Brave Percy was the wartime Pick of the RAF bunch

Pickard with parachute troops after the Bruneval raid in February 1942
Pickard with parachute troops after the Bruneval raid in February 1942

Percy Charles ‘Pick’ Pickard was born in Handsworth, Yorkshire in 1915.

He was offered an RAF short service commission in 1936 and after initial flying training was posted to No 214 Squadron, equipped with the Handley Page Harrow bomber.

Group Captain Pickard and his navigator, Flight Lieutenant Alan Broadly DSO DFC DFM, pose in front of their Mosquito shortly before the raid on Amiens Prison during which they were shot down and killed.

Group Captain Pickard and his navigator, Flight Lieutenant Alan Broadly DSO DFC DFM, pose in front of their Mosquito shortly before the raid on Amiens Prison during which they were shot down and killed.

At the outbreak of war Pick joined No 7 Squadron equipped with the Handley Page Hampden light bomber but later moved to No 99 Squadron to fly the Vickers Wellington where he teamed up with navigator Sergeant Alan Broadley; they were to be together for the rest of Pick’s operational missions.

The squadron attacked the Ruhr on the night of June 19 1940 but Pick’s Wellington was hit by anti-aircraft fire and one engine was seriously damaged.

The crew successfully ditched in the North Sea and were in a dinghy for 13 hours before being rescued by RAF High Speed Launches from Felixstowe.

After completing a further 31 operations with No 99, Pick was posted to command No 311 (Czech) Squadron where his main task was to train the impatient Czechs for operations. On September 24 the squadron carried out its first operation to the ‘Big City’ (Berlin).

Group Captain Percy Charles Pick Pickard DSO** DFC* in 1944

Group Captain Percy Charles Pick Pickard DSO** DFC* in 1944

Early in 1941 the Air Ministry decided to make a documentary film about Bomber Command. Pick was selected to star in the film as Squadron Leader Dickson, Captain of Wellington ‘F’ for Freddie in the film ‘Target for Tonight’.

The film was a box office triumph, recognising for the first time the crews of Bomber Command.

On completion of the film in April 1941, Pick returned to operations and by July he had completed 65 operations.

In December, he took command of No 51 Squadron flying Whitley bombers and two months later his squadron was detailed to drop 120 parachutists and a radar technician to seize parts of a German Würzburg radar on the French coast at Bruneval.

Pick Pickard (centre) with some of his 161 Squadron pick-up pilots in the garden of Tangmere Cottage in 1943.

Pick Pickard (centre) with some of his 161 Squadron pick-up pilots in the garden of Tangmere Cottage in 1943.

The operation was a success with vital parts of the radar brought back. He was then posted to command No 161 Special Duties Squadron.

Although the squadron was based at Tempsford, Bedfordshire, he was often to be seen at RAF Tangmere, the squadron’s forward base.

He carried out his first Lysander operation in November delivering an agent to France without incident.

He went on to complete seven Lysander operations and was instrumental in introducing the larger Lockheed Hudson into pick-up operations.

With Squadron Leader Hugh Verity, he worked out the operating procedures that enabled this heavy twin-engined aircraft to operate from French occupied fields.

On January 13 1943 Pick carried out the first Hudson operation flying five agents into a field near the River Loire. However, next month, Pick’s Hudson became bogged down in a landing field requiring it to be dug out. Using full power he managed to get airborne.

On finishing his tour with 161, Pike was awarded a third Distinguished Service Order, the first airman in wartime to be awarded three DSOs in the same war.

In May 1943 Percy ‘Pick’ Pickard was promoted to the rank of group captain. That August, his navigator, Flight Lieutenant Alan Broadly DSO DFC DFM, joined him again and they flew their first Mosquito operation.

The date was October 3 and they were flying, predictably, as ‘F’ for Freddie – a tip of the cap to ‘Target for Tonight’, the Air Ministry film that had been a box office triumph in 1941.

In January 1944 the Mosquitos moved to Hunsdon and it was from here that Pick led a daylight raid on February 18 to bomb a prison at Amiens.

The mission was to blow holes in the perimeter wall to enable French Resistance prisoners to escape.

The prisoners had been condemned to death and the low level raid was considered essential to save at least some of them.

The raid was successful with accurate bombing by the Mosquitos.

Sadly, Pick and Broadley’s Mosquito was shot down by a defending German Fw 190 fighter and both were killed.

Group Captain ‘Pick’ Pickard DSO** DFC* and Flight Lieutenant J A Broadley DSO DFC DFM were buried by the Germans in St Pierre cemetery close by the walls of the Amiens Prison.

This article is the 37th in a series of monthly articles on the people of RAF Tangmere. More information on the Museum, including opening times and entry prices can be found on our website: www.tangmere-museum.org.uk