Veteran Stories:
Joseph Preston Hawkins

Air Force

  • Portrait of Joseph Hawkins at age 20 taken before he enlisted in RCAF, when he was still working in Cochrane, ON in 1939

    Joseph Hawkins
  • Official portrait of Flying Officer Joseph Preston Hawkins, RCAF, in uniform with air gunner wings, taken at end of war in 1945 at age 24.

    Joseph Hawkins
  • Family portrait of his father, Wellington Hawkins with children, Alma Hawkins, Joseph Hawkins (in back), Robert Hawkins and Currie Hawkins, as well as new Chevrolet taken in 1928

    Joseph Hawkins
  • Royal Canadian Air Force Certificate of Service showing Joseph Hawkins' service in the airforce from his enlistment to his release in 1945

    Joseph Hawkins
  • Awarded the Operational Wings of the Royal Canadian Air Force in recognition of his service and completion of a tour of operational duty in action against the enemy, 1945

    Joseph Hawkins
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"So I stayed down and what a jungle it was down there. Fire, fire, bombs flying and aircraft being shot down. It was just a great big furnace down there."


I was born September 15th, 1919 in Carleton Place, Ontario, that’s near Ottawa. At age 18, I went to Toronto. The war was on and I decided I’d try and get into the air force. So I went down to North Bay, it was a recruiting station and they took me on.

I wanted to defend Canada. And my parents of course were saddened by my going. I came in to fly and so I said, well, I want to go back flying. But I said, I want to go back as an air gunner. Because you see, a pilot would take maybe six months or eight months of training but an air gunner only took about three or four months.

So I went to air gunner training school in Trenton, Ontario, and then out to Manitoba, to Macdonald, Manitoba and then I graduated out there, got my little wing and then I was sent back to Carleton Place, where my family was. We said goodbye. And well, I spent about two weeks there, you know, as a leave. So then from there, I was sent overseas.

I went over on the [RMS] Queen Elizabeth, a huge, beautiful ship, you know, but it was taken over by the military to carry troops. So at night, they would send us out on the decks to protect the ship, the places where we could watch them and we could warn the crew that there’s this enemy ship there. But we got over quite safely. The pilots were flying bigger two engine bombers and later, four engine bombers. And four engine was the one that most of the bombing is done with you know. Big aircraft that carried about 10,000 pounds of bombs. I did a total of 36 trips over Europe; France, Belgium and Germany.

On D-Day, 6th of June, 1944, we dropped a load of bombs over France, just did about a hundred miles from the English Channel. One I can remember is over Stuttgart. Now, Stuttgart was a big financial centre of Germany. And it had been blasted by the allies, you see. So they had all sorts of fighters in there, you know, trying to knock us down. And I remember going over there and I was a belly gunner in the aircraft, which means that you’re down in the bottom there. It’s very dangerous there from aircraft shooting up. The air gunner was supposed to tell the pilot, we called him skipper, to let him come up, you know, because I’m getting over the target. And I can see the target coming up, you know. And so the skipper said, no, no, you’d better stay down there, you’ll rock the aircraft. So I stayed down and what a jungle it was down there. Fire, fire, bombs flying and aircraft being shot down. It was just a great big furnace down there.

When I was through my tour, then I was, I came back to England and I was then put out to train people. Flew around with them and also did some instruction, you see. Well, of course, I was very glad to be home. So were my parents, I guess.

I took advantage of the, the government’s offer for training and went back to school and university and got a professional designation in accounting. That became my career and then also a Bachelor of Arts at York University. Yes, I’ve enjoyed life.

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