Flight Lieutenant Sydney Thomas WICKHAM
459 RAAF Squadron
Service No. 402268
Date of Birth: 29 Nov 1915
Place of Birth: NARRANDERA, NSW
Date of Enlistment: 22 Jul 1940
Date of Discharge: 24 Dec 1945
Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Date of Death: 09 Sep 2015
From the book “Desert Scorpions” – by Prof. L. Kane-Maguire
RAAF 459 Squadron Flight Lieutenant Syd Wickham graduated as Pilot Officer in March 1941, he described his early days of Elementary and Service Flying Training in Australia. ”It was dark when we were dragged out of bed at 5 am, a mad scramble ensued to wash, dress, have breakfast and parade at 6 am. The aircraft were Tiger Moths and although they bounced around the sky in gusty winds and thermal convection current, we eventually go to like them.
Once we became solo our flyingimproved rapidly with increased confidence, but there was still a lot more dual to come. Steep turns,forced landings, side slips, spins, loops, instrument flying [under a hood] and every so often a progress test by the chief flying instructor. Except for about two hours flying each per day, lectures kept us very occupied.”
There were so many terrible accidents just in the early training days – Syd goes on to describe some of these; ”One day we had the only fatality on this course, Bill Aspinall was doing a bit of low flying and clipped the power lines. He crashed near a farmhouse and was killed. One and a half hours later the fatal news was abroad and gloom had spread amongst the ranks.
After lectures that afternoon, some wise psychologist, it must have been the Adjutant, ordered on hour physical training then a run around the perimeter of the aerodrome. “ Syd went on to do twin-engined pilot training on Avro Ansons at Amberley, QLD, he recalls, ”During the course Rick Girdler was killed in a crash after another aircraft and his touched wings while formation flying on a cross-country exercise.
One landed safely but Rick’s which sustained most damage, floated down in a pancake crash and he was crushed inside the cabin. By an oversight Rick had been caught without a parachute so he and his co-pilot tried to get on the one chute, but they got jammed getting out the window and when the ripcord was pulled, hoping the opening chute would pull them both clear, it pulled the co-pilot away from Rick. The worst crash was to come later when two Wirraways with trainees and instructors met head on while taking off in opposite directions. All were killed, that was a shattering day.
There was no ground control in those days. ”After 140 hours of 1st pilot flying, syd completed the course with an above average grading, and was present with his Wings on 10 March 1941 – still on LAC2 on the princely pay of 10 shillings and 9 pence a day [approximately $8 a week]. However, two days later he and several others were promoted off-course to the rank of Pilot Officer.
After the war:
Syd Wickham returned to Australia in late 1945. After a year working for his previous automobile parts firm in Sydney, he started hi sown electrical parts business. He retired in 1976. In 2000, he published an excellent book, We Wore Blue, ISBN: 073164400 describing his war time experiences.