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Wings Over Wick
|Kenny Martin, Glasgow
I had joined the Royal Air Force in November 1935 and after my technical training as a rigger (a rigger looks after the body and wings, etc. of the aircraft but not the engines) I was sent to Abbotsinch, RAF station, where Glasgow airport is now. When war broke out on 3rd September 1939 my squadron was posted to Montrose and, later that year, we were moved up to Wick. The squadron was number 269 and our aircraft were Avro Ansons, and the flying crews duties were spotting for enemy submarines in the North sea between Wick and Stavanger in Norway.
When we arrived in Wick there was a fighter squadron of Hurricanes who also used Wick as their base. I was 25 years old at that time and had married my wife on the 23 September while I was at Montrose. When she followed me up to Wick we lived in lodgings at a Mrs Sinclair's house. Not long after that we went to live with a Mrs Falconer in a very old cottage overlooking the harbour on the north side of the town. In this house we had to use paraffin lamps, as there was no electricity laid on and the water closet was outside. However, we became very friendly with Mrs Falconer and her sister-in-law, Jessie. We enjoyed our stay at the cottage where we remained until I was posted on a course to England in (I think) November, 1940.
That first winter of the war was a very bad one. There were gales up to eighty and ninety miles per hour with heavy snow as well. I was attached to (B) flight and the aircraft which I was looking after was marked (k), for king. The whole squadron, that is, all the aircraft, were dispersed at the furthest end of the aerodrome and it was quite a long way for us to walk out to them from the main part of the camp. Sometimes during the snow blizzards we had great difficulty in finding the aircraft which were pegged down here and there and sheltered by mounds of earth on three sides. This was to protect the aircraft as much as possible if any bombs fell. Although no aircraft were sent up during this bad weather we airmen had to still go out and service the planes and run the engines. Because of the snow we all had to wear great coats, scarves, balaclavas, helmets, gloves and wellington boots. However, we survived. When our Ansons made their patrols from Wick to Norway and back the distance was so great that when the aircraft arrived back at Wick there was only a very small amount of petrol left in their tanks. On one occasion a returning Anson, having encountered strong head winds on the return journey just failed by the narrowest of margins, to reach the aerodrome. With completely dry tanks the plane flopped down bodily on top of a brick defence gun-post, still carrying its bombs. There were two gunners in the gun-post, who had a miraculous escape. They were having a cup of tea from their thermos flask at the time but they had no time to run. One of them was unhurt and the other got off with a broken arm. If the Anson had been just a few feet higher it would have cleared the gun-post and made a normal landing.
Another time, one of our Hudsons, complete with bomb-load, was taking off at the same time as a Hurricane fighter. As I believe I said before, Wick aerodrome was grass covered and did not have runways like modern airports have now. Whatever the reason, the two aircraft came together before either got off the ground and they caught fire. Some of the crew were killed out-right, but at least two others, badly burned and injured, were taken to the sickbay. They died shortly afterwards. Amazingly, the bombs in the Hudson did not explode. My wife and I found the town of Wick and the residents, very pleasant. My wife did complain in a mild way about the steepness of some of the streets but, being young in those days, this was not a big problem. While sight seeing we visited the two ruined castles, Sinclair Castle and Girnigoe Castle. We enjoyed going to the pictures during our stay at Wick. Our favourites were "The Perils of Pauline" and "Flash Gordon". These were an on-going series and we wouldn't have missed them for anything.