From “The Gander Beacon”
Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, March 4, 2010
by Frank Tibbo
In September 1994, this column featured a story about a Hurricane fighter aircraft that was doing some routine target practice firing at a bull’s eye painted on a rock on Little Fogo Island, a small uninhabited island a few miles from the main island of Fogo. That was during WW II when a squadron of Hurricanes was stationed at Gander. The majority of the pilots, who were honing their skills, were subsequently sent overseas and were successful in substituting the Fogo target for German and Italian targets.
In October 1998, this column featured another story about a Hurricane that was forced to crash-land 70 miles south-west of Gander. The pilot had been splattering ammunition off the same Fogo target, and got trapped by a snow storm that was not part of the weather forecast. He got lost and managed to find a fairly level spot to belly-land. It was December 5, 1942 and he spent the next five days without food or proper clothing waiting to be rescued.
Philip Bockman, an American who joined the RCAF during WW II when the United States was neutral, recovered after a few days in the station hospital and his Hurricane was also recovered and lived to fly again.
When I wrote of Bockman in 1998, little did I realize that he was posted overseas, shot down several enemy aircraft and flew more than 100 missions in Hurricanes and Spitfires.
Bockman died in 2003 but not before writing a book entitled, “Surviving Victory.”
It may seem to be a strange title, but not after reading the book.
The majority of this fascinating story is about flying. The twists and turns made by a fighter pilot are somewhat analogous to those in Philip’s life. He was not just your ordinary person as one very quickly realizes as his stories unfold. Aviation Column readers will enjoy reading his account of what happened when he crash-landed his Hurricane south of Gander and how he survived five days in freezing temperatures without food or water. Not once in telling that story does he complain about hunger. One can just imagine going without food for five days in a warm house let alone being in the wilds of Newfoundland battling freezing temperatures.
He tells of his unauthorized trip to Prestwick in the belly of a bomber trying to get some action and what happened when he returned; of flying as a wing man, during some of his more than 100 missions over Europe, with the famous British super-ace Johnny Johnson, and Canadian ace Wally McLeod.
He tells why he changed his name from Bockman to Vickers, why he deserted twice and returned. The reader will realize why there were times when this remarkable man had periods of recalcitrance.
After the war he did some commercial flying, had several successful professional acting jobs in London, England, and became a renown sculptor.
He survived the physical abuse of a tyrannical father but carried the resultant psychological scars to his grave. Vickers pulls no punches and tells it as it was. A darn good book!
“Surviving Victory” is available at Amazon.com; Aviation World; CANAV Books and the following Canadian museum gift shops: National Air Force Museum of Canada in Ontario and the Western Canada Aviation Museum in Winnipeg.