Interview with Ian Hawkins


Interview with Ian Hawkins


Ian Hawkins was training to be a teacher when he decided to volunteer for the RAF, joining in 1941. He commenced training under the Arnold Scheme in Canada and the United States and passed the course as a pilot. He returned to England as a sergeant and eventually joined 214 Squadron flying Stirlings. After sixteen operations he became an instructor at an Operational Training Unit at RAF Chipping Warden. He later returned to flying, this time with 299 Squadron, towing gliders in Stirlings. He describes how, at the end of the war he was flying a variety of aircraft with Transport Command before being de-mobbed. He returned to teaching but joined the RAFVR to fly at weekends and in 1951 was pleased to be invited back to the RAF as a flying instructor. He was later de-mobbed again and returned to teaching for the rest of his working life.




Temporal Coverage




00:12:39 audio recording


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MJ: It’s on.

IH: Hello, my name is Ian Hawkins. I served in the RAF as a pilot with 214 and 299 Squadrons. In 1939, in common with other members of my family, I was destined to become a teacher, and after my first year at Winchester the college was commandeered by the army. We were told to report to Culham [?] College for our second year but some of us didn’t like it. So, come the end of 1940, some fourteen of us volunteered for the RAF. I was actually called up early in 1941, did the usual reception centre and ITW at Scarborough and then was destined to join a group sailing to the United States under the Arnold Training Scheme. Arnold because of General Arnold, who had helped to introduce this scheme of training as civilians [emphasis] in the United States before they were in the war. Having embarked on a ship, Duchess of Atholl, at Glasgow and sailed down the river and parked, or moored [emphasis], for two weeks we then went back to Glasgow again because the, the survival of life on the convoys was not very high. We transferred subsequently to a late, later vessel and sailed across the Atlantic to Canada and from Canada we landed, landed and went to Toronto and we had the most marvellous food which we hadn’t seen for a couple of years, and then we went down to the south-eastern part of the United States to start our flying training. I was lucky. I passed after two hundred years, two hundred hours [emphasis] flying to get my pilot’s wings. Several of us were not so lucky because we were being trained under American peacetime standards and the standard was higher. [pause] Those who failed the course often went on to become navigators, or bomb aimers, or wireless operators. A member of, er, my course, who unfortunately I never actually met, was Michael Beetham, who went on to become Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Michael Beetham, Chief of Staff. He volunteered to stay in America for a further six months to become an instructor. I was too keen to come back. He got his commission. I came back as a sergeant. Back in England I did my usual advanced flying course on Oxfords, twins, and then on to OTU on Wellingtons where I was crewed up. Then on to a conversion unit on to four-engined Stirlings, adding two members of the crew to make a crew of seven, and finally on to 214 Squadron. I did my first three trips as second pilot to get the experience I could pass on to my crew. The first bit of luck I had was that my first two trips as a second pilot was as, with a Sergeant Baldock [?]. I was due to go with him on my, on a third trip but didn’t. He went missing. The whole crew killed. My third trip as a second pilot was with Flight Lieutenant Youseman, who became better known later in the war, and I knew the difference immediately on how he organised his crew to how Sergeant Baldock had organised his. So I carried on after that as first pilot with my own crew. After I’d completed sixteen operations my crew was called before the commanding officer and we were told, ‘You are going to be instructors.’ We objected to this because we wanted to finish our tour but, as subsequently dis– we discovered, hardly anybody finished thirty trips on a Stirling at that time. This was in 1943 and the OTUs were desperately in need of instructors to bring on the next generation. So I went off to become an instructor at an OTU at Chipping Warden. I spent about eighteen months there instructing, instructing crews, ending up as a course shepherd [?]. It was during this time that my, one of my friends got killed. He was my bomb aimer who had transferred to the, er, Dambusters’ Squadron and he was killed on a subsequent trip to Kembs, K-E-M-B-S, after the original Dambusters’ route, raids. At the end of my period as an instructor I was reintroduced to the Stirling and I obtained a new crew, of seven, had a refresher course and joined 299 Squadron. 299 Squadron was glider towing and we were being trained and practiced towing gliders. This was just after the invasion and the Rhine crossing. So I missed out on that but we were being prepared for the invasion of Japan [emphasis], if you please, glider towing in a Stirling with a large glider with forty soldiers in the back. Not something we were looking forward to but fortunately for us the atomic bombs came and Japan capitulated. Staying on in 299 Squadron I changed over, eventually, to Transport Command and was flying a variety of different aircraft, never a Spitfire, never a Lancaster, anything from a Tiger Moth to a Stirling, carrying air– aircraft abroad, bringing troops back. Eventually, I was due for de-mob. One sad occasion was that my second navigator, by the name of Jim Holborough [?], who was due for de-mob, decided to make one last trip with a strange pilot in a Mosquito and he was unfortunately killed. Very sad. The day before he was due to be de-mobbed. One further sad occasion was that my cousin, Leo Hawkins, who was on 218 Squadron Stirlings as a navigator was, er, struck by lightning, the aircraft was struck by lightning, soon after take-off and he was killed. I was de-mobbed, went back to train and become a teacher, decided to join the RAFVR to do my fortnight’s flying training with the occasional weekend and in 1951, when there was trouble in the Middle East and we were expanding the RAF, I was asked if I would care to go back into the RAF as a qualified flying instructor. I was very pleased about this and in 1951 did my refresher course, went to the CFS, got my qualification as a flying instructor, and for the next eighteen months I was instructing on Harvards. At the end of the time the trouble in the Middle East blew over and for the second time I was de-mobbed. I must admit I tried to stay in the RAF but this time I was considered to be too old in my 30s and although I stayed in the RAFVR as long as it, er, persisted it was not long before that was also disbanded, disbanded, so I became a teacher for the rest of my working life. I think that’s all I can say.

MJ: Why is it called brown jewels [?]

IH: Soldiers.

MJ: Yeah.

IH: Flying expression. Is it recording again now? Oh.

MJ: It’s alright.

IH: I don’t think really I have anything more to say. I know that the soldiers were very happy when we, when we brought them back to, er, this, this country after the war was over. The Stirlings were converted into troop char– troop carriers, as well as, er, glider towers.

MJ: So you got everything.

IH: Yes.

MJ: I’ll turn it off. On behalf of the International Bomber Command I’d like to thank Ian Hawkins at his home in Lee-on-Solent on the date of the 3rd of December 2015. For this recording once again we thank you.



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Ian Hawkins,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 8, 2023,

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