Pilot Officer Herbert Branwell Hackney
Herbert Branwell Hackney was an early recruit to No.64 Squadron, after its official formation in March 1936.
The squadron’s history had actually begun the previous September when personnel were been sent to Egypt to form a “D” Flight with each of numbers 6 and 208 Squadrons. The two flights merged at Heliopolis on 19 March 1936 – the official announcement of 64 Squadron forming at RAF Henlow was one of political expediency. The squadron returned to Britain and disembarked at Southampton on 29 August.
By the middle of September, 64 Squadron had taken up residence at their new home, RAF Martlesham Heath. However, their Hawker Demons would not arrive until 4 November, following reassembly at RAF Packing Depot, Sealand, by squadron personnel. The summer of 1937 saw the squadron involved in various exercises and a number of Empire Air Days around the country.
On 22 November, Sergeant Hackney was involved in a tragic accident when the Demon he was piloting crashed, AC1 R E Smith acting as his Air Gunner (under training) was injured and died four days later in a local hospital.
A familiar figure arrived on 8 December, when Squadron Leader Victor Beamish assumed command of the squadron. In the New Year, the squadron upgraded to Demon I (Turret) fighters. The long awaited move to RAF Church Fenton finally took place on 18 May 1938. Five days later the squadron lead a mass flypast of 11 Group squadrons over the Midlands with AOC 12 Group Air Commodore T L Leigh-Mallory flying as a passenger with Victor Beamish. Summer activity followed the pattern of 1937 but with added bomber affiliation exercises.
During December 1938 the squadron received news it was to re-equip with the Blenheim Fighter, the change over being finalised by 17 January 1939. Squadron Leader Beamish was also posted away during the month. The now familiar routine of exercises and Empire Air Day performances followed into the summer of 1939, with 64 Squadron again leading a massed flypast over the Midlands.
With the German invasion of Poland, on 1 September, Flight Sergeant Hackney was assigned to “A” Flight. Flying activity for Hackney for the next three months consisted principally of patrolling the North Sea coast and in-shore convoys on sorties of up to four hours.
In early December the squadron was detached to RAF Evanton, Easter Ross, to provide standing patrols of Loch Ewe then a temporary base for the Home Fleet. The detachment ended on 8 January 1940, with all patrols from Evanton described as “uneventful”.
Back at Church Fenton the routine of patrolling the North Sea coast and in-shore convoys resumed. This continued until mid-April when the squadron switched mounts to become a Spitfire squadron, the remainder of the month was taken up with familiarisation training on the new type. Flight Sergeant Hackney was now in a single-engine, single-seat fighter for the first time. The day after 64 Squadron changed over to the Spitfire Hackney was promoted to Pilot Officer.
On 11 May, the squadron moved north to RAF Usworth, however, the German invasion of Holland and Belgium and the rapidly deteriorating situation on the Continent, saw 64 Squadron ordered south to 11 Group arriving at RAF Kenley on 16 May. The first four days at Kenley were quiet for the squadron with only single aircraft patrols being launched. In the early evening of 21 May, Pilot Officer Hackney took off as part of a Red and Yellow Section patrol over Boulogne, although they encountered enemy aircraft no claims were made. Hackney’s next sortie occurred on 25 May, when Yellow Section took off to intercept a raid plot, they were unsuccessful.
Pilot Officer Hackney’s final sortie took place on the late afternoon of 29May, 1940, when the squadron launched nine aircraft to patrol over the Dunkirk evacuation area. They tangled with German aircraft, claiming one shot down and several others badly damaged. However Pilot Officer Hackney was one of three pilots who failed to return.
Contact was made on this patrol with inferior numbers of e/a. F/Sgt Flynn accounted for one Me.109. Several other e/a were thought to have been badly damaged. Three aircraft containing as pilots S/L Rogers, P/O George & P/O Hackney respectively, did not return.
Herbert Branwell Hackney was born during July 1913, in Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast, to Herbert and Helen Wilhelmina, nee Shephard, Hackney. His father became a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF, which may have accounted for his decision to join the service himself. Herbert junior married Lilian Selina Sycamore during April 1938 whilst stationed at RAF Martlesham Heath.
Pilot Officer Herbert Branwell Hackney is commemorated on Panel 8 of the Runnymede Memorial.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.