clockwise from top left are:Wile,Stephenson,
photos courtesy of Chris Hopkinson
The seven men flew their first combat mission together in February 1943 on a raid to Lorient. They would fly more throughout that month and the following month until on March 25th the news came that the whole of the Squadron's C Flight was to be transferred to a new squadron for a special operation. This new unit was the famous 617 Squadron, the Dambusters. Several weeks of intense training followed and Don's crew were the first to fly the specially modified Lancaster needed for the daring raid on the German dams.
On the night of the raid, Don's plane was in the last trio of the first wave of bombers to take off from Scrampton, destination the Moehne Dam. The necessities of the mission dictated that the Lancasters needed to fly in low and near to the German village of Marbeck disaster struck Lancaster ED864 and it's crew. The plane hit an electricity pylon before bursting into flames and ploughing into nearby fields, the bomb it was carrying rolled onwards from the wreckage and exploded slightly further afield. Don Hopkinson and his 6 crewmates were all killed instantly. They were buried at a cemetery in nearby Borken and then reinterred in 1947 to Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
Don's brother Fred, a Spitfire Pilot
Donald Hopkinson was born in Royton on 19th September 1920 to parents Harold & Sarah, he was their second child after daughter Louie. Only four months later tragedy struck when Don's mother Sarah died of cancer. In 1922 Harold married Alice Woolfenden and together they added three further children to the family - Fred, Nellie & May.
Don attended Chadderton Grammar School and was a keen criticker. After leaving school he worked as a clerk in the office of the local Co-Operative society before enlisting in the RAF in December 1941. After his initial training in England he was sent to Canada, qualifying as a bomb aimer in May 1942 and being commissioned as an officer. Don was sent to an Operational Training Unit in the summer of 1942 and there was crewed up with Max Stephenson, Floyd Wile, Albert Garshowitz and Richard Bolitho. In October of that year the five young men were sent for heavy bomber training at RAF Wigsley in Nottinghamshire. There Fred Garbas (an old friend of Garshowitz's) and John Kinner joined them to make up a crew of seven. On December 23rd they were posted to 9 Squadron who were based at RAF Bardney in Lincolnshire.
16 days later, pilot Max Stephenson was killed on a raid to Duisburg. For some reason he flew as a flight engineer on another aircraft that night. Don and the rest of the crew were shortly afterwards transferred to 57 Squadron at RAF Scampton where they had a new pilot assigned to them - William Astell.
Don's father, Harold, a veteran of the Great War
Date of Death:17/05/1943
Rank:Flying Officer (Air Bomber)
Service:Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Cemetery:Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
Grave Ref:Coll.grave 21 D 16-18