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Wings Over Wick
In September 1939, the trainee pilots at No. 8 Flying Training School, RAF Montrose only had to complete the final phase at a Bombing and Gunnery School where they would drop practise bombs on land targets and fire live ammunition at a target towed behind another aircraft, prior to their being posted to operational squadrons where they were urgently needed and so, off to RAF Evanton we went for a month. Evanton, at that time was the most northerly RAF station and Wick just the name of a station.
The realisation that we were at war hadn't made much impact upon us and apart from the camp being blacked out at night life in the RAF carried on much the same as it had before. However, when we got back to Montrose, as well as our Airspeed Oxford training aircraft there were Avro Ansons of 269 squadron Coastal Command using the airfield. The squadron was in the process of relocating to Wick which, although far from ready for occupation, was the nearest point on the mainland of Britain from which to conduct air operations over the North Sea to the Scandinavian countries occupied by the enemy. Being so far north, a posting to Wick wasn't eagerly sought after by the majority of RAF personnel but, our country was at war and regardless of what we might or might not have wanted we went wherever the RAF decided we should go and 269 squadron was the first there early October 1939. A month later in early November, six of us, all Armourers were posted from Montrose to Wick. It was a bitterly cold November and none of us were particularly enthusiastic in heading any further north than Montrose but on a Sunday afternoon we left Montrose by train on the start of our journey.
The train finally pulled into Wick station some twenty-six hours after we had departed Montrose and only having been given some bread and cheese to sustain us were ravenous. The station yard was over a foot deep in snow and the road down the Bridge Street was as bad. Crowded in the back of a truck with all our gear we arrived at a dirt road which we eventually found out was the road to Noss Head Lighthouse and about a hundred yards along this road a gap had been made in a drystone wall on the left. We had arrived at RAF Wick. Once through the wall the field had been churned to thick mud by trucks arriving and departing. Like the snow, mud was everywhere, thick and glutinous, in which one sank over the ankles. A wooden hut, in the midst of this sea of mud was the guardroom to which we reported and after handing over our movement orders were each issued with a pair of Wellington Boots. Little did we think that we should be wearing nothing else for the next three months until the weather improved and the mud cleared away.
What had been a school had been requisitioned by the Government and was used by the RAF as the Station and Squadron headquarters and until the hot water systems were operational in the showers and bathrooms attached to the huts the few baths on the first floor were in use seven days a week, a certain number of hours being allocated to the various sections personnel, fifteen minutes each to take a bath and only one a week so it was a case of booking a fifteen minute slot and hoping it would be at a time when the water was still hot.
We also had a Heinkel III that crash landed after being shot down following a raid on the Naval installations in Orkney and souvenir hunters had a whale of a time removing bits and pieces until it was stripped down and taken south on two big RAF trailers.
With the connection of electricity, hot water on tap, the central heating and showers operating, life became pleasanter but to provide a distraction from wartime life for a few hundred airmen was hard in Wick, a small town that suddenly had many more people within its boundaries and just didn't have the facilities. There was a NAAFI canteen on the camp but it was just starting up and couldn't offer the same as similar establishments on long standing RAF bases and wasn't well patronised. Those who liked to go out in the evening for a drink couldn't as there wasn't a pub in the town at that time but the British Legion Club in Pultneytown opened their doors and had more honorary members than at any time in its life. The two cinemas were well patronised, more so the Breadalbane in Pultneytown where, each week, was shown an episode of "Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars". The cheers and boos, whistles, whoops and other noises that echoed through the cinema during Flashes adventures on that far planet when he got the better of the wicked Nekon must have been heard in Wick. Following a visit to the cinema or a stroll round the town it was the accepted thing to head for "Hell's Kitchen" as it was popularly known, a fish and chip shop run by George Ball (I think that was his name) down by the harbour, the last shop in the street on the same side as Woolworths. The basement had been made in to a cafe, lots of tables each with four chairs and all sparking clean. There were three or four girls who took the orders and brought down platefuls of succulent fish and chips or whatever one fancied. It was never empty and George kept on frying until 11 pm or whenever his supplies ran out. Probably the most popular and busiest shop in the whole of the town.
My time in Wick ended in September 1940 when, instead of a "Qualified Officer etc" fully equipped bomb disposal squads with more personnel attached to them were established in various parts of the British Isles and it was to one of these that I went, ending almost a year of mixed experiences most of them fortunately being happy ones.