Mr Alfred Arthur Hawkins

Alfred Arthur Hawkins was born at Oatley, NSW on 16 December 1924 the only child of Alfred Thomas Roy Hawkins and Florence Hawkins (née Davies). His father was an Electrical Artificer who had joined the RAN in 1921, but had left the service in 1932 in order to become a civilian canteen manager in the Navy. The younger Alfred Hawkins was educated at Oatley Public School and Hurstville Technical College and was keen to join the Navy.

His father was absent at sea serving as the canteen manager in the newly commissioned cruiser HMAS Perth when war broke out in September 1939 but the ship returned to Australia in March 1940. Alfred Hawkins, then aged 15, joined Perth on 4 May 1940, to assist his father in the canteen and also to gain sea experience before being able to enlist in the RAN. He became the youngest person to serve at sea with the RAN during World War II.

Alfred was quickly nicknamed ‘Happy Hawkins’ due to his positive nature and ready smile. Perth served in Australian waters and the Indian Ocean (May-December 1940) before being dispatched to the Mediterranean theatre in early December. Perth was destined to serve in the Mediterranean from January-July 1941 and took part in the defence of Malta in January, the Battle of Matapan (28 March), evacuation of Allied troops from Greece and Crete in April-May and provided naval gunfire support for the invasion of Vichy French controlled Syria in June.

His father was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for bravery during an air raid on Malta in January 1941 when, as a member of a fire party, he helped subdue a fire in the ammunition ship, MV Essex, which had been bombed while berthed astern of Perth. Alfred and his father were also members of the ships first aid parties and were involved in treating wounded soldiers picked up during the evacuation of Greece and Crete. They also looked after their own shipmates when Perth was hit by a German bomb, south of Crete, on 30 May 1941 with several men killed and wounded. During the ships brief times in port Alf was a keen sportsman and kept fit by boxing and wrestling with some of the other younger members of the crew.

Left: 'Happy Hawkins' father, Alfred Thomas Roy Hawkins Right: Alfred Arthur Hawkins.
Left: 'Happy Hawkins' father, Alfred Thomas Roy Hawkins Right: Alfred Arthur Hawkins.

Perth returned to Australia in August 1941 and undertook a refit before commencing convoy escort duties in Australian waters. In February 1942, Perth, under the command of Captain HML Waller, was dispatched to Java to help try and stem the tide of Japanese invasion. On 27 February Perth was involved in the disastrous Battle of the Java Sea in which only Perth and the cruiser USS Houston escaped.

The following evening Perth and Houston attempted to escape southwards, via Sunda Strait, when they encountered a heavily defended Japanese invasion force shortly before midnight on 28 February 1942. In what became known as the Battle of Sunda Strait both cruisers were sunk, as well as several Japanese vessels. Alfred’s father was badly wounded during the battle and his son then dragged him to the ships side as the cruiser sank, but they became separated in the water and Alfred never saw his father again. Alfred then spent two days in the water before he was picked up by a lifeboat, manned by other Perth survivors, and reached the coast of Java a few days later where he became a Prisoner of War.

Hawkins spent several months in a POW camp in Batavia where the men were employed on the wharves unloading ships. In October 1942 several hundred POWs, including Alf Hawkins, were moved via Singapore to Burma where they was put to work on the infamous Thai-Burma Railway. In December 1942 he turned 18 at 35 Kilo Camp in Burma. Alf regularly participated in camp concerts parties and was noted as a good singer and very popular with the other POWs, many of who looked after him due to his young age.

Left: 'Happy Hawkins' as the canteen assistant onboard HMAS Perth. Right: portrait of Canteen Assistant Alfred Hawkins drawn by a fellow POW on the Thai-Burma Railway.
Left: 'Happy Hawkins' as the canteen assistant onboard HMAS Perth. Right: portrait of Canteen Assistant Alfred Hawkins drawn by a fellow POW on the Thai-Burma Railway.

Despite suffering from a variety of illnesses including malaria, pellagra, beriberi, tropical ulcers and dysentery, and the occasional beating by Japanese guards, he survived the war and was repatriated to Australia in October 1945. While technically not a uniformed member of the RAN he received full repatriation rights and was ‘discharged’ from the RAN on 18 March 1946 and subsequently granted a war pension for his injuries.

Alfred attempted to return to civilian life, in Sydney, and follow a technical trade but after five years of war he found this difficult to do. He moved to Mackay and for many years worked as a deckhand and general labourer for Roylen Cruises. In 1960 he obtained his Masters Certificate from the Marine Board of Queensland. He married Raylee McGuinness in May 1959 and they had two children; Roy born 1960 and Tarnya born 1961. Alfred Hawkins died on 15 April 1991 and was buried in the Mount Bassett Lawn Cemetery in North Mackay. He was survived by his wife and two children.