809117 Flight Lieutenant Sydney H “Darkie” Hanson, AE MBE
Darkie, as he was universally known, had a swarthy complexion and latterly a magnificent handlebar moustache. Enlisting in 609 (WR) Squadron’s “C” Flight as an AC2 on 5th December 1937, he was trained as a ‘Fitter Aero Engine’ (F.11.E) though his technical ability as related to the internal combustion engine made the training somewhat unnecessary .
Promoted to LAC, it wasn’t long before he was Corporal Hanson, in charge of “B” Flights aircraft. 609 had converted from biplane Hawker Hart bombers to Hawker Hind biplane fighters, fortunately being re-equipped with Spitfires just before war was declared.
As the Dunkirk fighting increased, the Spitfires were hastily converted from variable pitch to constant pitch propellers, giving them a huge performance increase. Darkie and his colleagues did this in 8 days, getting 10 hours of sleep in that time, and working in bare feet to force themselves to stay awake. Faced with the problems of seeing behind them, the pilots benefitted from Darkie fitting a car rear view mirror above the top of the windscreen. In no time, this successful idea featured on all 609 aircraft.
A Flight Sergeant with “B” Flight by June 1941, Darkie was one of 40 pre-war Auxiliaries still with 609. These 40 carried the history, traditions, and memories of those who had gone before. They also taught these to newcomers!
In May 1942, 609 were at Duxford, and upon entering a hanger, Darkie was amazed to find it full of a new type of aircraft: the Hawker Typhoon. In April 1942 609 (WR) Squadron replaced their Spitfire Vs with the Hawker ‘Typhoon’ and the squadrons engine fitters came to grips with the ‘Sabre’ . The problems with the engine were considerable and the squadron’s engine fitters became engaged in a major battle to keep the ‘Typhoons’ serviceable. The eventual solving of the problems, and success of the aircraft, operationally, was due in no small part to such technicians as Darkie, and his fellow Senior NCO engine fitters, Olaf ‘The Breed’ Priestley and Roland ‘Groupie’ Walker.
It was a tradition that Auxiliaries could never be posted away from their squadrons without their permission. In September 1943 the RAF got round this by saying ”Stay put and thus never will you be promoted.” Having a family to support, Darkie had to accept a posting away from 609 in 1944, to the Middle East. Here he “simply sulked.”
Darkie renewed his connection with 609 Squadron when the Auxiliary Squadrons were reformed after the war. Following demobilization and a return to Civvy Street, the announcement that the disbanded Auxiliary Squadrons were to reform prompted Darkie to be first in line to enlist again. He signed up not as a Sergeant, but as an AC2. As befitted his experience, promotion was rapid. When David Shaw applied to join 609 in 1951, such was Darkie’s status that it was he, as senior NCO, who interviewed David, and not the current CO, Arthur Hudson! Before the final disbandment of the Auxiliary Squadrons Darkie received his Commission. When a Flying Officer, he was awarded the MBE in the 1957 New Year’s Honours List. He had also received the Air Efficiency Award for 10 years of continuous service.
609 (WR) Squadron were equipped with Mosquito NF30’s to be followed by Spitfire LX XV1’s. The jet age brought Vampire F5s for a short 3 months, followed by Gloster Meteor F8’s, which they flew until the Auxiliaries were disbanded once more in March 1957. By then Flight Lieutenant Darkie Hanson had become the Squadrons Engineering Officer.
Following disbandment a Squadron Association was formed. Ex-members of the squadron established a routine of annual reunions – still enjoyed to this day – with Darkie holding office as Chairman until 1992, when he retired. By then his attendance at reunions had become physically demanding, but his loyalty to the association, of which he was made a Vice President, overcame personal discomfort.
In his retirement, he owned a flat overlooking the Headley Cricket Ground in Leeds. Play in a test match was halted one day when thick smoke drifted across the ground. Darkie had experienced a kitchen fire that fortunately did little more damage than stop play for a few minutes.
Extract from “The Story of 609 Squadron”; “a swarthy man with a magnificent handle bar moustache ,who had served under the first and the last of them (CO’s), and with every one of The Hundred (the hundred who attended the 1968 reunion), as a man who had witnessed this Squadron’s dawn, high noon, and sunset. To some he was Aircraftsman Hanson, the engine fitter; to others Sgt Hanson in charge of the engines in `B’ Flights aircraft; to the youngest he was Flt Lt. Hanson, Squadron Engineer Officer. To all he was `Darkie’ Hanson – Dad – the human repository of 609’s traditions, joys, sorrows, – and memories.”
Darkie died on 25th September 2000, leaving behind his widow Margery, and son Barry.
Auxiliary Sergeants at RAF Duxford 1942. Darkie back row, 4th from left, 7th is Roland ‘Groupie’ Walker, 8th is Olaf ‘The Breed’ Priestley
Lympne Autumn 1943. Last remaining 609 Auxiliary airmen. Back row l/r: Sgt Eric ‘Jingle’ Ingall, Sgt Sydney ‘Darkie’ Hanson, Sgt Olaf ‘The Breed’ Priestly, LAC George Ikin, Cpl Roland ‘Groupie’ Walker. Mid row: Sgt Geoff ‘Black Geoff’ Walker, Sgt Douglas Andrews, S/Ldr Pat Thornton-Brown DFC, Sgt Harold Simpson, Sgt Robert ‘Bob’ Walling. Front: Cpl Jack ‘Scales’ Summerscales, LAC Leslie ‘Les’ Lindley, Cpl Ernest ‘Ernie’ Barker
October 1950: Sgts Ernie Lumb, Darkie Hanson and Don Dransfield
Malta Summer Camp July 1953. Group Captain Cyril Norman Odbert, Station Commander RAF Luqua, greets Darkie Hanson and Douglas Andrews. Odbert was 609 Squadron’s first Adjutant, from 1936 to 1938.