time had run out we said they have been shot down. We then proceeded to walk back to the hut we lived in, when suddenly three aircraft appeared by popping up over the cliff edge. We naturally thought that they were our returning three aircraft. Then the tracer bullets began to fly and we had to dive into the ditch. They were three enemy aircraft trying to imitate ours, for they were roughly the same shape as ours, and hoping to catch us off guard. They also dropped bombs but none of them exploded because German bombs were carried nose upwards and being as they were, so low down, none of the bombs hit the ground nose down. An Englishman named William Joyce used to broadcast in English on the German radio, and the day after the raid on Wick, he said on the radio that the German Airforce had raided Wick in great strength (three aircraft) and had destroyed many aircraft with lots of casualties. How we laughed, for I don't think they even killed a sheep.
A certain pilot of our squadron named Flying Officer Philpot was shot down over Norway and taken prisoner. He was one of the leaders of men in this prison camp who made a daring escape by digging a tunnel. The problem was how to get rid of the dirt from the tunnel. They built a vaulting horse, tied bags of dirt to the inside, carried the horse into the compound and the man inside gradually emptied the bags of dirt. A book called "The Wooden Horse" has been written about this daring plan.
By this time, winter had set in, and being out at dispersal all day was very chilling. The winter of 1940-41 turned out to be a bad one. I have previously mentioned about the mounds of earth deposited by the contractors who built the runway. This now became useful to us, for to escape the bitter cold we dug into these and with a few sandbags at the front, some sheeting for a roof we were in a nice cosy dugout. We even managed to scrounge a fireplace. Owing to the bitter cold a rum ration was issued at 11 am every morning.
During that bitter winter we were glad to wear anything to keep warm. Usually two pairs of socks, roll neck pullover, gum boots, full uniform with overalls over that and then a big overcoat. Finally a balaclava helmet that covered the head and a scarf wound around with just the eyes showing - to a civilian we looked like men from Mars. I have nearly reached the end of my story, for in the summer of 1941, I left 42 squadron to get more training to become a fitter.