Review by Researcher of WW2 Newfoundland Aviation History

From Darrell Hillier, Researcher of WW2 Newfoundland Aviation History:

Philip Vickers was born in Oklahoma and raised during the Great Depression. When his mother died young, Philip was left with an aunt to escape an uncaring and abusive father, whom he continued to try to please throughout his life. In “Surviving Victory”, Vickers reflects candidly on his abject early childhood and teenage wanderlust. Vickers’ pre-war “restless years”, as he called them, included a stint at college and a brief and failed attempt at a “new life” in California and as a seaman in the Merchant Marine.

America in the summer of 1941 was still neutral. Canada, however, was at war, and it was there that Vickers found his calling. At 21 he headed north, crossed the border at Detroit into Windsor, Ontario, and at the nearest recruiting office joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Some 9,000 Americans journeyed north to join the RCAF. After Pearl Harbour many transferred to the armed forces of the United States. Some 5,000 stayed in the RCAF, among them Philip Vickers.

Vickers’ flight training took him to Jarvis, Ontario, and then Victoriaville and Ancienne Lorette in Quebec. He flew single engine Fairey Battle and Fleet Finch aircraft, practicing precision flying and cross-country navigation. Next came a posting to 126 (Fighter) Squadron at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, where Vickers was introduced to the Hawker Hurricane fighter. The routine at Dartmouth included aerobatics, formation flying, dog fighting, and air-to-air and air-to-ground firing. Hurricane fighter tactical training continued at Gander, Newfoundland, where Vickers was next posted with 127 Squadron. At Gander he survived a forced landing and five days lost in the Newfoundland wilderness in wintertime. Then he narrowly averted court martial when, anxious to get overseas, he made an unauthorized flight to England aboard an American bomber. After a short stay in war-torn London, Vickers was back at Gander with his squadron.

The long-awaited moment came in January 1944 when the Commanding Officer announced that 127 Squadron (renumbered 443 Squadron) had been posted overseas. In England, Vickers got to fly the Supermarine Spitfire, made famous during the “Battle of Britain.” He describes in detail the operating procedures and flying characteristics of the Spitfire and the Hurricane fighter, interwoven with his flying experiences in the skies over Europe in battle with German ME 109s. Vickers laments over the loss of squadron mates and relates another close call in mid 1944 which saw him crash-land his damaged Spitfire. The accident left him hospitalized for several frustrating months with a broken back, preventing his participation in the D-Day invasion of June, 1944. When ready to resume flying duties a few months later, Vickers was posted back to his squadron, then operating in Belgium. With the Germans reluctant to send up their now decimated air force, Vickers’ squadron concentrated on ground targets for the remaining months of the war, shooting up airfields, bridges and supply and rail lines.

A man of many talents, Vickers later became an actor, appearing on the London stage and in several motion pictures and television shows in the 1950s. Art became another passion and Vickers went on to become a well known sculptor, keeping a studio in Sedona, Arizona. He published two books and later in life began the onerous task of writing his memoirs. Regrettably, Vickers passed away in 2003 before they could be published. His wife, Barbara, promised to see the project through and thanks to her hard work and dedication, “Surviving Victory” was published. Vickers tells his story with emotion, honesty and wit, and perhaps a touch of bravado. “Surviving Victory” is an engrossing and enjoyable tale of youthful exuberance, adventure and heroism, and a worthy addition to any library collection. It is available through Amazon.com, Canav books (www.canavbooks.com) and Aviation World (www.AviationWorld.net) in Chicago, Toronto and Vancouver. A companion copy of Vickers’ wartime RCAF Pilot’s Flying Log Book is also available at Amazon.com and Aviation World.

Darrell Hillier
5 January 2010

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