Joining his Crew

Sgt. Hawkings would soon become part of an already existing crew Captained by F/O Allan Nelligan. The Heavy Conversion Unit brought together not only the crews new Flight Engineer, Sgt. Hawkings. The five original members of the Nelligan crew now six strong would welcome one more air gunner bring them up to full strength of seven.
It had been a long training path for Sgt. Hawkings. The Flight Engineer Trade had only begun a few years earlier. It had developed and was revamped a number of times and would continue to change right up to the end of the war.
Originally the RAF drew from its own ranks upgrading skills of their existing Fitter and Flight Mechanic Trade personnel. However, the loses of crews required an ever-widening approach to filling the F/E positions.
The RAF began with what would be termed Direct Entry openings into the F/E Trade. There is no record of how William Hawkings became a F/E. The courses for both paths, either "DE" or from RAF ground crew were similar. The Direct Entry recruits were however additionally required to take the basic courses of discipline. Something which the existing Fitters and Flight Mechanics had of course already completed just after their enlistment.

HCU was hours of actual flying exercises, under the direction of operational experienced instructors. Most of these instructors had completed 30 or more sorties and were now posted to HCU providing their skills to help the new crews. Hawkings would have had one of these instructors aiding him put into practise all he had learned at F/E schools.
Numerous exercises flying the Halifax would help build a strong relationship and team work. After four or more weeks with around 40 plus hours flying time the whole crew had to pass a "Solo" exercise to prove they were ready to move on to operational squadrons.

The crew:
Pilot F/O Allan Neil Nelligan
Navigator F/O James Roy Fichter
F/E Sgt. William Ewart Hawkings RAF
WAG Sgt. William Henry Herman
B/A F/O John Alden Nafziger
MU/G Sgt. Elliott Russell Smith
R/G Sgt. Bruce Edward Greenhalgh

419 Squadron

On October 2nd. 1944 Sgt. Hawkings arrived at Middleton St. George after a short Leave on successful completion of his courses at No.1664 HCU. It would be some time before the crew would take part in operational raids over Europe. There was more training, cross more country navigation and bombing exercises as they adjusted to the Canadian built Lancaster X.

For F/E Hawkings, not only would the Lancaster be new, the British made Lancaster had similar components with the British built Halifax. The Halifax had been the aircraft he had spent weeks getting to know, even working at the plant that assembled the Halifax. The Canadian built Lancaster X however, used American components. Requiring some connections to be located in different points in the Lancaster and being different in character to what Hawkings had been taught.
Now the crew waited for their pilot F/O Nelligan to complete his compulsory two operations as second pilot flying with an experienced crew on squadron operations over Europe. By the 23rd. of October they were ready and set out on their first operation, one which would take them to Essen.
Sgt. Hawkings helped complete the Pre-flight inspection both on the exterior and interior of KB762, VR-J, nicked named "Jiggs" after the American comic strip character. Once he and Nelligan were satisfied with "Jiggs" they signed off the Form 700, taking responsibility of her.

Standing at his station near the Pilot, Hawkings helped with the controls that would bring VR-J from the Dispersal Pad to the takeoff position. Then once the signal was given, Nelligan steered the aircraft down the strip while Hawkings worked the throttles flaps and eventually raising the landing gear as VR-J lifted off.
The pilot followed the Navigators instructions and climbed to the designated height and brought the aircraft on to the heading for the night. Sgt. Hawkings worked the engine controls and making adjustments for maximum power with minimum fuel consumption.
At his station Hawkings filled in the Flight Engineer Log at set intervals. They were now in a bomber stream possibly two miles wide and many more miles long. Flying in the darkened skies with so many other bombers around you meant Hawkings had to also use his position up in the Lancaster's "Greenhouse" staring out the Perspex on the lookout for enemy fighters and wandering friendlies.
There was also danger from aircraft unable to keep up with the speed of the stream, or comeing under fire of another bomber with a nervous gunner. One such incident had cost the 419 of one of their aircraft and badly wounded it's rear gunner. In an other incident a 419 Lancster had almost crashed into the rear of another squadron's aircraft. Only the sudden loss of control and the bouncing of their own aircraft warned a F/E of the cause. The heavy four engine aircraft's durbulance meant they were getting too close to an aircraft ahead of them in the darkness. Some thing passed on by an intructor at HCU, a lesson that was kept in mind by pilots and Flight Engineers.
For the next six and a half hours Sgt. Hawkings continued to keep check on his four Merlin engines, act as a lookout, complete entries in his Flight Engineer Log and balance the remaining fuel load between the different tanks of "Jiggs"
Shortly before eleven o'clock that night he again assisted the pilot with the controls as they brought the bomber down and made their way back to the Dispersal Pad. Then would collect up his logs, his parachute and tool bag and talk to the ground crew Sergeant. Then signing the Form 700 to return the aircraft to the ground crew. The de-briefing would follow then the night was finally over.
It would be only a short time before he would again return to his station. This time on KB81 VR-C "Chopper" flying a daylight raid. "Chopper" would take them again to Essen. Leaving the Base slightly after noon and returning almost six hours later.

A Mad Dash

At 1000 hrs. on the 28th of October, RCAF HQ past down to 419 Squadron a request from Bomber Command to have eighteen aircraft ready for 1130 departure for a daylight operation on Cologne.
What looks like a completely ludacris request. One and a half hours to gather the crews, brief them, check out the aircraft, marshal eighteen bombers and get them airborne!
Only by their complete knowledge of available aircraft, Bomber Command HQ knew that 419 had scrubbed an operation the night before. They also knew that those aircraft were fueled and bombed up sitting ready.
It still left little time for a proper whole crew briefing and preparation of up to date navigation charts. Ones showing latest flak positions and other valuable information. Instead, a rushed series of separate briefing resulted. Nelligan, Fichtner and Nafziger headed for information at a gathering of Pilots, Navigators and Bomb Aimers. Sgt. Herman attended a meeting of the wireless operators to receive the three frequencies for the communications for the operation.
Sgt. Hawkings, Smith and Greenhalgh headed directly to the KB712. Smith and Greenhalgh to check our their guns and turret operations. While Hawkings made a solo preflight check with the ground crew.

An hour and half postponement, gave some relief to the rushed air and ground crews. Also giving Hawkings and the other crew members a chance for sandwiches and coffee before the 1304 takeoff time. With Sgt. Hawkings once again aiding the pilot getting "S for Smitty Love" VR-L off the ground and climbing to the designated altitude before heading into the bomber stream of over 730 heavy bombers.
What happened past that point appears to be unknown. The time of the loss of KB712 and her crew, was reported by International Red Cross as 1500 hrs. near Hurth Germany located southwest of Cologne.

Our Thanks to the family of William Hawkings for sharing their photos and documents.