a Bridge before Catania

Discussion in 'Airborne' started by Uncle Target, Apr 1, 2021.

  1. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    In August 1943 two friends met whilst swimming in Bizerte.
    One was Lt Beadle GPO C Troop 67th Field Regt RA
    The other was an old friend Merlin Wicks the son of his tutor Mr Sidney F Wicks.
    Merlin told the story of his adventures to date as a glider pilot.

    "He was on a few days leave after Sicily and had good tales to tell.
    He was in the party that was mentioned on the wireless as having defended a bridge before Catania to the last round.
    He was captured by Italians and recaptured by the 8th and made his way back to Africa in the usual independent way of the airborne boys.

    He had landed his glider in the middle of a wood and ripped it to pieces; but his gang of Tommy Gunners were unhurt to a man and they all went off to the objective shooting up everything they saw.
    Apparently the airborne troops caused tremendous confusion although (this being their first action) many of their plans went astray. They should be pretty deadly next time.
    I arranged a further meeting with Merlin but though I kept the appointment he wasn’t there, so I lost contact. His base is too far away for social calls but I may bump into him again. One seems to in this country!"

    I have been wanting to find out which action Merlin was involved in and maybe what happened to him later.
    I assume he survived the war as he is not on CWGC lists.
    Lt Beadle did not survive the war.

    Can any of the forum lay some light on which action this might have been and hopefully give some idea what happened to Merlin during his service in WW2.
    I originally posted this on another thread, Primosole Bridge, but it is becoming obvious that whilst I might have the correct bridge the thread follows a different narrative. I would welcome any advice.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2021
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  2. AB64

    AB64 Senior Member

    Potentially Ponte Grande Bridge rather than Primasole as it was more a glider operation where the latter was mainly parachutists with some gliders in support - "By Land Sea and Air" talks about the Ponte Grande being captured by a few South Staffs who were slowly reinforced by a few Borders, RE's and Glider Pilots (as well as more Staffs) before surrendering when ammo ran out but they were soon after liberated by the advancing ground forces. A check of "Glider Pilots in Sicily" should help if anyone has a copy to hand
     
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  3. AB64

    AB64 Senior Member

    Potentially 4977604 M W Wicks who was a Glider Pilot at Arnhem and then on the Rhine Crossing, I've asked a friend who knows all about the GPR if this lad was on Sicily and if he has his first name.
     
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  4. AB64

    AB64 Senior Member

    There is a Merlin Whitfield Wicks 1922-2011 born Chorlton and died Buxton - a bit about his father here Sidney F. Wicks - Wikipedia that also gives Merlin a passing reference
     
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  5. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    He was Merlin Whitfield Wicks third son of Sidney F Wicks as per your link above.
    Lt Beadle was a pupil at Buxton College taking the Diploma of the Advertising Industry under SFW. He began work with The Crawford Agency producing travel brochures for Thomas Cook and others, before joining Glaxo as a Public Relations executive.
    I have often wondered what happened to Merlin and Lt Beadles other friends that he met while in Tunisia.
    Tunis became a melting pot for all and sundry from 1st and 8th armies.
    Lt Beadle was a prolific letter writer and kept in touch with most of his friends via his mother, a retired school teacher and their families. He was born in Hendon and grew up in Pinner, the family moved to Buxton in 1925 he moved back there when working for Crawford and Glaxo.
    He enjoyed Ice Skating at Wembley. He met up with old school friends in the area as they all joined up.
    One was in an Anti Tank Regiment who fought in the New Zealand Division on the Mareth Line and another in an Anti Aircraft Regiment not far from Medjez el Bab.
    Another who he went to OCTU with named named Birch, was commissioned into a Medium Artillery Regiment. He was in an AGRA in the Medjez area but they never met up.
    Throughout his time in Italy he would look out for them when visiting Rome and in Florence.
    He also had a Quaker friend in the "8th Army Vampires" blood transfusion unit.
    It was never to be as they seem to have been with 8th Army and the 67th were in 1st Infantry Division spending most of their time with the Americans at Anzio and Monte Grande.
    Lt Beadle lies in Florence War Cemetery killed by a landmine whilst on a Recce to find a new position for the Regiment north west of Florence.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2021
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  6. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your assistance AB64. At least I now know that Merlin survived the war, as I believe did all his other friends.
    One may have received an MC in Italy in 1945 whilst in an Anti Tank Regiment.
    The thread regarding The Bridge at Primosole awakened my memory.
     
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  7. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Do you think this was Operation Ladbroke in which case might there be a list of surviving Glider Pilots on file as there seems to have been an inquiry into the startling losses.
    I live near to Whittington Barracks but the Staffordshire Regt Museum is not all that one would hope for now.
    I went there in the 1980's whilst undergoing training and knew the curator.
    A few years ago I applied to work as a volunteer but the lady who ran it told me that she was not even at school when I did my training there.
     
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  8. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    Merlin Wicks did not take part in Operations Ladbroke or Fustian, the invasion of Sicily. He flew Chalk 361, carrying members of the Recce Regt, into Arnhem and was one of those successfully evacuated on operation Berlin. He then took part in Operation Varsity
     
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  9. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Not sure what this means. A letter written in August 1943 after the meeting of two friends in Bizerte Harbour results in a tale about an operation that is a lie ?
    Yet he is later a Glider Pilot at Arnhem after the death of Lt Beadle.
    Was he simply making it all up or is there something missing.
     

    Attached Files:

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  10. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    The bridge before Catania would put him at Primosole Bridge and Operation Fustian.

    That would have likely meant him carrying 1st (Airlanding) Anti-Tank Bty, RA, 1st Parachute Brigade. I understand that of the 19 gliders involved only 4 made it onto the target.

    horsapassenger will know best if he was involved.
     
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  11. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Sorry to ask such a blunt question #9 perhaps I am misunderstanding the response but after such a short and positive reply in #8 it would be useful to obtain some sort of explanation as to why horsapassenger is so sure Merlin was not active in Sicily as implied in a letter in 1943.
    I am not disputing the fact, simply asking why he comes to that conclusion. Just a few words would suffice Please dont go to the trouble of posting lots of docs.
    It was the last thing that I expected to attempt to find out about an historical event to have it apparently trashed.
    Perhaps he was simply telling a story to impress his friend or perhaps Lt Beadle misunderstood but I doubt he would have knowingly made it up then mention it to someone who knew his family so well.
    Which also raises the question of what was Merlin doing in the airborne forces in Tunisia if he wasn't active in Sicily.
    He would have undoubtedly have been in uniform.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2021
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  12. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    Uncle Target - I did a lot of the research for Mike Peters book ‘Glider Pilots in Sicily’ and this included compiling a list of the glider pilots that participated, their chalk numbers, their cargo and what happened to them. I was greatly assisted in this by the post operation report which is contained in the file file CAB 106/688 “Sicily: Report onoperations of 1st Airborne Division in operation Husly; Part II 1st Airlanding Brigade operations”. Include in this file, at folios 21 and 22, is a list of the glider pilot crews that took part, their glider numbers and the airfields that they flew from. Wicks’ name does not appear on this list. The report was compiled post operation so I feel confident that any last minute changes of crews would have been reflected in this official report. As regards glider pilots being in North Africa and not going to Sicily there were three gliders originally scheduled to participate but for which tug aircraft aircraft could not be provided.
     
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  13. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your detailed reply, I was a bit concerned that you might be offended by my reaction.
    Some of us are getting rather aged and crotchety while others are young and over enthusiastic at times. It is difficult to tell on face value (I am of the former).
    Your response has cleared a few further questions such as where do I get a copy of Glider Pilots in Sicily and what does it contain.
    I now know it does not contain Merlin Wicks so can delete it from my "urgent" purchase list although I might buy it for the next winter reading season.
    I have lived for six years with Lt Noel Beadles letters and only just begun to gain confidence in WW2t to try researching the third parties mentioned by him.
    Your response rather shattered it somewhat.
    You have however provided a chance reason for his being in Tunisia of which I have no doubt he was but perhaps they engaged in more than a chat and imbibed the local Tunisian Brandy.
    I am in contact with a number of Lt Beadles surviving relatives and several of his Regimental colleagues families.
    Perhaps I might extend it to Merlin Wicks as I now have an overview of his War Service time will tell.
     
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  14. AB64

    AB64 Senior Member

    Does Wicks actually say he was a Glider Pilot? from your original post it mentions him as a GP, but in the letter it doesn't say so unless its over the page - could he have been a Glider Passenger and later volunteered for the Glider Pilot Regiment? I'm not sure if it was common, but a good friend went to Sicily by Glider (although he came down in the sea so didn't actually get there) but he also volunteered for the GPR but washed out as he struggled with his Port and Starboard in training and almost crashed into airfield buildings as a result.
     
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  15. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Attached the other side of the sheet.
    I am satisfied with horsapassenger's reply. I do not believe that all documentation produced in a war environment is 100% accurate.
    This comes from my experience in talking and training with the men who were there and reading their accounts written at the time and many years later.
    The letters written at the time are also fallible and subjected to alteration due to censorship.
    The belief that War Diaries etc are infallible is fictional. These people were under extreme stress. Papers were lost and replaced later, Names and personell changed in a moment and the paperwork did not always keep up. This was the age of human records, there were no computers, not even a trained secretary to write in shorthand to transcribe into type. Written under canvas if they were lucky, at best in a ruined building, or the back of a truck.
    One thing that I am certain of, Lt Beadle met Merlin Wicks and talked to him about his adventures for some time. He recognised him in a military controlled country where uniforms were worn and identity checked. What Merlin told him was factual because he knew Lt Beadle would be contacting his parents. The families were close friends. Lt Beadles father an official of The Board of Trade monitoring coalmine production, knew Sidney Wicks well, they all lived in Buxton. Lt Beadle was a professional in the publishing and public relations industry his descriptions of places and events were startlingly clear. He had studied under Sidney Wicks for some years, he found him a job under Lord Crawford of world renown who ran the most influential advertising company in the country at the time.
    Perhaps Merlin replaced someone and the paperwork was not altered or maybe he was one of the three who did not go and Lt Beadle wrote his story in error after an entertaining meet.
    This we will never know.
    I am certainly not going to get upset about it, it was all in the past. Who are we to make such judgements on men who laid down their lives, some of whom never came home.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Apr 2, 2021
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  16. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Good evening (good morning!) Uncle Target, AB64, and Horsapassenger.

    Uncle Target, this is fascinating stuff, and I've been burning the midnight oil on it (willingly I might add!) for the past couple of days, and my conclusions are that the discussion and exchange of information here give a compelling reason to obtain the Service Records of Merlin Wicks, which would hopefully confirm the date he arrived in North Africa with the Glider Pilot Regiment.

    If Merlin was in North Africa with the Glider Pilot Regiment prior to 9th July then notwithstanding what the records show (and Horsapassenger's depth of knowledge and research experience in this area are, for me, unsurpassed) then the possibility exists that he may have taken part in Operation Ladbroke.

    If left behind in North Africa (as per Horsapassenger's info , as used by Mike Peters in his excellent book "Glider Pilots In Sicily", regarding the three Waco (Hadrian) gliders due to carry elements of 1st Borders for which there were no tugs) which seems the strongest possibility, his date of arrival in North Africa could determine if he arrived at least prior to the operation taking place, or some time afterwards (as a replacement?), but before August 16th (date of letter).

    I don't doubt from the eloquent writing of Lt Beadle, that you have kindly shared here, that their meeting took place. The likelihood of other Glider Pilots being present swimming in the Med recounting what happened in Sicily (and overheard?) or even as part of a larger group conversation between the friends and others, is also a possibility (maybe) for the related content within the letter.

    This from Victor Miller (Glider Pilot who took part in Operation Ladbroke), extract from his memoir "Nothing Is Impossible", whilst recuperating from wounds after Ladbroke:

    "Beyond the peninsula lay Tunis. We would spend happy hours lazing on the burning sands and wallowing around in the cool waters, diving off the small shipwreck that lay about a hundred yards out...."

    My thinking for the reason that Merlin missed the next meeting with Lt Beadle? Not too long after 16th August Merlin was in Italy; N.b. The family photo from the wiki page AB64 linked to in the thread above, and one from my scouring the paradata.org website (note, my circles!) And, I think the second photo may even have Merlin Wicks signature on it (to the left of what I think is his dimpled "elfin "smile).

    Said second photo is titled "Group photo of 4 flight, 2 Squadron, 1st Glider Battalion, Patignano, Italy 1943" (link below to the page on Paradata, and interestingly the text on said webpage says Mike Peters provided the photo).

    Anyway, enough two plus two may make five stuff from me. Let none of it detract from the bravery of these men.

    always remember, never forget,

    Jim.

    Sidney_F_Wicks,_Dorothy_-_L-R_Cedric,_David_and_Merlin_1930s.001.jpg

    Merlin Wicks MAYBE.jpg

    Group photo of 4 Flight, 2 Squadron, 1st Glider Battalion, Patignano, Italy, 1943 | ParaData
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2021
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  17. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    I have found a reference to Sgt Wicks being with the 1st Bn Glider Pilot Regiment in North Africa in June 1943 (WO 175/118). On 27th June 84 Waco gliders set off from Froha to fly over the Atlas Mountains to Sousse in preparation for Op Husky (Ladbroke and Fustian). One crashed (the tail fell off killing all on board) and two made forced landings. On the list of glider pilots for this move Sgt Wicks is shown as partnered with Sgt Cole in Glider 67.
     
  18. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    I shouldnt be surprised knowing the capabilities of this site but I AM!
    There is a surviving granddaughter of Sidney Wicks who appears on line who who is a photographer apparently working in Cornwall but a reference also gives a South African connection.
    I am not sure which of the three sons is her father. I am not confident that she will be the slightest bit interested but if I can locate her I would like to try.
    To date I have received very warm and positive responses when making private contact. I think that this should be my next move as fate is becoming involved again.
    Should I succeed I will be back. If I may, I would like to PM you all individually to introduce myself and share a little confidential information. As we are talking of living relatives I feel that we should maintain a little patience and decorum and respect their wishes regarding personal information what we might reveal. Please PM me if you wish.
     
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  19. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Time to take a few days off (maybe) to read the Kindle versions of Glider Pilots in Sicily and Nothing is impossible.
     
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  20. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    "Nothing is Impossible" Very likeable, written by a soldier who was there, not the ADC to some high ranking narcissist.
    I feel that I have been there before. He follows a similar route to that of Lt Beadle. I am frankly surprised that he didnt bump into Merlin earlier.

    Just got to Sousse where Lt Beadle spent a week dressed as "a shop window soldier resplendent in new KD, flashes, webbing and gaiters scrubbed white, with highly glazed boots,.everyone said it would be a perfect scrounge". Guarding an important HQ.
    Some months later he was back there in the large modern hospital suffering from Infective Hepatitis the local form of jaundice.

    Soon the gliders will be flying again.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2021

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