A Collection of Awards to the Royal Air Force between the Wars (1919-1939) formed by Group Captain JE Barker

Date of Auction: 6th December 2017

Sold for £4,000

Estimate: £1,800 - £2,200

A fine Second War ‘1941’ Hurricane and Spitfire pilots’ D.F.C. group of six awarded to Squadron Leader B. J. Wicks, Royal Air Force, whose two years of war service included: during the Battle of France - 1 destroyed, a force landing behind enemy lines, evading capture for 12 days disguised as a Belgian refugee and evacuation from Dunkirk under British naval arrest; during the Battle of Britain - 2 destroyed and being shot down himself; and during the Siege of Malta - the command of 126 Squadron, 1 destroyed and 1 shared destroyed. He was shot down for a last time and killed over Malta, 12 October 1942, aged just 22 years old

Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., reverse officially dated ‘1941, and additionally engraved ‘F/Lt. B. J. Wicks 56 Sqn R.A.F.’; 1939-45 Star, copy clasp, Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe Star; Africa Star; Defence and War Medals, M.I.D. Oak Leaf, mounted for display, good very fine (6) £1800-2200

Footnote

D.F.C. London Gazette 6 June 1941:

‘This officer has served with the squadron since the war began. In May, 1940, during the intensive air operations in France, he was forced to land behind the German lines after he had destroyed one of their aircraft. Nevertheless, he succeeded in reaching this country in safety. He has destroyed at least three enemy aircraft and shared in the destruction of others.

Flight Lieutenant Wicks, who recently assumed command of his flight, has shown excellent qualities of leadership and determination.’

M.I.D. London Gazette 1 January 1941.

Bryan John Wicks was the son of the Reverend F. J. Wicks and was born at St. Marys, High Road, Felixstowe, in April 1920. He was educated at Seaford College, Sussex, and joined the Royal Air Force on a short service commission as Acting Pilot Officer in the General Duties Branch, 7 May 1938. Wicks was confirmed Pilot Officer in March the following year, and at the outbreak of the Second War as a pilot with 56 Squadron (Hurricanes), North Weald. The Squadron’s ‘B’ Flight, of which Wicks was a member, operated from Vitry-en-Artois during the Battle of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk.

Whilst on patrol over northern France, 22 May 1940, Wicks is recorded as having shot down an enemy aircraft before having to force land near the Belgian border. A. B. Austin’s Fighter Command describes what awaited Wicks:

‘The prize for the Escape of the Month, if there had been one, would probably have gone to the Flying Officer of 56 Squadron who a fortnight after he had disappeared over Belgium, returned to his Essex fighter station wearing an old and musty hat, too short stove-pipe trousers like a leggy schoolboy, a dirty grey jacket, and an old, ragged overcoat. For twelve days, he said, he had been plodding in this refugee disguise through Belgium towards the German lines around Dunkirk.

When his Hurricane was forced down in Belgium, he knew that he must either give himself up, or get rid of his uniform. His knowledge of French helped him to borrow clothes from a Belgian peasant, and he set off westwards. Only once during the twelve days did he ride - in a borrowed car filled with Belgian refugees. After a few miles, German soldiers held up the car, searched the refugees (but by some curious luck left the flying officer alone) and sent them on their way on foot. Had they searched him they would have found that, unlike the others, he had no identity card to prove that he was a genuine refugee.

Identity card or not, he must have looked genuine, for he said that German soldiers quite often gave him food as he plodded along the roads. His French, which was good enough to allow him to appear a Belgian to Frenchmen, and a Frenchman to Belgians, would not seem suspicious to the Germans. But to avoid making himself conspicuous, he attached himself to different batches of refugees moving towards the coast.

Now and then he would seek shelter in a farmhouse or cottage. If he could make sure that the farmer of peasant was friendly, he would tell them that he was English, in order that they might be fully aware of the risk they were running should the Germans find him in their house.

Towards the end of his journey, it became rather difficult to keep in a westerly direction without drawing attention to himself. The Belgian army had capitulated, and Belgian refugees were moving back into Belgium, but he managed to slip through to the outskirts of Dunkirk. There he faced his most difficult problem - how to pass through the German lines. Sentries were posted every few hundred yards. He hung about for more than a day, waiting his chance, but it did not seem possible to go near without being caught.

Oddly enough, the pilots of the Fighter Command, without knowing it, helped him make his final escape. As he lay watching the sentries, a noisy and spectacular air battle swept unusually low overhead. He could see Hurricanes and Spitfires, Messerschmitts and Heinkels circling, diving and dodging in furious dogfight, machine gun clatter, bomber engine roar and fighter whine answering each other. Suddenly it occurred to him that if he found all this so well worth watching, the sentries must be equally absorbed. He looked at them, and sure enough their heads were craned back and they were gazing at the sky.

Praying that his fellow pilots up there would keep at it, he began to crawl forward. The summer grass in the field where he had been lying was long and kept him fairly well hidden for nearly a mile. At the end of his crawl, he was stopped by a canal. On the other side of the canal were French soldiers. They sent over a boat to bring him across, and promptly arrested him.

Having no pass or identity card, he had many grades of questioners to satisfy before he could be cleared of suspicion. The French guards passed him through lieutenant to major, and up the scale to general. They all satisfied themselves sufficiently to allow him to be handed over to the British authorities in Dunkirk, who also placed him under arrest. In charge of a naval commander, he was brought to England by motor torpedo boat, was questioned both at Admiralty and Air Ministry, and was finally returned, for further use, to his squadron.’

Wicks returned to 56 Squadron at North Weald, and flew operationally throughout the Battle of Britain. He was slightly injured as a result of a flying accident over North Weald, 14 August 1940. Wicks was up in the air again two days later to claim a Messerschmitt Bf 110c destroyed, a feat he repeated when he claimed a Bf 109e destroyed 24 August 1940. The latter aircraft was shot down over the Thames Estuary, and an official photograph of the wrecked aircraft (held by the Imperial War Museum, and used as an illustration in F. K .Mason’s Battle Over Britain) exists.

Two days after his last victory, Wicks was shot down by a Bf 109 and forced to bale out over Canterbury. His Hurricane crashed in the River Stour near Grove Ferry, Upstreet, Kent. Wicks was promoted Flying Officer in September 1940, and Flight Lieutenant in September 1941. He was posted as Acting Squadron Leader to command 610 Squadron (Spitfires), Leconfield, in November 1941. Wicks then went on to command 64 Squadron (Spitfires) at Hornchurch, December 1941 - March 1942. The Squadron was engaged in sweeps over northern France.

By August 1942, Wicks had been posted to command 126 Squadron (Spitfires) at Luqa in Malta. He was one of 28 pilots to successfully fly their Spitfires off H.M.S. Eagle to land on Malta, 21 July 1942. The Squadron’s Spitfires helped preserve Malta’s defences, and enabled it to continue to act as an offensive base interrupting enemy supply lines between Italy and Libya. The fighting was intense with Wicks and his pilots constantly in action. He shared in the destruction of a Ju88, 13 August 1942, as a convoy of ships (including the damaged tanker Ohio) were under attack on the approach to Malta:

‘At 1800 four Spitfires of 126 Squadron patrolled over the convoy at 9,000 feet, when three Ju88’s of LG 1 were seen about three miles away, commencing their dives from out of the sun. Sqn. Ldr. Wicks (AB465) immediately endeavoured to intercept but by the time he arrived the first had released its bombs and disappeared. The second failed to drop any bombs and climbed away but Wicks engaged the third - L1+BL flown by Uffz. Gerhard Böhr - as it dived on Ohio:

‘I closed with it expending all my ammunition, opening fire at 200 yards, closing to 100 yards. I saw strikes on the starboard mainplane, and a piece dropped off. I then broke away. Red 3, who then attacked the Ju88 states that as I broke away, the starboard engine of the Ju88 started to smoke.’ (Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942, by C. Shores, B. Cull and N. Malizia refers)

Wicks suffered damaged to his own aircraft during combat, 17 September 1942:

‘Sqn. Ldr. Wicks led his eight aircraft after an estimated 15 Bf109’s seen over Zonqor, but a further eight were then seen below at about 18,000 feet, and these were engaged about 20 miles north-east of Grand Harbour. Plt. Off. W. L. Thompson reported shooting one down, while Sqn. Ldr. Wicks’ aircraft was slightly damaged.’ (Ibid)

Wicks claimed his final victory, 11 October 1942, when he destroyed a Macchi over Malta. The following day was one of major raids, and five were experienced between dawn and dusk. Wicks was killed whilst trying to repel the first raid:

‘Meanwhile, surviving Ju88’s of the second wave swept in to bomb Hal Far, where one Spitfire was burnt out. One more Spitfire and two Hurricanes were slightly damaged. This formation had already suffered heavily from attacks by six of 126 Squadron north of Grand Harbour - one Ju88 had been hit and had turned for Sicily, while four were claimed shot down. Escorting 51 Stormo Macchi pilots reported seeing many parachutes over the target, and one Italian pilot claimed a Spitfire damaged, but their attacks did not appear to deter the Spitfires from going for the bombers. However, Sqn. Ldr Bryan Wicks - the CO in BR377 - failed to return....

Rolls [Flight Lieutenant]:

‘I had reached the outside of the melee when I saw a Spitfire going down. I flew up to it and saw it was my CO [Wicks]. He was injured by the looks of it. I watched him bale out and saw his chute open... After what seemed ages he hit the water and his Mae West was supporting him, but there was no sign of life. I circled him but got no response... I gave five fixes but was attacked by Re2001s from 2,000 feet. I called up the HSL, and directed it to the parachute in the waters.’ (Ibid)

Despite Rolls providing fixes, the subsequent High Speed Launch search was unable to locate Squadron Leader Wicks. He was just 22 years old, and with no known grave is commemorated on the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial at Floriana, Malta.

Sold with a file of copied research, including photographic images of the recipient.