CHARLES PICKARD (1915 - 1944)

Group Captain P.C. 'Pick' Pickard, DSO, DFC, CzMC

"one of the truly great characters of the 1939-45 Air War"

Charles was born at 82 Main Road, Handsworth, Sheffield, on 16 May 1915, the youngest in the family of two sons and three daughters of Percy Pickard, stone merchant, and his wife, Jennie Skelton. In 1920 the family moved to Hampstead, London, where Pickard's father began a successful catering business that later became part of the Mecca Organisation. After an undistinguished academic career at Framlingham College, Suffolk, Pickard left for Kenya in 1932, where he farmed for four years and earned a three handicap at polo. In November 1935 he joined the King's African rifles reserve as a territorial.

After returning to England in 1936, Pickard failed to qualify as an army officer, but was accepted by the RAF and was commissioned in 1937 as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force reserve of pilots (for which his public school education qualified him) and was posted to Bomber Command. By 1939 he was assistant and personal pilot to Air Marshal Sir John Baldwin, commandant of the RAF college at Cranwell. On 11 November 1939 he married (against her parents' wishes), at Caxton Hall register office, Westminster, Dorothy Hodgkin (1912/131998), daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Sidney Hodgkin and his wife, Elsie Gray McMordie, daughter of a former lord mayor of Belfast. They had a son, born in 1943.

His long operational career, covering many aspects of aerial conflict, included some of the most daring episodes in the RAF's history. In Air Force circles he was admired for his consistent leadership, determination and courage. Outside the RAF he was well known as Squadron Leader Dickson, the skipper of Wellington, F for Freddie, in the popular Crown Film Unit 1941 production 'Target for Tonight'. (see note 3) Back on operations he played a key role in the successful airborne Commando raid against the German Wurzburg Radar Installation near Bruneval, and flying numerous 'cloak and dagger' sorties, carrying supplies and agents for the S.O.E. into Nazi occupied Europe. 

Group Captain P C "Pick" Pickard with his pet sheepdog "Ming", pictured while resting from operations as Station Commander at Lissett, Yorkshire.

He was the commander of the legendary Amiens Prison Raid (Operation Jericho) when a British formation of 15 Mosquito twin-engined bombers escorted by eight Typhoon fighters bombed the prison and Gestapo headquarters at Amiens in Northern France. Operation Jericho was an immediate success as a positive direct result of the two leading squadrons (No.s 464 and 487) accurate bombing. On seeing the outcome, Pickard told the third wave (21 Squadron) to return to base. As Pickard and his navigator Flight Lieutenant J. A. 'Bill' Broadley (note 1) flew away from the prison, at 500ft, their aircraft was attacked from astern by Focke-Wulff 190's. These German fighters from 7./JG 26 was ordered to scramble from Grevillers airfield in the Pas de Calais to intercept the British formation. The interception came straight after the completion of its bombing run. One of the Luftwaffe pilots Wilhelm Mayer  (note 4), in his first burst of fire severed the tail section of Charles Pickard's Mosquito's. The Mosquito flicked onto its back and dived into the ground, exploding in flames on impact. For Wilhelm Mayer it was his 13th victory. For 'Pick' Pickard and 'Bill' Broadley, aged 28 and 23 respectively it was their last flight together. (see note 5). There is an Obituary for Percy Pickard that appears in The Times dated Friday, September 22nd 1944 (page 7 issue 49962) - it is in the section titled "Fallen Officers"

  

 

NOTES

1. Flight Lieutenant J. A. 'Bill' Broadley, DSO, DFC, DFM:

John Alan Broadley was born in Richmond, Yorkshire in 1921. Joining the RAF on leaving school, he trained as a Sergeant Observer, and flew many operations over Germany during the first two years of war. He joined No.9 Squadron May 1941, and became Pick Pickard's regular navigator. During June-August he flew with Pickard against major German targets such as Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Cologne and was awarded the DFM for outstanding ability and courage. In August 1941 he was posted to No.138 Squadron, a special duties unit, supplying the resistance and dropping / recovering agents. November 18th 1941 he was commissioned as Pilot Officer and moved to No.51 squadron. During the night of February 27th/28th 1942, he flew with Pickard on Operation Biting, which involved dropping paratroops  to recover parts of the German Wurzburg radar from Bruneral, near Le Havre. July 1942 he was posted to No.296 Squadron a glider towing unit. During November, Bill Broadley moved to No.161 Squadron, another special duties unit and whilst here was awarded the DFC, DSO and also gained promotion to Flight Lieutenant. On 1st December 1943 he made his final move to  No.21 Squadron part of 140 Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force. Appointed Wing Navigational Officer during January 1944. Flew many low level raids with Pickard, culminating with Operation Jericho.

 

The above obituary appeared in The Times on Wednesday 4th October 1944.

Incidentally the obituary that appears above Alan Broadley's in The Times is that of Michael Wedgewood Benn D.F.C., the elder brother of the British politician Tony Benn.

Details of his awards are on the following website

2. De Havilland Mosquito FBVI HX922 EG-F.

The Mossie at it was known made its first flight on 25th November 1940, and the mosquito made its first operational flight for the Royal Air Force as a reconnaissance unit based at Benson.  In early 1942, a modified version  (mark II) operated as a night fighter with 157 and 23 squadron's. In April 1943 the first De Haviland Mosquito saw service in the Far East and in 1944 The Mosquito was used at Coastal Command in its strike wings.  Bomber Commands offensive against Germany saw many Mosquitos, used as photo Reconnaissance aircraft, Fighter Escorts, and Path Finders.  Maximum speed was 425 mph, at 30,300 feet, 380mph at 17,000ft. and a ceiling of 36,000feet, maximum range 3,500 miles. the Mosquito was armed  with four 20mm Hospano cannon in belly and four .303 inch browning machine guns in nose.  Coastal strike aircraft had eight 3-inch Rockets under the wings, and one 57mm shell gun in belly.

The Mosquito stayed in service with the Royal Air Force until 1955. A total of 7781 mosquito's were built.

Charles Pickard's aircraft HX922 was built at Hatfield and delivered to 487 Squadron RNZAF on 13th September 1943 The  HX922 was damaged after a flying accident 5th November of that year but was repaired and flying again by the 8th. It was this plane that was crewed by Group Capt P.C. Pickard (pilot) and Fl Lt J.A. Broadley (navigator) on the famous Amiens prison raid (Operation Jericho) on the 18th February 1944. It was during this mission that they were shot down by Fw190s. The HX922 crashing near Montigny, France killing both airmen

3. Target For Tonight 1941 (50 mins)

During World War 2, the Ministry of Information in Britain took over the GPO Film Unit, and renamed it the Crown Film Unit. They made larger-scale documentaries and feature-length films, the latter being of the dramatised type with servicemen and women playing themselves. "Target for Tonight" (Harry Watt, 1942) was one of the first commercially-successful documentaries. It illustrated processes, in this case how an RAF night-time bombing raid over Germany was actually carried out, AND showed real people.

4. Full details of Wilhelm Mayer's career can be found on this link

5. Details from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  

Name:

BROADLEY, JOHN ALAN

Initials: J A
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Flight Lieutenant (Nav.)
Regiment: Royal Air Force
Unit Text: 487 (R.N.Z.A.F.) Sqdn.
Age: 23
Date of Death: 18/02/1944
Service No: 47690
Awards: DSO, DFC, DFM
Additional information: Son of Thomas Pearson Broadley and Irene Broadley.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Plot 3. Row A. Grave 11.
Cemetery: ST. PIERRE CEMETERY, AMIENS        

                    

Name:

PICKARD, PERCY CHARLES

Initials: P C
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Group Captain (Pilot)
Regiment: Royal Air Force
Unit Text: Cdg. 140 Wing.
Date of Death: 18/02/1944
Service No: 39392
Awards: DSO and 2 Bars, DFC
Additional information: Son of Percy and Jenny Pickard; husband of Dorothy Pickard, of Highlands, Southern Rhodesia.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Plot 3. Row B. Grave 13.
Cemetery: ST. PIERRE CEMETERY, AMIENS        

On Monday 19th February 1945 the following notice appeared in The Times "In Memoriam"   

The following year's memorial appeared in The Times dated Monday 18th February 1946, two years to the day since "Pick" died 

The phrase "Per Ardua ad Astra" is the motto of the RAF  and roughly translates as "Through Struggles to the Stars"

His cousin Ralph Woolass is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. Pixie by the way was the family name for Charles' elder sister Helena 

Tuesday 18th February 1947 another memorial notice remembering "Pick" appeared in the Times

6. In April 2004 the following article appeared in the Daily Express -

April 7, 2004

 The Express: Battling for the honour of a wartime hero

Author: Katie Fraser

MANY heroic fliers wrote their legends in the skies over these shores and mainland Europe during the Second World War - but some were more unsung than others. Group Captain Percy Pickard falls into the latter category. Held in equal measures of awe and affection by his RAF comrades, he led one of the conflict's most audacious raids - and never returned from it only because he went back to try to help a friend.

Pickard went to his grave without being decorated for his final exploits. For even though the French wished to reward his courage with their highest wartime honours, they were blocked from doing so by the British Government.

Now, 60 years after his death, his descendants are seeking the posthumous recognition that the last mission of "Pick", as he was known, merits.

By the time of his death at the age of 29, Pickard's bravery had won him his nation's thanks. He became the first airman to be awarded three Distinguished Service Orders in one war. He was also the holder of the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Czech Military Cross.

His nephew Michael Woods, who is at the head of the campaign to have his French decorations granted, says: "In his relatively short life, 'Pick' had become a legend in the RAF. As appearances went, it wasn't hard to see why.

At 6ft 4in, and in uniform with his mop of blond hair, he must have cut an impressive dash. But he was more than mere veneer - he embodied the consummate English gentleman: brave, kind, honourable and loyal."

Operation Jericho , which took place one murky morning in February 1944, sealed Pick's reputation - and his fate. It was a daring, low-level raid designed to liberate members of the French Resistance from Amiens Prison in northern France , who were awaiting execution by the Nazis for aiding the Allies.

Time was of the essence because the Germans had already dug a mass grave for the bodies of the dead. The British bombers had to be very accurate. They were to drop bombs not on the prison but on the walls, to allow the prisoners to escape. Should they fail to find their mark, Pick would be faced with a terrible decision: whether to send in a back-up squadron to destroy the jail and all those inside. There was a good reason for this - some of the prisoners had knowledge of the planned D-Day landings in Normandy and it was feared that, under torture, they might reveal details.

The first plane swooped low over the target and released its bomb. It missed. The second and third planes followed suit and this time, two holes were punched in the massive walls. Figures could be seen running out of the prison and scrambling over the walls.

Pick gave the command for the remaining planes to return home but then he noticed there was a plane missing. Unaware that Squadron Leader Ian McRitchie's aircraft had been hit by flak, killing the navigator and causing the pilot to crash land, Pick vainly searched the skies for any sign of a plane in distress.

He accepted there was nothing he could do and turned for home. Then, two German fighter planes appeared and, in a single burst of fire, severed the tail section of Pick's Mosquito. The aircraft flipped on to its back and spiraled away towards the ground.

BACK home, his wife Dorothy instantly knew something was wrong. At almost precisely the moment he was shot down, Pick's old English sheepdog Ming let out a howl of distress. Ming waited for Pick during all his wartime sorties, scanning the skies for his return. After landing, Pick would issue four sharp blasts from a whistle to call her.

Percy Pickard had always wanted to be a farmer but in 1936 put that dream on hold to enlist in the RAF. After war broke out, he swiftly earned a reputation for boldness. With his navigator, Al Broadley, he flew more than 100 sorties. Their special skill was "moonlight missions" - dropping saboteur agents into occupied Europe .

He even starred in the 1941 propaganda film, Target For Tonight.

The character he played, 'F' for Freddie, made him a national hero.

Today, Pick's grave is marked by a small white cross, which carries his numerous decorations.

Initially, the French wrongly assumed he had been posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross - and the letters VC later had to be removed.

To mark his gallantry, the French also wished to award him the Companionship of the Legion d'honneur and the Croix de Guerre, but the proposals were thwarted by the British policy of refusing to accept posthumous foreign awards.

"Perhaps now, on the 60th anniversary of his death, it is time for Pick to be honoured as he deserved, " says Michael Woods. "For as his erstwhile superior, Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry, wrote, 'In courage, devotion to duty, fighting spirit and powers of really leading, [Percy Pickard] stood out as one of the great airmen of the war and as a shining example of British manhood. I always felt he was part of a character from an earlier, Elizabethan, age'."

In a bizarre postscript to Pick's tale, his widow was to hear again those four distinctive whistles he once made to summon Ming.

Eight years after his death, she heard the sound as she let Ming outside. Moments later, she saw the dog - who had been ill for some time - looking up at the skies again. Suddenly, she heard the whistles once more and Ming fell to the ground, dead. Dorothy always insisted it was Pick calling his dog to him one last time.

Pic's grave in ST. PIERRE CEMETERY, AMIENS - St. Pierre Cemetery is situated on the north-eastern outskirts of Amiens, on the northern side of the main road to Albert. The cemetery will be found in the suburb of Rivery on the left hand side of the D929 Amiens to Albert road.

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This page was last updated on 03/04/14 16:39