1939 - 1945

World War Two

Flt Lt "Bill" Hawkins

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Posted by John Hawkins on
Flt Lt Cyril (“Bill) Hawkins

My father “Bill” Hawkins joined the RAF Volunteer Reservein 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 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 month he went on night operations to Dusseldorf, Dunkirk, Bremen, Hamburg, Flushing, Le Havre, Wilhelmshaven, Hanover, Vendville airfield in France, and Hanover. In 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 took place on 21 December 1943, but this was cancelled. He took part on 2 further bombing operations on 22 December. However, the next day, 23 December1943, 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) - he estimated the aircraft ended up only 20 feet for the cliff edge – to find he was surrounded by the bomb-load of 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 21December 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 RAFpermanently. 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 to  Iraq, the Persian Gulf as well as to Africa.   One of his tasks was to assist in identifyingnew air routes to and between these areas. He often flew with or waspilpoted 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 too 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 Kirbyhospital 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 (base for Valiant V-bomber) and then in 1960 to the Air Traffic centre at RAFUxbridge, 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).
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