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RAF Wick

(Redirected from Handley-Page Hampden P 2118 Ben Loyal)

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RAF Wick was established in 1939, when the Air Ministry took over the grass airfield at Wick.

The airfield at Wick had opened in 1933, when Captain EE (Ted) Fresson began operating Highland Airways Ltd, which would later become Scottish Airways Ltd. On May 8, 1933, Scotland's first commercial airline was started by Captain Fresson, when Highland Airways inaugural flight flew from Inverness to Wick and Kirkwall.

World War II

In 1939, the grass airfield was taken over by the Air Ministry and hard runways were constructed along with hangars and other buildings. Wick, along with its satellite airfield at RAF Skitten to the nortwest, was administered by No 18 Group, RAF Coastal Command, with headquarters at RAF Pitreavie, Fife.

The first RAF Squadron to be based at Wick arrived from Montrose in October 1939, No 269 Sqn flying Avro Ansons. The Anson crews from Wick were to became well known to Orkney lighthouse keepers, as they dropped newspapers and magazines to the men in their isolated locations.

Postwar

Wick Airport lies about one mile (1.5 km) to the north of Wick, and operates scheduled flights to Kirkwall in Orkney and Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness with through connections to London and beyond. The airport is operated by Highland and Islands Airports Limited, a company wholly owned by the Scottish Ministers and sponsored by the Scottish Government Transport Directorate, and has the International Air Transport Association (IATA) location code "WIC".

The runway appears to be rather long for the type of aircraft which now operate from Wick, and this is a legacy from World War II, when much larger aircraft operated from the area as part of Britain's northern defences.

Handley-Page Hampden P2118 Ben Loyal

The following is reproduced under the 'fair dealing' terms offered by the BBC in association with their WW2 People's War project.

A Lucky Escape

On the 25th August 1943 a Handley-Page Hampden bomber (Number P5334) of RAF Coastal Commands 519 Squadron 1406 (Metrological) flight, took off from Wick airport in Caithness at 9:35am. The unit operated Hudson’s, Hampden’s and Spitfires the squadron’s duty was to measure climatic conditions, so future weather predictions could be made. Flights were made over Iceland, then east towards Norway and then back via the Faroe Isles, a trip of over 7 hours.

At 13.25hrs a message was heard at Sullom Voe, in the Shetlands that the aircraft was reporting engine problems, ten minutes later an SOS was heard, no further radio traffic was heard and no trace of the aircraft was ever found. Later that day 519 Squadron Commander Flight Lieutenant H R Puplett took off in Hampden (Number P2118) to search for the missing plane. The other crewmembers were Flying Officer Ritchie (Navigator), Flying Officer Faulks and Sergeant Hudson-Ball were the observers.

Puplett searched all night (nearly eight hours), for the missing plane until by midnight they were flying through a lightning storm heading back towards Wick. Flying Officer Faulks was listening to the radio but the transmissions in Morse were distorted by the electrical storm, as he worked he saw a blinding flash followed by a violent blow and he was knocked out.

The aircraft had flown into Ben Loyal (2,504feet) at 150mph, the mountain is a few miles from the small village of Tongue, and 50 miles from their base at Wick. Flying Officer Faulks had been thrown clear from the smash and came round to find his aeroplane a blaze all around him, he then crawled behind a rock to escape from the exploding ammunition cooking off in the fire.

He lay in the open for about six hours until a rescue party arrived from the nearby farm at Ribigil, the rescue party led by shepherd E Campbell and Dr F Y McHendrick found and then treated the injured Flying Officers. The rescue party then strapped Faulks to a piece of aircraft wreckage, filled him full of morphine and dragged him off Ben Loyal.

The first part of the journey from the base of the mountain was by horse and cart, Faulks was then transferred to an RAF ambulance for the journey to Golspie’s Lawson County Hospital about 40miles away. On his arrival (15hours after the crash) at hospital he was found to have very serious injuries including a broken right leg, a smashed up left foot and severe facial injuries and was initially not expected to live. He did live and spent 18months-receiving treatment for his injuries before rejoining his squadron and flying again before the war ended.

Shepherd E Campbell and Dr McHendrick were both awarded the British Empire Medal for their rescue of the downed aviator on that night. In all they made six trips up and down to the aircraft that night, recovering the injured man and the bodies of his comrades. Dr McHendrick was also praised for his efforts in keeping Flying Officer Faulks alive as they removed him to safety.

The wreckage of Handley-Page Hampden (Number P2118) can still be found on Ben Loyal today, bullet riddled panels and machinery scattered through the gorse testament to the time when the war came to a small hamlet in the Highlands of Scotland. 10,875 men from RAF Bomber Command died during World War 2 not all of them in action as this story tells.

© Alasdair Sutherland, WW2 People's War.[1] [2]

References

1 Alasdair Sutherland, WW2 People's War

2 Aircrash Sites Scotland, P2118 report

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