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Wings Over Wick
|H M (Bunny) March, Canada
I am a very lucky man, this was the very first meeting I had attended of the Aircrew Association in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, and received my first Aircrews "Airnews" newsletter, and lo and behold -there were you two wee lassies asking about all the goings on in Wick.
I joined 612 squadron in 1940, this was the Aberdeen Auxiliary Squadron based at Dyce, Aberdeen. The auxiliary squadrons were brought about by Mr Winston Churchill and consisted 99% of volunteers, these volunteers learnt how to fly and maintain the aircraft in their spare time at weekends and evenings, or whenever they could get away from their normal daily work. I was very proud to join an auxiliary squadron, though I, like many other young people, joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) in 1939 before the war, and we likewise did our flying training and learned our other aircrew lessons (navigation, meteorology, theory of flight, etc) at weekends and during the week, but we did not have the privilege of belonging to a particular squadron, like the Auxiliaries.
612 squadron was posted to Wick in 1940/41. We were flying Whitley's at the time. We called them "coffin boxes" because they were shaped like a coffin, painted all black at that time, flew with their nose down, and were dreadfully slow and sluggish.
The squadron belonged to Coastal Command and we were responsible for anti-submarine and convoy patrols in the North Atlantic. We were the first squadron to be equipped with anti-submarine radar. The aerials were called "Yaggie", and consisted of aerials out in front of the aircraft, and at the side, and on top along the fuselage.
When we were at Wick they eventually altered the fuel tanks so as to increase our range out into the Atlantic, so instead of 8 hour flights, we did 12 hour flights. To get this endurance, we had to fly the aircraft at 5 knots above stalling speed, and of course we were only flying 1000 or 1500 feet above the sea, so that we could spot the submarines or their periscopes and would not be too high above the water, so that we wasted no time if we had to attack. We had a very primitive "George" in the aircraft (automatic pilot) and if that went wrong it would normally make the aircraft "nose up" or "go straight down". There is no doubt that because of flying at those speeds and elevations we lost a number of aircraft into the sea without ever hearing the "distress signal" from their radio. While at Wick the squadron was posted to Iceland, so we had a base at both Wick and Reykjavik. My wife and I lived out while I was stationed at Wick, my wife working in the NAAFI. We lodged in a little cottage on the road into Wick, and for a short time at the Hotel in town. Of course the town was "dry", no drinking allowed, although the RAF were allowed drink in the NAAFI and in the messes on the aerodrome. We found the people very hospitable.
I can also remember one very bad winter, the snow was so bad the train got stuck coming up to Wick, and the squadron went out and dropped food and blankets, etc, by parachute, some of your townspeople may remember the occasion. I re-visited Wick two years ago with my navigator who owned the Royal Hotel at Thurso - Scotty Taylor - he passed away recently. We went onto the aerodrome and except for the hangars we could only recognise the old parachute hut, and the hotel had changed and been remodelled - very traumatic.