[Pic: Hopkinson family]
Flg Off D Hopkinson
Lancaster serial number: ED864/G
Call sign: AJ-B
First wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Donald Hopkinson was born on 19 September 1920, in Royton, near Oldham in Lancashire, the second child of Harold and Sarah Hopkinson. His mother died of cancer when he was four months old, and his father remarried. He was educated at Chadderton Grammar School, where he excelled at cricket, and worked as a clerk before volunteering for the RAF in early 1941. After initial training in England he was selected for training as an air observer and sent to Canada. He qualified as a bomb aimer in May 1942, and was commissioned.
Hopkinson was posted to an Operational Training Unit in the summer of 1942, and crewed up with Floyd Wile, Albert Garshowitz and Richard Bolitho, with Max Stephenson as their pilot. In October 1942, all five were sent for heavy bomber training to RAF Wigsley and Frank Garbas and John Kinnear were added to the crew.
When they were ready for operational flying, the whole crew was posted to 9 Squadron. However, before they could fly together Max Stephenson was killed on a ‘second dickey’ operation.
Without a pilot, the crew was then shipped to 57 Squadron, and allocated to Bill Astell. After eight operations, Astell’s crew was moved to 57 Squadron’s C Flight, under a new Flight Commander Melvin Young. On 25 March all five crews in the flight were transferred to the new 617 Squadron being formed at the same station.
On his last home leave early in May 1943, Hopkinson mentioned to his family that he had a bad premonition about the forthcoming operation. Unfortunately he was correct and from his position in the nose of AJ-B he must have suddenly seen the HT cables and pylons in its path, realising perhaps that they could not avoid them.
Donald Hopkinson is buried with his comrades in Reichwald Forest Cemetery, having been reinterred there after the war.
More about Hopkinson online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Aircrew Remembered web page about Astell crew
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Further information about Donald Hopkinson and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.
I’m looking into my family history and Donald looks so much like my Dad. My dad was born Denver Lloyd Hopkinson. Son of Henry Lloyd and patience. Henry and his brother’s owned a laundrette in Newmarket Suffolk.
Charles – thank you for your work on all of this. My mother Joan Hopkinson (who died in 1995) was Donald Hopkinson’s cousin, but more pertinently she was, she told me, engaged to be married to him at the time of his death. She told me this when I was young, and recently going through some old family photos I came across a copy of the photo of Donald which is on this page above. It had no name or information on it but I remembered my mother had told me she had been engaged, that he was very handsome and that he was her cousin, and had showed me his picture at the time (in the early 1960s), as she had kept it, so I wondered if this photo might be him. She had no active contact with the rest of his family (there were a lot of Hopkinson cousins including the England goalkeeper Eddie). I couldn’t remember Donald’s name. The only other thing she told me was that he was a Dambuster, so I came to the squadron website this year and found the same picture, which joined up the dots for me. After he was killed Joan got engaged to my dad Robert Rust, who was a navigator on Lancaster bombers (she obviously had a thing for navigators!). He survived the war – of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be here! – though sadly died in 1974 from heart failure originated in a wartime illness. Whenever I see the Dambusters film or hear of the story Donald has a peculiar resonance for me – because of course had he lived, I wouldn’t have ever existed! I am among other things a poet, and years ago wrote something to commemorate by father, in particular with reference to the Dresden raid which he took part in, which you may (or may not!) find of some marginal interest http://www.wordsout.co.uk/the_devils_tinder_box.htm
Hi Godfrey your comments are very interesting. My Dad was Don’s half brother. My name is Christine Hopkinson and I have many pictures of Donald and my Dad (who became a Spitfire Pilot after his brother died in the Dambuster’s raid). So in a way through your Mother and my Dad we are related.