The Airmen's Stories - P/O W H Hodgson
William Henry Hodgson was born at Frankton Junction, New Zealand on 30th September 1920, the son of Harry Hodgson and Leonora May Hodgson (nee Parker).
His family moved south to Dunedin when Hodgson was young, and he was educated at Macandrew Road School before going into King Edward Technical College. After completing his schooling, he worked as a technician at a radio station.
He also played rugby for Otago. In late October 1938 he joined the Civil Reserve of Pilots.
In early 1939 he applied for a short service commission in the RNZAF and on 26th June began his elementary flying training at the Otago Aero Club, Dunedin.
On 12th September Hodgson went to No 1 FTS Wigram, was awarded his flying badge on 23rd November and sailed for the UK in early March 1940 aboard the SS Remuera.
Having transferred into the RAF he was posted to No. 1 Fighter Pilot Unit at Meir in late April. Hodgson converted to Hurricanes at 6 OTU Sutton Bridge and joined 85 Squadron at Debden on 25th May 1940.
The squadron had incurred several casualties during its operations in the Battle of France and Hodgson was one of several replacements. Hodgson recorded that his Hurricane bore a crest depicting bad luck omens, these were walking under a ladder, the number 13, a broken mirror and lighting three cigarettes from one match. Underneath was the inscription "What the hell !"
The squadron spent the next month in training, under the supervision of the CO, S/Ldr. Peter Townsend. The squadron soon began carrying out patrols along the east coast and providing cover for convoys, operating from Martlesham Heath for the next two and a half months.
Hodgson destroyed a Me109 and damaged a Do17 and a Me110 on 18th August, shared in destroying two Do17s on the 26th, destroyed a Me109 on the 28th and got a probable Me110 and damaged two others and a He111 on the 30th.
In combat on the 31st Hodgson damaged a Do17 and probably destroyed a Me109 and was then hit himself. With damaged oil lines and glycol tank and his engine on fire Hodgson prepared to bale out but saw he was over a densely populated area and decided to attempt a forced-landing elsewhere.
He kept the flames under control by side-slipping and crash-landed in a field near Shotgate, Essex, narrowly missing anti-invasion obstacles. He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 25th October 1940).
By early September 85 Squadron had been reduced to 11 pilots and it was withdrawn to Church Fenton for a rest.
On 5th December 1940 Hodgson claimed a Me109 destroyed. An eye injury sustained in his crash landing became worse and he was classed as medically unfit for operational flying.
The squadron began to re-equip with Havocs in February 1941 and on 13th March Hodgson went along as a passenger in one to gain air experience. Piloted by P/O G Allard, the Havoc took off then suddenly appeared to lose speed, banked to the left, went into a double spin and dived to the ground. Hodgson, Allard and a second passenger, Sgt. FR Walker-Smith, were all killed. The crash was believed to have been caused by the top nose panel becoming detached and flying off to jam the rudder.
Hodgson is buried in Saffron Walden Cemetery, Essex.
In Wickford, Essex a road is named Hodgson Way in his memory and a memorial was erected near to the scene of his 1940 crash (below).
His younger brother James Robert Hodgson was a Second Lieutenant in the Otago Regiment, New Zealand Infantry when he was killed in a tragic accident at Waiwera, near Balclutha, on 3rd January 1943. He and a Staff-Sergeant were standing on a bridge when a convoy of army trucks approached. As it crossed the bridge, one truck swerved into the two men, killing both.
Above: The Hodgson brothers are commemorated by stained glass windows in St. Peter's Church in Caversham, Dunedin, NZ.