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Hoppy the RAF flying hero

By This is Dorset  |  Posted: April 06, 2010

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Colin 'Hoppy' Hodgkinson was born at Glencot House near Wookey Hole in 1910.

His father Gerard Hopkinson owned Wookey Hole caves.

His dad was also the Master of the Mendip Hunt from 1929 to 1932 and a decorated pilot with the Royal Flying Corps in World War I. In May 1939, having joined the Royal Navy, midshipman Hodgkinson was involved in a mid-air collision during a blind flying exercise at night, he was wearing a hood over his head at the time of impact.

He was coming into land when his two-seater Tiger Moth biplane collided with a similar aircraft and fell into woods in Kent.

Colin was badly injured and was taken to Gravesend hospital for a double amputation – the right leg above the knee, the left leg below it. That seemed the end of his naval and flying career.

The outbreak of war found him slowly convalescing in the naval hospital at Chatham.

By Christmas 1940, he found he could walk perfectly well with his artificial limbs and was determined to go on flying. He joined the RNVR and went on several flights including a trip to Brest as a rear gunner in a bomber.

In 1941, the Admiralty posted him to elementary training school which he completed and was promoted to sub lieutenant and passed on to intermediate flying training school where he qualified as a pilot. In September 1942, he transferred to the RAF as a pilot officer and on the 19th of that month flew a Spitfire for the first time at Aston Down in Gloucestershire.

Hodgkinson's first mission over enemy territory was on February 3, 1943, with 131 Squadron. He was flying a Spitfire, one of 70, escorting 12 Ventura bombers to the marshalling yards at Abbeville. He shot down his first German fighter while he was in 610 Sqn under the command of Johnnie Johnson, who would become the highest scoring English pilot of the RAF in World War II.

Colin was on a combat air patrol over the east coast when he spotted four Focke Wulf 190s dropping bombs on to Brighton below him. He shot down one of these which crashed close to the end of Brighton Pier. His second victory came later in that year in August against another FW190, shot down during a escort mission of American Maurader bombers returning from an attack on Bernay airfield in France.

During May 1943, Pilot Officer Hodgkinson returned to Street. The former Millfield pupil opened the local Wings For Victory week. He said he was deeply honoured being such a junior officer in the RAF to be honoured to open their wings week.

He went on to contrast the 1943 strength of the Air Force with its standing in 1940, when they had pilots but no planes.

He was happy to say the position was very different in 1943. They, the pilots, looked to the people on the home front, who had so well stood up to enemy bombing to provide all the planes that were needed. Street's target for the week was £40,500, the cost of nine P-51 Mustangs fighter aircraft.

In November during a high altitude reconnaissance flight at 30,000ft, his oxygen failed which affected his flying ability and caused him to crash land into a field in France.

Captured, injured and in German hands he spent the next 10 months at various medical facilities and ended up in Stalag Luft 3 at Sagan. He lost three stone in weight before he was repatriated, first being sent to Gothenburg in Sweden and then travelling by ship to Liverpool. He left the Air Force in 1946 only to return in 1949 as a part-time pilot flying Vampire jets with 501 and 604 Squadrons.

In 1955 he stood as a Conservative candidate in South West Islington, losing the seat. He gained 11,667 votes to Labours 24935. In 1957 he published his wartime story Best Foot Forward. He and his wife June moved to the Dordogne in the mid-Eighties. He died there in March 2004.

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  • moffist  |  November 17 2012, 10:15PM

    My Tiger Moth now has a website! http://tinyurl.com/bxjox3k I would VERY much like to know the references for the newspaper cuttings that are part of this story if anyone can help? Please contatc me at vintageminor@gmail.com

  • moffist  |  August 01 2011, 5:04AM

    Hello, I am restoring a Tiger Moth that was based at Gravesend when 'Hoppy' Hodgkinson was learning to fly and had his accident. I am trying to trace the family to see if they hold his logbooks. He may well have flown my Moth before his accident. I came across this web page and was very interested to see a photo of the wrecked Tiger Moth which seems to have come from a newspaper cutting, and which I have not seen before. I would very much like to obtain a better resolution copy of the photo if possible, as I am writing a book about the Tigers at Gravesend. Any help that you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Ian Grace Seattle http://tinyurl.com/3mrraue