James Hawkins of Cheadle, a former Regular Soldier who served in the 3rd Kings Own Hussars, died on 20th July 2009 aged 95 years.
James Hawkins was born in Walton, Liverpool in December 1913.
Gerry (as he was known to his Army associates) joined the Cavalry Regiment during the inter-war years shortly before it became mechanised. He was, therefore, a Cavalryman of the old style whose horsemanship brought style, command and humanity, which was reflected in him throughout his life.
In 1940 the Hussars embarked for Egypt, and within weeks of landing, they found themselves in action. Italy had come into the War on the side of Germany, and with 215,000 troops in its North African provinces, it began to threaten Egypt, with the consequential loss of the Middle East oilfields.
In a preventative action, the British Army planned a simple attack on the Italian forces to evict them from Egypt. The attack was to last 5 days. It developed, however, into a two-month campaign, driving the Italians back a distance of 500 miles to the border of Tripoli.
But, War takes its toll on the victor as well as the vanquished, and 3 days into the battle, The 3rd King’s Own Hussars found themselves facing a Division of Blackshirts – the regular crack troops of the Italian Army. As each Squadron of the Regiment manoeuvred their tanks to outflank the enemy, ‘A’ Squadron ran into a treacherous unchartered salt marsh within point blank range of the Italian guns.
They fought back as best they could from the bogged down and exposed position but, within 10 bloody minutes the Squadron had lost 13 tanks, 10 killed including its C.O. and 13 wounded.
The most conspicuous of heroes that day was Sgt Gerry Hawkins whose citation reads “His tank was bogged down and knocked out by enemy gunfire at a range of 400 yards. After managing to escape his tank and despite being under heavy enemy fire, assisted his wounded comrades from the disabled tanks.
He then assisted the Medical Officer in carrying wounded men back to a more covered position. He continued assisting the Medical Officer in dressing and attending the wounded men – being the whole time under heavy fire from the artillery and machine guns.
His citation adds that his gallantry is worthy of the highest praise and was the means of saving many lives.
Sgt Gerry Hawkins was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Two years later he survived the destruction of his Regiment as it spearheaded the Battle of El Alamein and still his War was not over as a battle hardened veteran tank commander, the battle for Italy demanded his presence.
Following his career in the Army in 1949, Gerry took up the appointment of Youth Leader in the Worsley Boys’ Club before entering the Construction Industry, finally retiring as a Chief Buyer for Wimpey’s N.W.