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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J Pickering


James Pickering was born on 4th June 1915 in Hinckley, Leicestershire and joined the RAFVR in April 1937 as an Airman u/t Pilot. He started training at Desford.

In 1st September 1939 the FAA was short of pilots and after Pickering was called up he was attached to Donibristle and he joined the Torpedo-Spotter-Reconnaissance Flight.

He was later posted for deck-landing training on HMS Argus in the Western Mediterranean. His attachment ceased and he returned to the RAF, being posted to 3 B&GS Aldergrove as a staff pilot. On 4th May 1940 Pickering was recalled to the FAA and joined 759 (T) Squadron at Eastleigh for a refresher deck-landing course.



He was serving with 804 Squadron at Hatston by 23rd May. In June Pickering was recalled to the RAF and posted to 7 OTU Hawarden. After converting to Spitfires he joined 64 Squadron at Kenley on 1st July 1940.

Within two weeks Pickering was told to report to Uxbridge and joined a group of nine sergeants and one officer. They were flown to Hullavington, picked up Hurricanes, flew them to Abbotsinch and then embarked on HMS Argus, where they were joined by four more officers. They were told their destination was Malta and they were now attached to 418 Flight.

The Argus sailed on 23rd July, arrived at Gibraltar and sailed for Malta on the 31st. At dawn on 2nd August Pickering and the others flew off to Luqa. 418 Flight and the Malta Fighter Flight were amalgamated into 261 Squadron on 16th August 1940.

Pickering damaged a Ju87, a Ju88 and a Cant Z506B on 19th January 1941. He left Malta on 7th April, flying to Egypt as a passenger in a Wellington. He ferried a Hurricane to Greece, then joined the ADU at Takoradi.

Commissioned in January 1942, Pickering was in Cairo when he met some American Flying Tiger pilots who were bound for Accra to collect some P-40s, flown in from an American aircraft carrier. Pickering and two other RAF ferry pilots applied for local leave and went to Accra with the US pilots and collected the P-40s. Permission was obtained to fly on to Kunming, via Karachi and Calcutta. They arrived at Kunming on 5th May 1942, making what was one of the earliest flights by single engined fighters over the 'Hump'.

A few days later Pickering and his two companions flew back to Egypt with General Stillwell. Overdue from leave, they were technically deserters and were fined their pay and allowances for the time spent in India and China. There were still some P-40s in Cairo and Pickering flew one to Karachi, where he was to pick up a Boston for delivery to Basra.

En route there, Pickering's aircraft began giving trouble whilst flying through a sandstorm. He began to run short of fuel and diverted east to Persia, making a forced-landing on a short beach. The nose wheel dug in and Pickering and his passengers could not move it clear of the rising tide. Their position was unknown because they had been unable to make radio contact with their lead aircraft before breaking away but it had been assumed, wrongly, that Pickering had flown westwards.

They were reported 'Missing' and were stranded for three weeks before being picked up by the Royal Navy. In late November 1942 Pickering joined 80 Squadron in the Western Desert. He moved to 145 Squadron there just before Christmas 1942.

In June 1943 Pickering returned to the UK. He went to 3501 SU at Cranfield, test-flying Spitfires and Mustangs. In April 1944 he joined 511 Forward Repair Unit as Chief Test Pilot, and later he took command of the Unit.

From November 1944 to October 1945 Pickering was serving with 151 RUA in Belgium as Chief Test Pilot. He was released from the RAF in late 1945 as a Flight Lieutenant and was awarded the AFC (gazetted 1st January 1946).

Pickering served in the RAFVR from December 1945 to 1st September 1975. He went into printing and later became director of a Building Society.

He died on 6th October 2004.


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