Memories Of Wick - Connie Dunnet Sutherland - Part Three
23rd February 2014
Connie Dunnett Sutherland ( late of St Fergus Arms, Wick, now domiciled in Edinburgh).
Connie has sent us some of her memories of growing up in Wick.
Advent of War
Time marched on with the advent of WWII. At first, it made no great impression on everyday life but this was to change in a short time. First food rationing - sweets etc. Shortages of all nondescript essential items from safety pins,drawing pins, string, paper, soap all kinds; of washing-up liquid, soap powders, paint, cameras and films etc - no more holiday snaps, films were required for reconnaissance work. The RAF made daring raids over enemy territory to film munition factories and all kinds of installations, V1 and V2 rocket sites. Of course we had the blackout and windows pasted over with buff coloured strips of sticky paper and everyone carried gas masks. Babies had special apparatus rather reminiscent of Red Indian ‘papoose’ frames whith a large ‘window’ of Perspex to view them.
Bombing and sad memories 1
Wick was bombed fairly frequently from Stavanger. If you look at the map, you will see how close those two towns are. When Germany invaded Norway there became the ever present threat of invasion from that quarter. Hitler had overrun France, Belgium, Holland (the Netherlands) and Denmark. It was feared it would only be a matter of time before he crossed the Pentland Firth, overrunning the Faeroes, Iceland, Shetland and Orkney and stepped onto Caithness soil. There is only one railway line until you reach Inverness. If Hitler's troops were to bomb that single lifeline there would be no way troops and supplies could be amassed to confront the enemy.
Wick harbour, with its outer inner and river harbours, took on a special significance and were mined in case of invasion. Two bombs dropped on Bank Row were intended for the harbour and came very very close, just a matter of yards from the inner harbour. It was rumoured the Nazi pilot had been what was called a ‘Fish Runner’ before the war and was familiar with the harbour area. He was shot down in the Bay and rescued by the air-sea rescue ships, arrested and taken to the local Police Station where he was no doubt recognised. Germany was a main market for salt herrings and before the War, Wick had been the largest fishing port in the North East of Scotland. This can be verified in the local library. The Germans used to test the quality of the herrings by biting into the back of the raw herrings.
That day, 1st July1940, was a day no one from Wick will ever forget. The first day of school summer holidays, children out playing in the streets in Bank Row. I was returning from visiting my great aunt Etta who lived in a cottage next to the Lybster railway level gates crossing. The toddler I used to look after during my holidays loved to see the ‘Lybster Coffee Pot’, the nickname given to the little, railway engine when it passed so close to my aunt’s cottage. As I started homeward I looked over to the aerodrome across the river and saw a single small brownish coloured aircraft, and thought it odd that I did not see the Red White and Blue Roundels. As it was flying so very low, I thought it was a small training plane until it
suddenly rose and dropped two bombs attached to each other - a stick of bombs I was informed later. I took to my heels and discovered just how impossible it is to keep a straight line when pushing a pram and running at the same time.
Reaching the Main Street I was at first prevented from continuing on my way until I persuaded the Special Constable that I lived at the other end of the street and my family and that of the baby in my charge would be in a panic until I returned. Bank Row, at right angles to Bridge Street, was already cordoned off. Twenty people including twelve children I think, were killed. We knew now that we were really at war. One of the saddest days of the war. Two of my classmates lost siblings. One lost two little sisters aged seven and five. On the Thursday they had come into our playground to talk to their big
sister, on Monday they were dead. What a tragedy – unforgettable.
What was ahead? How would we cope and how long would this war last? Things hotted up seriously after this. Wick was subjected to almost daily air raids. Nothing of this was reported in the newspapers. There were many other sad days .When walking up the Cliff Road on the way to the academy school a Bedford Truck slowly passed me -nothing unusual about that until I looked up to see in the open back of the truck covered by camouflaged canvas. Six coffins covered by Union Jacks and RAF Regiment airmen on either side with rifles. I can remember the sudden shock and stood still uncertain of when it would be acceptable to start moving again wondering what the teacher would say if I was late. Then I remembered the Headmaster was a retired Major of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders from the First World War, the Counties
Regiment, Major David Sutherland (-no relation). Strange to relate, my first job on leaving school was as Clerkess to the 1st Caithness Battalion Home Guard based in the Rifle Drill Hall of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders until the end of the war. The Home Guard was ‘stood down’ in December 1944.
Major David was a gem; so was Mr Millikin, Headmaster of the new North School which we had to evacuate and return to the run-down Academy when WWII started and the RAF requisitioned our beautiful new school as admin HQ near the aerodrome. Every room had been decorated in emulsion flat pastel colours, pink lilac lemon pale blue and soft green. The radiogram in the headmasters room transmitted children's programmes to each room and we heard the launching of the Cunard Liner, The Queen Mary which vied with the French Liner the Normandie to see who would win the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic to New York.
The aerodrome near Wick was the target of much of the bombing. There had been 3 hangers and Nos 1 and 2 were flattened. In the beginning of course, we had not had time to prepare for war. The aerodrome had no runways. In turn, Wick was a fighter command with Spitfires and Hurricanes taking off and landing on what until a few weeks ago had been grazing fields belonging to Mr. Cryne of Noss Main Farm. His daughter Fiona, who studied like me in the New North school before it was requisitioned by the RAF was an actress in Whisky Galore and Rockets Galore. Afterwards it became Bomber Command with Canadian, Australian and Polish airmen and Lancaster, Blenheim and Beaufort bombers. The night that the Tirpitz was sunk in a Norwegian fjord, a Canadian pilot joined my Mum and Me at the end of the queue at the Pavilion cinema, Wick. He was so excited and told us “we got her, we got her, I’m not giving secrets away but I can’t keep it to myself any longer, you’ll see it in the papers tomorrow and the movietone news in this cinema in a day or two.” The Tirpitz and Bismark had been skulking in the fjords for several months and 2 couldn’t be got at for fog whenever she scuttled back to the shelter of the fjords, after attacking convoys in the North Sea.
Memories of Wick - Part One
Memories Of Wick - Part Two
Memories Of Wick - Part Three
Memories Of Wick - Part Four
Memories Of Wick - Part Five
Memories Of Wick - Part Six
Memories Of Wick - Part Seven
Other Wartime Related Items On Caithness.org
Wings Over Wick
A collection of memories on RAF Wick - World War Two compiled by Primary 7 Hillhead School (first published in 1993)