Flt Lt John Hopgood DFC & Bar. [Pic: Lincolnshire County Libraries]
As Christmas 1942 approached, the 21 year old Flt Lt John Hopgood was officially on rest from operational duties. He had completed a first tour of 47 operations at the end of November, and had been recommended for a Bar to his DFC. At this time he was still attached to 106 Squadron, testing new equipment and doing some instruction. On 22 December he wrote to his mother, Mrs Grace Hopgood:
Christmas here promises to be a gay affair. I am all set for 2 Christmas dinners, one in the mess at luncheon and one with some very charming people who have a lovely house near the ‘drome in the evening and shall have to starve on the 23rd [sic]!!
Two days later, on Christmas Eve, he took five of his crew up in a Lancaster. They paid a Christmas greeting flight to the homes of all six men on board in the traditional RAF way, ‘beating them up’ at very low altitude. In her house in Shere, Surrey, Grace Hopgood heard the approaching noise and was able to run into the garden in time to see the Lancaster pass overhead.
On New Year’s Day, Hopgood wrote again:
Yes, that was me flying around on Christmas Eve about lunchtime. I saw several people in the garden – but there’s not more than few split seconds to pick out faces at that speed! I had great fun flying around to each member of my crew’s home and sort of sending Christmas wishes to all. …
Christmas here was of course a very gay affair. As is the age old custom we (the officers and NCO’s) all served the airmen’s lunch – and a jolly good one it was too. Then we had our own lunch (not quite so good) and settled down to a very gay party in our mess in the evening. Next day the weather was again very bad and so we were able to have another Christmas dinner with those local people I spoke about in my last letter. It really was a grand meal – champagne and lovely old port and then lovely hot rum punches. They really are extraordinarily kind to we RAF. They threw another enormous party last night (New Years Eve) and we all really had a grand time.
Fate would decree that this was in fact Hopgood’s last ever Christmas. He would die in the early hours of 17 May 1943, making the second bombing run at the Möhne Dam. AJ-M, already damaged by flak from earlier in the night was hit again, and it crashed on the far side of the dam. Hopgood’s heroic efforts to gain height meant that two of his crew were able to bale out. They never forgot the young pilot who saved their lives. The remaining five are buried together in the Rheinberg War Cemetery.
Letter extracts quoted above from Jenny Elmes’s excellent book, M-Mother, the biography of her uncle, John Hopgood (History Press, 2015).
Season’s greetings from the Dambusters Blog to all our readers!