Flt. Sgt. James Alfred Hoather 1174105 RAFVR, DFM
James Alfred Hoather was born on 26 September 1921 in Camberwell and was the son of Frederick Hoather, an Assistant Engineer for the London County Council and Rose Elizabeth Hoather. Jimmy was the second eldest of four siblings – two boys and two girls, who at this time lived at 8 Lomond Grove, Camberwell.
By the time that Jimmy was old enough to go to school, the family had moved to 147 Eswyn Road, Tooting and Jimmy attended the nearby Ensham Central Middle School in Franciscan Road, where he was a prolific sportsman, playing cricket and football for his school. He was a good enough footballer to be selected for Dulwich Hamlet’s Junior team and played alongside Richard Boyd, Arthur Anderson and Ronnie Dicks, although we are uncertain at present whether he featured in the team that won the London Minor Cup in the 1939/1940 Season.
When the 1939 Register was taken, Jimmy had left school and entered the world of work and was employed as a Clerk at an LCC Hospital, although we do not know which hospital this would have been.
At some point in 1940, Jimmy joined the many Dulwich Hamlet playing staff, both senior and junior, in volunteering to serve with the Royal Air Force as aircrew and after completing his flying training, qualified as a Sergeant Pilot. He was posted to serve with 58 Squadron, Coastal Command which was engaged on the vital work of defending Britain’s supply convoy lifeline across the North Atlantic, at that point flying the obsolescent Whitley aircraft. After initially being based at Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides, his squadron was re-equipped with the more modern Handley Page Halifax bombers and moved south to RAF St Eval in Cornwall on 15 March 1943. Incidentally, this is the same airfield at which Dulwich Hamlet’s Bill Parr was serving when he was killed in a flying accident almost exactly a year previously.
Jimmy was promoted to Flight Sergeant and as would be expected in such a vital role, his squadron was frequently in the thick of the action. On 10 April 1943, Jimmy was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) after a sortie to locate a German blockade runner in the Bay of Biscay, guarded by four destroyers and a strong air escort of Ju-88 aircraft. The enemy convoy was located and a striking force successfully homed in despite strong opposition from the Ju-88s. Although his aircraft was attacked and initially forced away from the enemy convoy, Jimmy flew back to the convoy and despite being attacked and driven off for a second time he persisted and remained in contact, successfully homing in British forces to attack the convoy. During the action, Jimmy’s crew possibly shot down one Ju-88 and damaged another.
His DFM was confirmed and gazetted on 9 May 1943, which sadly was also the day that Jimmy and his crew were posted as missing from a subsequent mission, also in the Bay of Biscay. On this occasion, Jimmy and his crew were on an anti-submarine patrol, flying Halifax aircraft HR743, serial BY-N.
Although the cause of the crew’s loss was initially unknown, it was eventually discovered after the war (based on the records of the enemy) that Hoather’s aircraft had attacked U-666 at 10:28 that morning. The submarine was a Type VIIC U-Boat commanded by Kapitanleutnant Herbert Engel and was proceeding on the surface from its base in L’Orient, France to take up a patrol position in the North Atlantic. This manoeuvre was fraught with danger for the U-Boat crews and many were lost in this way due to the Allies overwhelming air superiority by this stage of the war.
Jimmy’s plan had undoubtedly been to drop depth charges on the surfaced submarine but the U-Boat’s anti-aircraft defences prevented an attack on the first run and the aircraft circled to make another attempt. On the second approach, the Halifax was hit on one of the port engines, causing the aircraft to crash into the sea about 500 metres from the submarine, with the loss of all on board. The U-Boat continued on patrol but did not sink any merchant shipping at this time. On 10 February 1944, by this time under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Ernst Wilburg, she was sunk in the North Atlantic, off the west coast of Ireland by depth charges dropped by a Swordfish aircraft of 842 NAS embarked in the escort carrier HMS Fencer. There were no survivors from the ships’ complement of 51.
Jimmy and his crew were on their twelfth mission when they were posted missing and he is today commemorated on Runnymede Memorial, Panel 137.
This article was written by Stephen Hunnisett
Our grateful thanks to Brian Martin.