Harry Hawker epitomised the romance and adventure of early aviation. His name evokes the knightly sport of hawking, a world of falcons and hunting, of speed and deadly accuracy. Born in 1889, he saw the very beginnings of heavier-than-air flying machines. He built his first aeroplanes by drawing the outline on the hangar floor, much as a currach builder builds by eye and by instinct. The wonder is that they flew, gracefully and efficiently. He worked with Sopwith, another legend of aviation. Sopwith lived for 100 years and witnessed super-sonic and space flight. How that must have delighted him. Hawker was living proof that genius must be linked to hard work and a high degree of dedication. Although he died young, his legacy lived on to play a major part in the defeat of his exact contemporary, Adolf Hitler.
Harry crashed his sea-plane in Loughshinny Harbour, near Skerries, one hundred years ago yesterday, after an epic flight over England and Scotland. This event was commemorated by ceremonies, aerobatics and the unveiling of a plaque. On Saturday a Catalina flying boat retraced his route. It carried the aura of an age long gone and memories of boyhood stories of adventure in The Wizard and The Hotspur and The Adventure itself. It provoked talk of the flying boats that landed in Skerries on the day of the outbreak of war in 1939. It recalled lonely flights over the Atlantic in the relentless hunt for U Boats, at a time when it looked as if the world was tipping over into an age of unprecedented barbarism.
Great credit is due to Cepta Butler and Loughshinny and Rush Historical Society and to Ciaran Byrne of Fingal County Council who gave this project wings. Thanks also to Michael Healy, aviator and enthusiast. A very special thank you to my brother, David, (Doofer) for all his research and for prompting this commemorative event. I enjoyed his lecture on the subject. I now know how Hawker, in the early days, devised the technique for pulling a plane out of a spin. How many times in films have you seen aircraft in crisis when the aircrew contract food-poisoning or heart attacks at the wrong time? If I am aboard, I shall step forward with confidence, because I was at Doofer’s lecture in the Bus Bar on the night he told us about Harry Hawker and those justly named, magnificent men in their flying machines.
Incidentally, there is a Hawker Hurricane advertised for sale online for a snip at $300,000. If I win the Lotto……