Sadly the following members have died since publication of the last newsletter. We extend our deepest sympathy to their families and friends.
Desmond Hawkins DFC
Kenneth Law Sumner DFM
Flt Lt Des Hawkins DFC
Des Hawkins was a founder member of the Association and would travel all the way from Newquay, with his wife Dorothy, every year to be with us. He loved the reunions and attended every one until about ten years ago when he succumbed to the age factor.
It was the empty beds that unnerved Des. Every night there would be a few more in the dorms at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, left by men who had not returned from their missions. Hawkins, a navigator in Lancaster bombers, began calculating the casualty rate and realised “There’s absolutely no future in this at all. I’m not going to live more than two or three trips.”
With this in mind, he and his crew mates took their places in the cramped interior of their aircraft and departed into the night to bomb the factories of the Third Reich. Unlike fighter pilots, who could be back down on the ground half an hour after take off, having spent their fuel and ammunition, bomber crews were often in the air for eight hours or more, at the mercy of German flak and fighters as soon as they reached the Continent.
On one mission, to bomb a transformer station in Italy, the Lancaster’s engines thrummed for nearly 11 hours, such a stretch that they had to land in Blida in Algeria before returning to Britain. On their way back up the Italian coast, a series of bangs meant that they had flown over an unknown gun emplacement. “The pilot was throwing the plane around like nobody’s business,” Hawkins recalled, “and my navigation equipment slid off the table.” As he bent down to pick it up he heard a loud bang behind him, and saw that his instrument board was smashed. A bullet had passed just above him.
“If I had been in my normal posture sitting at my table it would have taken my head off at the neck,” he said. “Having got over that I realised I had a guardian angel somewhere, and forever after that I ceased to worry about everything.” The experience had made him, in RAF parlance, “flak happy” — the feeling that “if you get a lot thrown up at you and you get through it all right to start off with, you’ll always get through it."
“You achieve a strange kind of optimism,” he said, “that if anyone’s going to get shot down it won’t be me, it’ll be the other chap.” Hawkins was awarded a DFC after surviving 46 missions, including three over the heavily defended Berlin, a quite remarkable tally considering the number of empty beds at RAF Waddington.
Desmond Hawkins was born in 1922 in Warminster, Wiltshire, the son of Milson, an insurance agent, and Frances, a seamstress. After attending the village school in Shaw, near Melksham, and singing in the church choir, he went to Fitzmaurice Grammar School in Bradford on Avon. When the war came he tried to sign up but was under 17 years old so he went to work in Trowbridge and played piano for the Stanley Murray Dance Orchestra instead. When he turned 18 he chose the RAF because flying an aircraft seemed the closest thing to his childhood dream of driving a train.
He was sent to train as a pilot in Canada, but after a reprimand for sneaking into his lodgings under the fence at night, he retrained as a navigator, returned to England and was dropped off in Bournemouth, where “[the RAF] lost us for about three months — we bathed and filled the Norfolk Hotel nightly and had a whale of a time”.
After operational training at RAF North Luffenham, Rutland, he joined 44 Squadron at RAF Waddington, from where he took part in 26 missions to Germany, Italy and Czechoslovakia. After another posting to 630 Squadron at RAF East Kirkby, Lincolnshire, he instructed navigators at RAF Chipping Warden, Northamptonshire, then returned to the fray to fly 16 more missions in 625 Squadron, his last being to drop food supplies over the Netherlands.
In 1946 he married Dorothy Dyason, whom he had met while playing piano at a dance in Trowbridge. They had three sons: David, who became a software engineer; Steven, who became a production manager for an electronics company; and Malcolm, who manages the stores department of a fire station. After his and Dorothy’s divorce, he married Ivy Morgan in 1985. Dorothy and his sons survive him.
During the war, more than 55,000 Bomber Command aircrew were killed. Hawkins found it difficult to talk about his experiences, such as seeing a Lancaster bursting into flames only yards from his own. To deal with what he later learnt was called post- traumatic stress disorder, he wrote a book called No Future, a fictionalised account of his own wartime experiences.
In spite of his trauma, in his later years Hawkins appeared a contented man. From 1947 until 1982 he worked for Lloyd’s of London and liked nothing more than to muse about current affairs with his friends, lamenting the follies of the EU and the decline of patriotism. He said that his chief concern was “how best I can have a good meal next, and which pub shall I go to?”
Des Hawkins with his crew
Flt Lt Desmond Hawkins DFC, RAF navigator, was born on November 23, 1922. He died on April 26, 2020, aged 97 years.
Kenneth Law Sumner DFM
Kenneth Law Sumner DFM
Ken Sumner, a survivor of so many operational missions during WWII, fell victim to COVID-19 on 2nd April 2020, aged 96. He was a bomb aimer, awarded an immediate DFM for his actions after his Lancaster was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire.
On the night of 26 April 1944 Bomber Command launched a raid against Schweinfurt. It was Ken’s 27th bombing operation. Some 250 miles from the target, in the vicinity of Strasbourg, the aircraft was hit by flak. The aircraft sustained several hits on its bomb bay and on Sumner’s compartment in the nose of the Lancaster. Ken informed his captain that he had been hit but insisted on staying in his position.
Ken continued to drop ‘window’ (metal strips to confuse enemy radars) until reaching the target area, where he successfully directed his pilot onto the release point for the target. He released his bombs despite damage to the bomb release wiring circuit. He then operated the aiming point camera to record the release for later analysis.
During the return journey he remained at his post to drop window and to assist the navigator with visual fixes until they cleared the enemy’s coast. Only then did he allow his wounds to be dressed.
The Lancaster made an emergency landing at an airfield near Peterborough and Sumner was taken to hospital.
The citation for his DFM concluded that ‘his conduct in the incident came as no surprise to his crew and squadron colleagues to whom his devotion to duty, efficiency and high personal courage have been an inspiration. His pilot, Flying Officer Taylor, was awarded the DFC.
Ken Sumner was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, in May 1923. His family travelled to England shortly thereafter and settled in the Northeast. Ken attended Durham School, where he joined the OTC. He enlisted in the RAF in 1941 when he was just 18 years old and trained as a bomb aimer. After a brief spell with No 83 Squadron he joined 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron in November 1943, based at RAF Waddington near Lincoln. This coincided with the beginning of the main phase of the Battle of Berlin, when Bomber Command suffered its heaviest losses. Sumner’s first four operations were all to Berlin, over a nine day period. By mid-January he had paid nine visits to the ‘Big City’. He also flew on missions to Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich.
After recovering from his injuries, he was rested from operations and received a commission. He spent six months on the staff of the bomber base at East Kirkby and in March 1945 joined No 617 Squadron - the ‘Dambusters’. This squadron was equipped with the 12,000 lb ‘Tallboy’ bomb and some crews dropped the even larger ‘Grand Slam’ earthquake bomb of 22,000 lb. Ken dropped Tallboy on the shipping area at Ijmuiden, the U-boat pens at Hamburg and the German battle cruiser Lutzow at Swinemunde. On 19 April he dropped a Grand Slam on Heligoland. His final operation of the war was against Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden.
Sumner was released from the RAF in 1946 and he moved to work on the family farm in North Yorkshire. In 1953 he moved to Gosforth and, with his son, established NDY Coach Sales of Stanley in Co Durham.
Ken was an ardent supported of Newcastle United, owned by his son-in-law, the businessman Freddy Shepherd. He also enjoyed watching the Newcastle Falcon rugby team and the sports teams at his old school in Durham. He competed six times in the Great North Run and walked the Great Wall of China at the age of 80.
Ken Sumner married his wife Phyllis Reynolds (known as Rennie) in 1946. They had two sons and a daughter.
Jim was born on June 3rd 1925 in the Chiswick area of London where he grew up with his younger sister Jean. He was not a star pupil at school and the headmaster once advised Jim’s father that he was wasting his money on the school fees.
Jim was just 14 when war broke out but he managed, like many others, to lie about his age and he joined the Royal Air Force when he was 17. He served one tour of operations with Bomber Command’s 44 Squadron as a navigator. In 1945, at the end of the war, Jim trained in the RAF to become a Catering Officer.
Jim met his wife-to-be, Diana, when she was a student lodging with his parents in Chiswick. At this time, just at the end of the war, Jim was stationed at White Waltham. Their first date was at the local cinema and on the way home Jim asked Diana to marry him. She was 17 and he was 21. They were married in Chiswick in 1948 and they moved into rooms in the house next door to Jim’s parents.
Jim left the RAF in 1947 and used his new catering skills by working for Lyons in their very popular tea shops. He began by managing the one in Wardour Street and went on to manage 8 other shops in the City of London.
However, Jim missed RAF life so much that in 1951 he joined up again. This meant the couple being apart for a while and the family grew with the arrival of their first daughter Helen in 1952, while Jim was away in Egypt and Diana was living back in Swindon. Eventually Diana and Helen were able to join Jim in Khartoum, where their second daughter, Miriam, was born. The family went on to spend three years together in Singapore.
Jim decided to take early retirement from the RAF in the mid-60s in order to settle back in the UK, where prospects were much more favourable to support Miriam with her disabilities. He found work with Trust House Forte in their airport catering facilities before taking on the role of Secretary and General Manager of the RAF Club in Piccadilly. He enjoyed this new role and he served there for seventeen years. He was pleased to meet up with many of his old RAF friends and colleagues. At this time the family lived for a while in Reading, before moving finally to Maidenhead.
Jim will be remembered as a lovely, generous-hearted man and a true gentleman. He will be very sadly missed by everyone who knew him, but especially by Diana and the rest of the family, which now includes two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.