Personal History

Bill Hawkins

Sadie and Bill

Well, I suppose it would be a good  idea to record what I know of my parents' life before I was born. In some respects it seems precious little, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Who knows what my memory and a little research may reveal!

Let us start with my mother, Sadie Younger. Her parents were Henry and Sarah Younger (nee Gibson) and she was born in the little village of Glanton, Northumberland, on December 7th 1920. I know very little of her early days; her father was a plasterer/builder who was self employed and who did quite well for a while. They eventually lived at 110 Front Row, South Broomhill in a small semi-detached house, and a little brother Richard was born. My mother was a frizzy red-haired child, who would terrorise the pavements on what she used to refer to as her "fairy cycle".

Sadie Younger at full tilt!


 The only story she ever told me about her school days concerned an unpleasant incident when she was sent by her teacher with a message to another member of staff. On the way to deliver the message she was apprehended by another teacher who accused her of being out of the classroom without permission. Before mother could explain the situation she received a hard slap across the face. When the truth was finally revealed the offending educator could not apologise enough, but the damage had been done. Today she would have been dismissed.   


My Grandfather, Henry Younger, with my Grandmother Sarah nursing baby Richard, while ,my mother Sadie is distracted by something away from the camera. The photo was taken outside their house in Front Row in about 1927.  My Grandfather was famous for his Charlie Chaplin impersonations, while my Grandmother couldn't be bothered to get dressed for the photographer.


 My Grandmother's brother Richard Gibson and his wife Barbara were very fond of my mother and were very kind to her. They bought her books, some of which I still have, and took her on holiday with them.


At the back, mum's Uncle Dick Gibson, in the middle her Auntie Barbara, with mum aged 16 on the right. The identities of the other two are unknown. The photo was taken on the beach near South Shields in 1936.


During the Second World War Sadie Younger trained as a Nurse and was eventually to be found working at Clare Hall Hospital, in South Mimms. By the end of 1942 the hospital had 540 beds, all of them for patients suffering from tuberculosis. The Nursing was hard, strict regimes being necessary to prevent the spread of infection. Eventually Sadie had to return to Northumberland to act as a nurse for her mother, who had become seriously ill. It was at this time that she first met my father.

Bill Hawkins was born in Moxley on February 26th 1919, the fourth child and first son of William Hawkins and Fanny Hetty Collins. His three elder sisters were Dora, Hetty and Nellie, and following him were Lily, Frank and Geoff. They were a close and loving family, the parents being patient and wise. It seems from listening to the surviving members today that they all enjoyed happy childhoods. Money must have been tight with seven children, but the eldest,Dora, was about 19 when the youngest, Geoff, was born, so perhaps with some of the offspring earning, their financial plight improved. My grandfather William worked at Sankeys in Bilston, and had a reserved occupation during the First World War. He specialised in making bolts and so helped the war effort. One family story is that once a month a special order would come in from the Ministry of Defence for six brass bolts, and so machines had to be re-set for their production. One month grandfather decided to manufacture twelve bolts and store six for the folowing month's order. It never arrived!

I get the impression that my father Bill was a lively lad, getting into scrapes like most normal boys. Apparently on one occasion he was confined to his bedroom for some misdemeanour or other, but managed to escape through the window with the aid of a couple of knotted sheets. His younger sister Lily had to swing on the bottom of the sheets to make sure they were secure! He always claimed that he started to smoke at the age of seven, a story  corroborated by his surviving sister, my Aunt Lily.

 My father Bill Hawkins as a boy aged about 10 with his pet rabbit. This photo was probably taken at he family home in either Best Rd or Prouds Lane Bilston.


At the age of 14 my father left school. For a while he worked at Sankeys training as a tool maker, but soon found other employment for his uncle, Mr. Frank Collins, who was an Undertaker. As a child he had been fascinated by the horses, coaches, coffin shop and all the  other activities surrounding the undertakers business. When he was quite small my grandmother made him a little carpenter's apron so he could look like his grandfather, who had started the business, developing it alongside his main occupation as a wheelwright. Father learned to drive the funeral cars which had replaced the horses of his childhood, learned to make coffins to a hiigh standard or workmanship, and began to learn the business side of the venture, especially as his sister Nellie worked in the office. Then, when he was 20, the war broke out.

Bill was one of the first to be called up to serve in the army. He was sent to Hereford for training but poor sight in his left eye meant he was not classed as A1 fit, and so, thankfully, he did not have to go to fight in Europe. He was posted to Barry Island in South Wales as a driver in the Royal Artillery.


My father, Bill Hawkins in his Royal Artillery uniform. The photograph was taken in Hereford in 1939.


On Barry Island  he was driving heavy goods vehicles including tank-carrying lorries which were pitifully slow. Eventually he was posted to Northumberland, where with one other soldier he guarded 7 miles of coastline. They were responsible for the use and maintenance of one searchlight and a 6 inch Naval gun. Once, after almost a fortnight without sleep Bill dozed off whilst keeping a watch on the diesel generator which powered the searchlight. Toppling forward, he put out his hands and burnt then on the hot engine. This resulted in an enforced home leave while his bandaged hands recovered. On another home leave, when he was about to return, he shouldered his rifle only for the tip of the barrel to catch the glass lampshade, leaving a small hole. I still have the lampshade today.

 Druridge Farm, an isolated spot where my mother and grandparents were living was only about 100 yards from one of the wooden lookout towers that my father and his companion had to man. The war, however, was never very far away. My mother once told me that they watched a "dogfight" between a German fighter plane and an RAF plane as they were queuing for the cinema in Red Row. Closer to home was the occasion when near Druridge they heard an explosion, and turned to see a leg flying up into the air from the sand-dunes. The dunes were partly mined and someone had tried to take a shortcut through them. He was killed instantly.

 The wedding was in October 1944. My Grandparents from Bilston, Bill and Hetty Hawkins travelled up to Northumberland, as did my Uncle Frank who was the Best Man. For my Grandmother it was a major expedition, as she had only ever travelled as far as Rhyl in her life.My father was in uniform and I think that my mother's dress was pale pink, but I am not certain. Father was later sent to Belgium, Holland and Germany to help "tidy up" at the end of the war. He was in Germany when I was born in June 1945.