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Wings Over Wick
|Mr Cliff Peters, MBE, Bristol
Cliff Peters was a wireless operator/air gunner with 612 squadron flying Whitley bombers from Wick. He was posted to Wick in October 1941.
We didn't really get a chance to explore Wick much when we arrived. We were novices, newcomers to the game so if we wanted to stay alive we had to learn the job pretty quickly. In December we were ordered to fly to Iceland and that was a shock to us. It was 900 miles away but seemed like thousands because the furthest we'd ever flown was from Cranwell to Wick. We flew to Reykjavik but almost as soon as we got there we discovered our aircraft was due for a major service and had to be flown back to Wick.
On 22nd Dee 1941 we set out from Reykjavik to Wick, loaded down with a passenger, two dogs (not allowed to stay in Iceland) and all of the last minute Christmas mail, which was crammed in every nook and cranny. The first attempt was almost total disaster - pitch dark and frozen flying instruments! Thank God Reykjavik was totally lit up. The second attempt was better – we got almost halfway to Wick when an engine burst into flames and had to be switched off. During the next few hours everything, which wasn't welded on, was thrown overboard, save the dogs, in an entirely selfish endeavour to keep aloft. On our return to Reykjavik every one congratulated us on our survival, and not a soul griped about the loss of expensive Christmas presents. The dogs thought it a tremendous lark! So it was Christmas for us in the land of Santa Claus, instead of Hogmanay in Wick. Still, Christmas anywhere is better than the alternative.
It was not until the 22nd Sept 1942 that we returned to Wick to take up convoy duty patrols known as "Floras" over the North Sea. They were the most tiring and trying duties for, of all the many I undertook, we never saw as much as a sausage, save for once when we had a fleeting glimpse of a German Blohm and Vrss HA 138 aircraft which quickly disappeared.
On the 28th March 1943 we had been detailed a practice bombing trip. A raft was anchored in the middle of Wick bay and we used smoke bombs to see how accurately we aimed this target. Although we were only going to fly for half an hour, we took off totally loaded with petrol for a ten and a half hour flight. As we made our second run up to the target, a big ugly black finger of smoke came over my right shoulder. The port engine had caught fire.
We were refused permission to land at Wick as there already was an aircraft about to take off and it was too late to abort it. Harold, the pilot brought our aircraft in from Wick bay, up through the harbour, over the bridge and followed the river for about half a mile upstream hoping to be able to sneak in to the airport from the backend. Unfortunately Whitleys don't fly very well on one engine and so we crashed on the road from Wick to Thurso about a mile outside the town. We snapped our wing off on a telegraph pole and landed in a field just beside the road. As the fuel on board started to go up, the ammunition began to pop off. We dived out and ran for cover before the depth charges went up. We took cover in a ditch and up came an army wagon and a young chap - not more than 17 or 18, jumped out with a car fire extinguisher. He was going to try and put out a 1000 gallons of petrol with this tiny thing and I had to do a very quick rugby tackle on him as he ran towards the aircraft. The whole lot went up in a most expensive bonfire. Apart from bruises and one crewmember having a blister on his hand we all escaped unhurt.
Finally, over and above everything else, I should mention Mr and Mrs Ches McDonald who lived in a flat in Bridge Street. They had a young son lan and daughter Cynthia. Out of the little they had, they treated us like princes and we were ever so thankful. I've never forgotten their kindness to us.