Air Commodore Dave Hitchins AM AFC – Ex OC – Update

We have just learnt through a contact in Australia of the death on Tuesday the 18th of January of Air Commodore Dave Hitchins – that same Dave Hitchins who was for a time the Officer Commanding No 24 (Commonwealth) Sqn in the period 1956/60 (as mentioned in our Newsletter Issue 6 and 15).

Our Chairman, Keith Chapman also received an email from Dave’s daughter, Mrs Jenny Mooney, conveying the sad news and asking if he can organise a message from 24 Sqn to be read out at the funeral on 27 January. Keith has been in regular contact with David via the Mooney family during the last couple of years and feel that he knows them all extremely well, even though we have never met.

Dave Hitchins Retirement Feb 78

Dave Hitchins Retirement Feb 78

Some additional material from Keith Chapman -Association Chairman

AIR COMMODORE DAVID HITCHINS AO AFC RAAF RETD  – 13 January 1923 – 18 January 2011

The Summer 2008 edition of this magazine (Issue No.15) included a fascinating and highly entertaining article by Air Cdre David Hitchins in which he recalled his days as OC XXIV from 1956 to 1958. This was in the post-war era when XXIV was designated “The Commonwealth Squadron” with a proportion of its crews drawn from the air forces of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. During that period, the post of OC XXIV rotated between those Commonwealth air forces but the arrangement came to an end all too soon and there were only ever two Australian commanding officers of XXIV. The first was Chas Reid who later later became Air Marshal Sir Chas Reid and CAS of the RAAF. In 1956, it was the RAAF’s turn again and this time XXIV was fortunate enough to receive another outstanding commanding officer in the shape of David Hitchins.

David’s operational flying had begun in New Guinea during the latter stages of WW2. He described his early career and first links with the RAF in the afore-mentioned account in Issue 15, when he also alluded to a fellow Australian called Harry Hawker who had apparently commanded XXIV at some point during WW1. But it seems that this officer was no relation to the very first commanding officer of XXIV, the Englishman Major Lanoe Hawker VC DSO who was shot down and killed by the Red Baron in November 1916.

What David modestly refrained from mentioning in his article was his impressive record during the Korean War when he flew a DC3 on numerous re-supply missions from Japan into the Taegu Valley in Korea. He undertook these sorties, often carrying heavy loads of bombs and rockets, primarily on behalf of 77 Fighter Squadron RAAF which was operating Mustangs on intensive close support operations from the forward airfield at Taegu. To keep the Mustangs supplied, David flew repeated missions into Taegu in all sorts of atrocious weather conditions, landing on a runway made of pierced steel planking and at times dodging enemy small arms fire from the surrounding area. During this critical phase of the Korean War, he also carried VIPs, other pax, cargo, mail and Medevacs – which is how he came to meet his future wife Joan who was a nursing sister in the RAAFNS at the time.

It was rumoured that David, a West Australian, was selected for the coveted role of commanding XXIV Commonwealth Squadron not merely because of his excellent track record as a highly experienced transport pilot but also so that he could beef up the Colerne cricket team. He soon got to grips both with the cricket pitches and the notoriously tricky Hastings aircraft with its four piston engines, tail wheel and temperamental performance. He later recalled that, when crossing the Atlantic in winter, the Hastings fuel tank vents would often ice up, causing the contents gauges to over-read. Thus the further one flew, the more fuel one appeared to have!

Despite the chilly married quarters in winter and warm beer in summer, David and his family really enjoyed their exchange tour with XXIV Squadron at Colerne. He was universally admired by his crews for his outstanding professionalism and positive attitude and greatly respected by everyone as a commanding officer who always led from the front. He was also envied for his incredible stamina at parties and dining-in nights in the Mess! Above all, David was held in high personal esteem as a truly “good bloke” who was an excellent ambassador in all respects both for his own Air Force and for Australia.

We know from his daughters Jenny and Robyn, who have recently made a generous donation to the Hawker VC project, that David and his wife Joan always retained a strong affection for XXIV. In later life, he was able to maintain active links with his former Squadron by becoming a member of our Association. In 2008, he very kindly presented to his old Squadron one of what he liked to call his special “treasures” – a genuine aboriginal “killing” boomerang which is now permanently displayed in the office of OC XXIV. The boomerang is inscribed with David’s name and the dates of his tour in command. It serves as a fitting and enduring reminder of his time as OC XXIV.

David, by then a widower, died peacefully on 18 January 2011, just a few days after his 88th birthday. With his passing, our Association has lost one of its most distinguished and admired members. He will never be forgotten by his many former friends in the RAF and other Commonwealth air forces nor by those who never had the privilege of meeting him but who have followed in his footsteps by serving on XXIV Squadron. We mourn his death but celebrate his long life and many achievements. He was a remarkable man and we salute him.


2 Responses to “Air Commodore Dave Hitchins AM AFC – Ex OC – Update”

  1. Dennis Bluie Hobbs Says:

    A comment from Dennis “Bluie” Hobbs Flt Sgt Navigator (B cat)

    “I was sad to hear of Hitchins death , I flew with him on occasions as Navigator One memorable trip was to Changi, we left Colerne on the 28th November 1957 and returned on the 22nd December.

    We had a diversion to Nicosia with engine touble for 3 days, the reached Habbaniyah where we stayed for 7 days(engine problems) we had a day with shotguns trying to shoot vultures unsuccessfully, we then proceeded to Changi and on return , diverted into Sharjah for a day ,again with trouble.

    From Habbaniyah to Idris we had an unscheduled stop at El Adem and eventually arrived home on the 22nd December.

    The Aircraft was Hastings TG606 an Oldie And the co-pilot was W Smith who had been the Course commander of 10 Nav course at ITS Wittering 1949 where I was one of his Cadet Navs.”

  2. Jenny Mooney Says:

    I remember Dad coming home from a trip through the Middle East. He brought with him some melons which had white flesh. They were absolutely beautiful. It may have been that trip. I don’t think the 24 Sqn crews worried too much about food import rules in those days. I have his log book entries for that trip. Second pilot was F/L Smith.

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