Fredrick George Wicks

My Service Life in the RAF

By David Taft

From Durban to Calcutta

A glorious time in Durban

Photo:Fred Wicks in India 1944

Fred Wicks in India 1944

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Xmas card sent home

Xmas card sent home

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Fred in 2007

Fred in 2007

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Fred Wicks

Draughtsman, Royal Air Force


September 1941 to December 1946

Fredrick George Wicks

"Fred" Wicks was born on the 11th May 1923 in Battersea London. He started his schooling aged 3 leaving his last school at 15 in 1938. He worked in an engineering firm until he went into the RAF in September 1941. One of his earliest memories was of when he was aged 8 and was taken by his Father to the main road junction on Remembrance Day." Everything and everyone came to a standstill, pity this is not followed today "(Fred) This is his story about his time in the RAF:

Joining the RAF

I joined the RAF Volunteer Reserves in 1941 at the age of 18. At first the Engineering Company I worked for would not let me join up as I was in a reserved occupation but my trade union arranged for me to be released. Unfortunately I failed the medical for flight crew as they said I was under weight. I then went to Blackpool to train as a wireless operator but found I could not master the art of Morse etc after 6 weeks. However because of my engineering background I was transferred to a Flight Engineers Mechanics course working on engines such as the famous Rolls Royce Merlin for 20 weeks.

Leaving England

I served in several places in the UK finally leaving England from Blackpool travelling to Durban in South Africa were we stayed for 6 weeks. We had a glorious time. The food was wonderful after the UK and we were taken out by families living in the area. The 6 weeks came to an end to quickly.

In October 1942 we arrived in Bombay India, from there we were taken by rail to Calcutta. Unfortunately on the way I contracted dysentery and spent some time in hospital before I could join my unit at Dum, Dum Chittergong advanced airfield. Whilst there I volunteered for a detachment; the Daily Routine Orders stated that draughtsman were required to help make maps.

Joining an American Unit.

I was then transferred to an American unit for about 6 months and I saw how different life was in the American Forces. I was told on my arrival that I was to work in the War Room an inner sanctum reserved only for the officer class. The Americans were not interested in that distinction they wanted someone who could make the "maps come alive". I was allowed to go in for two hours in the morning and ½ hour in the evening to update the maps from reports and photographs. As one American put it "in your forces you call the troops men but treat them as boys we call them boys but treat them as men." They also had all the equipment and were even able to construct an impromptu dance hall when they had some female personal stop over. Unfortunately these 6 months also came to an end to quickly!

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

I enjoyed my experience in India tremendously and several experiences are still vivid one of the most pleasant was when I travelled on the narrow gauge railway to Darjeeling. At least once a year we were sent on leave to a hill station to escape the heat of the plains. In 1945 I learnt that I was to travel on the famous railway just mentioned. The track gauge was only 24 inches wide but despite its look the engine was very powerful. Climbing through the foothills those who had not travelled this way before kept a sharp lookout as this was Tiger country. As the climb got steeper the train was only inches away from the rock face on one side on the other a drop of up to a thousand feet. The curves were very tight and the train went round them like a model.

Victory in Europe

On our arrival we went to our Hotel "The Holiday Homes" run by Mr and Mrs Simpson and their daughter Betty (eight). We used to visit the schools in the area and one day the boys were running around their playing field without any teachers being nosey we asked why? "Have you not heard Germany has serenaded". To their amazement a couple of other of our lads turned up and we all danced round in a circle. That evening (after obtaining permission from Mr Simpson he agreed it was a momentous occasion) we toasted everyone and anyone until the drink we had obtained from the village was finished. From there we went up to the clubhouse and had an impromptu dance until 1.30 when we all sat down on the floor to listen to the King's radio speech.

Back at the unit.

On our return to our unit we witnessed the pressure building up as more and more supplies poured into South east Asia and the push down to Burma was increasing and before long we were working in shifts covering a full 24 hours. August arrived with the news of the atomic bombs on Japan and the war was over at last, however there was still a great deal of work to do providing maps for the ground troops. During the celebrations I went sick with malaria and whilst in hospital contracted yellow jaundice.

Home on leave.

Because of my medical condition I was sent home on leave arriving back in the UK October / November time. In December I was posted to Headquarters 3rd Tactical division Bad Oeynhausen. On arrival I was taken by car to Headquarters Building were I was taken to see the Officer-in-Charge. After a few questions I was taken by the duty officer, to my office: an empty room and told to make a list of everything I required. Not having been told at this stage what my duties were to be I asked but was told that I would have to see the Officer in charge. I was surprised that an appointment was made for 9.15 the next day. On arrival at his office the following day I explained my predicament and he immediately summoned a particular officer who took me back to my office which now contained two armchairs and he explained the position. I was to coordinate all reports coming in and display them on a large map I had to obtain which was to be placed on the wall

Like a war room.

In my naivety and enthusiasm and because of me experiences in India as this was explained to me I said "like a war room then".  The Officer immediately responded to this casual remake leaving the office returning with the Officer in Charge. I then had to repeat my remark to him I did this and was straight away sent to see the Commanding Officer accompanied by two guards. It is not often that an Airman is shown into the office of an Air Vice Marshall and he came to the point straight away "what do know about war rooms?"

I told him about my experiences in India and he went on to explain that there were persons infiltrating into service units to get information and my casual remark had rung a few bells. I returned to my office and requested slightly more than I would require in the anticipation that it would be cut down, but no within two days I had what I required. As soon as my map and wall were ready reports started to come in. Plotting these locations on the map soon meant I had various Officers visiting and discussing with each other what was happening.

Released into Civilian Life.

Finally September 1946 arrived and I went to no 104 Personnel Dispersal unit and was released on the 5th September with a new suit, shoes, raincoat etc and a railway warrant to the nearest station to home, as I had 94 days leave due my final date of service would be the 8th December 1946 when I was placed on G/1 reserve. It was all done so quick in the end that it seemed that "they" wanted to get rid of us, but looking back it was the terrific organisation entailed that made it appear so.

Fredrick George West (Fred) 2007

Audio transcripts
Transcript for 'From Durban to Calcutta':

I was first sent to South Africa for six weeks, Durban  - a glorious time. Well, you come from Britain and you go there and they've got an abundance of everything. You could go into one of maybe ten charity places and get a meal for virtually nothing - as much as you could eat. It was marvellous - the six weeks came to an end too soon.

This page was added by Gina Da Cunha on 27/03/2008.

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