The Airmen's Stories - F/O B J Wicks
Bryan John Wicks was born in Felixstowe, Suffolk on 16th April 1920, the son of the Revd. Frederick John Wicks and Magdalene Wicks.
He was educated at Seaford College, Petworth, West Sussex. Wicks joined the RAF on a short service commission in March 1938. He was posted to 6 FTS Netheravon on 21st May and joined 56 Squadron at North Weald on 17th December.
During the fighting in France in May 1940 'B' Flight of 56 Squadron was sent to Vitry-en-Artois on the 16th to support the hard-pressed RAF squadrons.
Wicks engaged a Hs126 on the 22nd but was hit by ground fire and had to force-land his Hurricane N2431 behind enemy lines near the Belgian border. He managed to evade capture for ten days, making his way to Dunkirk. There he was arrested by the French on suspicion of being a German spy. Wicks was eventually passed to the British authorities and taken to England in a MTB.
Above: Wicks disguised as a Belgian civilian while on the run.
He was questioned by the Admiralty and Air Ministry, his identity was established and he was allowed to rejoin his squadron.
His colleague, F/O FB 'Barry' Sutton, gave Wicks' own account in his book 'The Way of a Pilot' (1943):
After being forced down by enemy fighters he made his way for ten days disguised as a Belgian peasant refugee across country from far behind the German lines. He obtained most of his food from German soldiers. Numerous German troops questioned him and other refugees with whom he travelled. His knowledge of French saved him from many awkward situations.
Wicks passed through the German front by crawling through long grass for more than a mile to a canal. As soon as he crossed the canal he was arrested by the French. “Most of the Belgians with whom I traveled guessed that I was English, but they did not give me away”. he says. “I was advised to talk as little as possible when Germans appeared, for I was told that my French had a terrible English accent! When I found the Belgians moving back towards Belgium I attached myself to parties of French peasants.” Once he borrowed a motorcar to drive Belgian refugees through the German lines. German soldiers held up the car when they had gone only a few miles and took it away.
“Incidentally, I owe my final escape to the Royal Air Force. I was on the outskirts of Dunkirk and I had to pass through the German patrolled area at the back of the town. Every few hundred yards German sentries were posted along the roads. It was thus impossible for anyone to get by. One day there was a terrible aerial battle. Hurricanes and Messerschmitts and Heinkels and Spitfires were doing their stuff. It was a thrilling show, and the sentries thought so too. They looked skywards and I slipped through. When I reached the canal I called across to a group of French soldiers and got over the canal in a small boat. The French arrested me on suspicion of being a spy. I was taken before the Lieutenant and from the lieutenant to a major, and so up the scale until at length I was brought before a general. I told him who I was, and where I came from. Eventually I was passed on to the British authorities at Dunkirk.
Once again I was suspected, though I was treated extremely well. a naval commander took charge of me and I was technically under arrest until I had been brought to England in a motor torpedo boat, questioned at the Admiralty, and later at the Air Ministry, where my identity was established. People who saw me in London must have thought I was either a spy of a Fifth Columnist, or something like that. I was subjected to the strangest looks.”
On 14th August 1940 he made a forced landing at North Weald in Hurricane N2429 but ran into Blenheim L1418 of 25 Squadron at the dispersal point. The fuselage was damaged forward of the gun turret, the centre section was destroyed, the starboard engine was destroyed, the starboard wing damaged as was the cockpit.
Wicks was unable to see properly due to a glycol leak filling his cockpit with fumes and no blame was attributed to him.
On 16th August 1940 Wicks claimed a Do17 destroyed and on the 24th a Me109. He was shot down two days later by a Me109 over Canterbury and baled out, unhurt. His Hurricane, V7340, crashed in the River Stour near Grove Ferry, Upstreet. He destroyed a Me110 on the 30th.
In April 1941 his friend F/Lt. REP Brooker was posted away from 56 Squadron to command No. 1 Squadron. As a leaving present he was presented with an 'Iron Cross', fashioned by Wicks on behalf of 'the lads left behind in the old 56 Squadron'.
The presentation case, a Kensitas cigarette packet, contained a crudely made ‘iron cross’ suspended from a piece of deckchair canvas from a large safety pin. Brooker claimed to value this higher than his official awards.
Wicks was awarded the DFC (gazetted 6th June 1941).
He was posted away from 56 Squadron in November 1941 to take command of 610 Squadron at Leconfield, he then moved to lead 64 Squadron at Hornchurch in December, doing so until March 1942.
In August Wicks went to Malta to command 126 Squadron at Luqa. He was killed in Spitfire V BR377 on 12th October 1942 when the squadron engaged
Ju88s attacking Hal Far. He was seen to bale out, though obviously injured, his parachute deployed but no trace of him was found.
Wicks was 22 and is commemorated on the Malta Memorial.
At the time of Wicks' loss his father was vicar of All Saints Church in Garsdon, Wiltshire (population 505).
When the war ended the villagers wanted to place a war memorial in the church, however Wicks was the only casualty connected with the village. The vicar refused permission as he was convinced that his son would 'return from the dead', as he had done previously.
The vicar died in 1960 and a memorial was installed on Remembrance Sunday that year.
Above image courtesy of Liz Walker, Churchwarden, All Saints Church, Garsdon.