Halifax 3 Bomber, England, 1944.Joe Hickson
Crew Photo. Joe Hickson is first from left.Joe Hickson
Heligoland, Germany, devasted by Allied bombing.Joe Hickson
Joe Hickson in the tail turret, 420 Squadron, Halifax III, 1944-45.Joe Hickson
Joe Hickson, January 2010.Historica Canada
"“You leave the position and get in your crash position.” Well, he’d come down a little bit, couldn’t find the water, and he turned the lights on to land. Finally he says, “Well, I see the water. Okay, everybody, we’re going in.”"
“Okay, we’re going in, clamp your key.” And then I say, “You leave the position and get in your crash position.” Well, he’d come down a little bit, couldn’t find the water, and he turned the lights on to land. Finally he says, “Well, I see the water. Okay, everybody, we’re going in.” And within just half a minute maybe or a minute, not any more than that, we were hitting the water. And I was in crash position right behind the main spar of the wing with my back up against it. We hit the water and there was a bomb inspection hole between my legs, being as the bomb doors were open, the water just shot in like a fire hose between my legs. There was a big wave of water come over my head and then I blacked out. I couldn’t figure that out, after I came to, but when I did come to or see again or my senses, whatever, I just seen the legs of one of the crew going out the back hatch.
So I says, “I better get out here.” And the water was up above my chest, not up to my chin yet, but above my chest. I says, I’ve got to move, to myself. Well, I scrambled back there and come out the hatch and when I did, the dinghy was out, it pops out of the wing and there was eight of us in the crew that night and they were all in the dinghy I thought. And when I jumped out, and it was floating off the edge of the wing and just finishing blowing up, but they were in it. And I grabbed the side of it and somebody said, “Well, the skipper’s not here.” Well, I grabbed it and my toes in where the dinghy had come out and held the dinghy, because the waves were coming over the wing and it was blowing wind, strong wind. And I looked and he’s coming down the fuselage walking. The plane is floating, it didn’t smash, made a perfect landing with it or ditching of it. He’s walking down and my toes popped out, I says, “I can’t hold it.” Somebody hollered, “Don’t worry, we’ll catch the tail.”
So anyway, my toes did pop out, they caught the tail, the skipper got in and then we pushed off. Dinghy wouldn’t go. And in training, we’d been taught that the plane would sink within one or two minutes and when it wouldn’t go, the wireless operator found a knife and these lines were cut and we drifted free. Well, on those lines, they were attached to our survival equipment, which would pop out of the wing too, but they had caught somewhere in the plane, and if the plane had sunk, they’d have towed us down with it.
But we floated free and off into the darkness and we looked back and the plane, I would say maybe five minutes later, it was still floating. And then we looked a little later, it was gone. We thought, well now we’ve got to get the radio, which would be floating and our other survival equipment. And we pulled these ropes in, nothing on the end, that’s the ropes we’d cut. So, and then within a few minutes, we pretty well all got seasick bobbing around, because the sea had ten, 15 foot waves at least, huge waves. And we were bobbing around. And as we, it was starting then just to come a wee bit daylight we could see, but as soon as you put your head up, you’d be sick so we just quieted down and leaned over the sides, we were sitting on each other’s legs. And we’d tried bailing some of the water out of the dinghy, but was unsuccessful. There was no place to dip it and we had nothing to dip it with really than our hands.
But as the morning wore on, we knew air/sea rescue would be out looking for us, so guessing the time 9:00, we did hear planes searching and we looked off, we seen these planes flying low. We knew they’d be looking for us, but being a mile or two away, no way would they see us. We wouldn’t even be a dot in the ocean, so that soon was over with and then the rest of the day, I guess some of us slept or kept quiet and later in the afternoon, then the sun shone, which warmed up a bit and then late in the afternoon, we revived up again and the skipper says, “Well, we’re in a position, we’ve got to do something.” So we were kind of got ourselves squared around and talking a bit and we said, well, we’re not going to get rescued today and to sit out here, we’d be better off if we could, and a west wind was blowing, so we all decided it would be a good idea, there was a sail with the thing, to get it up and try to sail to the coast of the Netherlands or Holland and maybe get there some time in the night and then we’d have to duck the Germans or whatever after that.
So we got the sail out. By now it’s late, late in the afternoon. We finally got the sail out and got it up and we looked off, I guess it would be to our starboard again, but then that didn’t matter much in a dinghy. We just seen these planes flying and they were [Handley Page] Halifaxes [bombers] and we seen them turn and head back in a westerly direction. And we said, “Well, that’s it for today, they’re all done searching for us.” So we finished getting the sail up. There was one rope missing, but we were improvising for it. And I supposed another five, ten minutes went by, and then we all seemed to look up at the same time and here come those three Halifaxes heading right straight towards us. And we started waving and shouting I guess too, but shouting didn’t do much, we knew that. And when they flew by while coming up, the bomb doors opened, they were down real low and they turned just slightly off and out came these bombs. And as they went by, they were planes from our own squadron, with PT markings [a variant of monoplanes] on them. So they were guys we knew that had got permission to look for us.
So of course we knew. They made another run and dropped another dinghy for us and we retrieved it. They dropped two of them actually and one we couldn’t retrieve, but the one we got had warm suits in it and our mid-upper gunner, he was shivering from the cold and wet, we got him transferred into it and put the warm suit on him and kind of him quieted down from his shivering. And the planes were circling. Then three [Avro] Lancasters [bombers] came, they flew around and then came a [Vickers] Warwick [bomber] and he flew around. And then they left and we thought oh boy. And it’s getting pretty near dark now. And then come a [Lockheed] Hudson [bomber] and underneath the Hudson, they had an airborne lifeboat. And he circled a couple of times, we thought, he’s going to drop that. And then he wiggled his wings and away he went and we were all alone. Well, boy, our spirits dropped, we thought, uh-oh, that’s it. And we thought the sea was just too rough to drop that lifeboat, so he’s gone.
Well, a few minutes go by, which seemed eternity, and then we seen a little seaplane coming, it was a [Supermarine] Walrus. He made one circle of us and went way off and down he come in the sea. And just disappeared. We thought, oh man, he’s gone. The sea was so rough, we didn’t think he could possibly land in it. Well, we kept looking and looking and finally I guess he was on top of a wave where we were and we seen each other and he must have been a mile away when he hit the water. But anyways, he was taxiing towards us and finally got there. So we all got out of the dinghy, and I don’t know why I was second, but I got out. You go into the nose of the Walrus seaplane, because it’s a pusher type, the propeller’s behind, so we went in there and we crawled down back, the fellow ahead of me, he went clear to the tail and I’m back and it’s only about two foot square back there on a board. And the others came in behind in which order I don’t know, but the skipper would be the last one to get in. He was a real Air Force Navy man too, he was used to the water.
So we were all in there and the Walrus starts up. By now, it’s completely dark though and he starts up and chugging along towards England I guess, he’s going and you close your eyes and you dream, well, it’s dry in the air and it’s fairly warm and you were comfortabler than you’d been all day. So you closed your eyes and all of a sudden, the motor revs up a bit and cabang, you hit something, man, what did we hit. And your mind goes crazy on you. You think, well, we hit a mine? No, it didn’t explode. Maybe a log? The debris of some sort. Okay. The motor starts up again, away it goes, we only go a little bit, cabang again, same thing happens. Your mind’s still, what in the world are we hitting. And somebody’s pulling on my foot, so I start backing out and I pulled a jerk on the fellow in front of me and we start getting out.
And we got out at the front of the plane and here what he was doing was revving the motor up and hitting the back of this boat. Now, we thought it was a PT [Patrol Torpedo] boat but it wasn’t, it was out there, it was a rescue launch that stayed in the North Sea for maybe a week at a time, just for emergencies such as ours. And we transferred into it. All of us. Everybody got a shot of rum and got our wet clothes off, put on navy blue coveralls and got into a nice warm bunk with a nice white blanket. That’s what I remember.