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Wings Over Wick
H Grace, Southampton, Hants
In January 1940, 605 squadron was posted to Wick to help defend the Royal Navy at Scapa Flow. The airfield at that time was an all grass surface and although the Ansons and Hudsons of Coastal Command could operate, it was not possible for our fighters to operate and a temporary runway of wire and steel had to be laid quickly. It was not only the airfield that was not fully operational. I recall that on arrival at Wick, preparations for our reception were barely complete and this was evident when we took up 'residence' in our allotted Nissan Hut. The floors were bare concrete and apart from a bed, there was no storage facilities for clothes and equipment. This was very unhygienic as our clothing usually had a damp feeling about them. Apart from the accommodation the general feeling among us "erks" in those early days was not very complimentary towards RAF Wick. However, things soon improved in the state of the accommodation and food and we settled down quite happily to our tasks for the remaining short period of our stay.
There was not a great 'social scene' in Wick as I remember it. Our main pastime in our off duty periods, thanks to the poor diet of the 'cookhouse', was to visit the Bon Accord Cafe which served delicious home cooked food, and for personnel returning on the overnight train an exquisite breakfast of sausage, bacon and eggs. This establishment became our favourite venue apart from the hairdresser. Why the hairdresser, you may ask? A gentleman and his daughter operated one of the town’s establishments. I think this must have been the first occasion we had ever experienced a female gent's hairdresser. Like the Bon Accord, there was usually a large clientele of young airmen, but in this case all hoping to have the attention of the pretty young lady, rather than her father, for a "short back and sides" haircut. These visits to the town were not frequent as we had very little time off duty. Being a defensive unit, we had long periods of "standby duty" when we had to be ready for immediate take off should any enemy aircraft be observed.
I cannot remember the date of this sad occasion but the squadron had been ordered on patrol on the sighting of an enemy patrol. One of the pilots, a young sergeant pilot, attacked one of the German aircraft which I believe crashed into the sea. On his return to base the pilot performed a "Victory Roll" and, probably in his excitement, lost control of the aircraft and crashed into the cliffs. His body was recovered and given a military burial in the cemetery on the outskirts of Wick.
Soon after this event, in April or May 1940, the squadron was sent to Hawkinge in Kent to cover the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces from Dunkirk and I have not returned to Wick since then, although I have visited Scotland on holiday.
Mr Grace later became a pilot with No 77 Bomber Squadron and after 13 operational sorties over Germany and on the night of the 27/28th December 1941 his aircraft was shot down by a Messerschmitt 110 night fighter. He was taken prisoner of war in Germany until liberated by the Russian Army, three and a half years later.