Flt Lt Cyril (“Bill) Hawkins My father Bill Hawkins joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1939.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, he was immediately called up and joined No1 Initial Training Wing in Cambridge on 05 September 1939. He commenced flying training as a Sergeant-pilot at No7 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School (EFTS) Desford on 02 January 1940 and began operational training at No7 Operational Training Unit (OTU) on 24 August 1940. He went on to join 18 Squadron at West Raynham in Norfolk on 28 October 1940, flying Blenheim twin-engined light bombers.
He went on his first operational flight on 15 November 1940 to bomb the invasion barges at Boulogne. The next night he went to bomb Hamburg. In the next 6 months he went on night operations to Dusseldorf, Dunkirk, Bremen, Hamburg, Flushing, Le Havre, Wilhelmshaven, Hanover, Vendville airfield in France, and Hanover. I n April 1941, the emphasis moved from night operations to day-time sweeps looking for shipping to bomb. During his time with 18 Squadron he later said that he saw the replacements of the replacements of the replacements.
In May 1941, he became a flying instructor at No 13 OTU based at Bicester in Oxfordshire, and Hinton-in-the Hedges, Northamptonshire. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 01 November 1941. After conversion training, on 22 November 1943 he was posted to 21 Sqn based at RAF Sculthorpe in Norfolk flying Mosquito FB V1 aircraft. His first operation was due to take place on 21 December 1943, but this was cancelled. He took part on two further bombing operations on 22 December. However, the next day, 23 December 1943, his aircraft en route to Pommerval in France received a direct hit over the enemy coast from anti-aircraft fire, and he was suffered injuries to his left foot (he lost his little toe) and to both his legs. Despite damage to the hydraulics of the aircraft, he managed to crash land at the emergency landing airfield at Friston on the south coast near Beachy Head. He had thought they had managed to drop their bombs in the English Channel on the return flight but he found to his dismay when he was dragged from the crashed plane by his navigator, Flying Officer Roe, that the aircraft ended up only 20 feet from the cliff edge. He found he was surrounded by the 250lb bombs.
In February 1944, he was awarded the DFC, the citation stating that “He displayed great fortitude and devotion to duty. This officer has completed very many sorties and has invariably displayed praiseworthy determination.” After 4 months in hospital and medical rehabilitation, (he had metal fragments in his legs for the rest of his life) he returned to flying duty at No 13 OTU in July 1944. He ended the war as an (Acting) Squadron Leader, and left the RAF on 21 December 1945, receiving the Air Force Cross (AFC) in the New Year’s Honours awards 1946.
He re-joined the RAFVR in October 1948 and in 1951 the RAF. He was posted to No 201 Advanced Flying School (AFS) at RAF Swinderby as a flying instructor, flying mainly Varsity aircraft. In February 1954 he took his first flight in a Meteor aircraft as 2nd pilot. He was then posted overseas in April 1954 to the Near and Middle East; his flights included Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Africa. One of his tasks was to assist in identifying new air routes to and between these areas. He often flew with or was piloted by Group Captain “Willie” Tait of 617 Squadron/Tirpitz bombing fame as well as ferrying senior Army Generals. On one occasion in Egypt, Group Captain Tait suggested to Bill that he should take a particular flying examination, and on his return the next day with a pass, “Willie” Tait expressed great surprise, saying that it normally took 6 weeks to pass!
He returned to the UK in at the end of August 1954 suffering from pleurisy and spent the next 4 months recovering in the RAF West Kirby hospital in the Wirral. He was subsequently posted to the School of Recruitment Training at RAF West Kirby in January 1955, although he continued on occasion to practice his flying skills. In 1958, he re-trained as an Air Traffic Controller, and was posted to RAF Marham in Norfolk (the base of the Valiant V-bomber) and then in 1960 to the Air Traffic centre at RAF Uxbridge, Middlesex. Bill retired from the RAF in 1962 and died in 2004 aged 87 years.
His uncle - his mother’s brother - was Flt Lt Clarence Marchant (Croix de Guerre with Palms) who was a First World War fighter pilot on the Western Front and who was also became a flying instructor. Clarence’s story is included in the First World War section of Storylines.