Eynon Hawkins GC (AM exchanger)

b. 27/06/1920 Llanharan, Glamorgan, Wales. d. 17/12/2001 Bridgend, Wales.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 10/01/1943 North Atlantic.

Eynon Hawkins (1920-2001) was born at Llanharan, Glamorgan, on June 27th 1920, the son of coal miner, Sydney Hawkins and his wife Janet (nee Rogers). He went to the local primary school and, like many schoolmates, left at 14 to go down the mines.

Eynon Hawkins GC

Young Eynon worked first for the Power Dufferin colliery at Llanharan as a fireman, a task which involved patrolling below ground to check for gas leaks and packing the gelignite before blasting. In his spare time he played tight-end prop forward for a number of local Rugby Union teams, including Llanharan, Bridgend and Glamorgan.

After the outbreak of war in 1939 he enlisted in the Royal Navy, and spent 10 weeks training at HMS Raleigh and HMS Torpoint in Cornwall, and HMS Drake at Devonport. Since there was little opportunity for rugby, he took up boxing.

Hawkins was first drafted to a trawler patrolling the English Channel, then after nine months transferred to merchant ships, on which he served as a seaman gunner in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well as in the Bay of Bengal. He finally completed his service in the rank of leading seaman

On January 10th 1943, Able Seaman Hawkins, serving on the corvette Chrysanthemum, was attached to the merchant vessel British Dominion and serving as a gunner. The merchantman was part of a convoy of 14 bound from the West Indies for Malta when it was struck by three torpedoes 300 miles south-west of the island of Madeira and began to burn fiercely.

The fire became so intense that fear of an immediate explosion led the order to abandon ship being given without waiting for the lifeboats to be lowered. Instead, a few rafts were tossed into the sea, where the oil leaking out of the ship’s ruptured tanks was aflame.

Hawkins, whose peacetime job was as a fireman in a coal mine, followed the men into the water and, with great coolness, kept a group of about nine survivors clear of the fire until they were picked up by one of the Royal Navy escorts. Twice he swam through the burning oil to the assistance of others who were in difficulties and brought them back to the group.

The burns to Hawkins’s face were so severe as he was dragged to safety aboard the rescue craft by shipmates that he still wore a beard to avoid aggravating the pain when he came out of hospital. Eynon Hawkins was invested with the Albert Medal by King George VI on November 16th 1943.

After the war, Hawkins returned home to the mine before moving to Manchester where he became a professional Rugby League player in 1947.

In the years that followed he was one of the top players for Salford, Rochdale Hornets and Belle Vue. He won six Welsh caps and appeared in the Great Britain squad. Professional rugby then involved vigorous training three or four times a week, but was not considered a full-time occupation. Hawkins held down a job in a mine at Salford.

After seven years he gave up playing, and came home to look after his mother and father and work at Power Dufferin again. When it closed, he moved to the Ffaldau colliery eight miles away until his retirement at 60. His return involved considerable sacrifice since there was no Rugby League in South Wales; over the years he continued to return to the North for reunions with his former team-mates. He was a founder member of the Albert Medal Association, and when the Albert Medal was revoked by Royal Warrant received the George Cross from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1972; his Albert Medal was then placed in the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff.

Hawkins was also one of two men to hold the Lloyds Medal for Bravery at Sea; he was awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. Eynon died on 17th December 2001 in Bridgend, South Wales, aged 81. He was cremated at Coychurch Crematorium and his ashes were scattered. His medal group including his GC are privately held.