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Risky Practises

Heroes Remember

Every pilot was given a trip with an experienced crew. So that when he took us on our first trip it was his second trip... so he’d have a little bit of experience. But if that crew was shot down there’s a crew sitting back at the squadron with no pilot. So they would send them back to what they call “conversion unit” where you’d be before you went to a squadron. You went from the operational training unit I was telling about for the twin engine planes. If you were going to go to heavy bombers they would send you to what they call a conversion unit so that the crew and the pilot would get used to flying four engines instead of two. They would send this crew — that had lost their pilot — back to the conversion unit to pick up another pilot. To fill that position they would bring an experienced pilot — say somebody from Canada who was an instructor and had lots of flying time and wanted to get into action. They would say ok lets transfer him there and he would pick up this crew that didn’t have a pilot. Then he would practice at the conversion unit to get himself familiar with the aircraft. First time we were in a Halifax Bomber — beautiful plane — all of a sudden the pilot and bomber were, “Oh boy, lets chase these cows down there.” I said, “Listen, you assholes, I didn’t come over here to get killed practising.” I said, “If you’re gonna do that you leave me on the ground when you’re out practising.” And I said, “You’ll have no trouble getting home. The wireless op can do that.” So that’s an agreement we had. They flew without me unless it was on an operation. I said, “I’m not gonna have you guys kill me when you’re horsing around.” I said, “It’s too serious of a thing as I’m concerned. If you wanna kill yourself ...” Lots of people did kill themselves. You get overseas there and you’re screwing around and so I said no. So that’s another thing. Is stuck by my guns and said, “No way! You guys can do it if you want but count me out.” But when they needed me I was there. On this one particular occasion my roommate — because I was the officer again of our crew I had this fellow who was my roommate — took off and killed himself and the crew that went back to meet with him in his practice flying. He pulled up his flaps instead of his undercarriage and crashed and killed the whole works.

Mr. Wickens describes the “conversion” unit for training bomber pilots, and the risks faced by the aircrews.

Donald Wickens

Mr. Wickens was born in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. Despite the scarcity of jobs during the depression, he took employment with the Bank of Montreal, where he worked for two years prior to enlisting. Although not initially eager to do so, Mr. Wickens decided to join his friends who had preceded him into the service. Unlike many of his friends, however, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force with the intention of becoming a navigator, and completed his training in Portage La Prairie. Once overseas, Mr. Wickens became a member of 434 Blue-Nose squadron and took part in 37 bombing and mine laying missions over Northern Europe. He and the rest of his aircrew were decorated after surviving two air attacks in which their aircraft was disabled. After leaving the service, Mr. Wickens returned to the Bank of Montreal. He currently resides in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Donald Wickens
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Air Force
434 Squadron
Flying Officer

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