Ian Hawkins' book about the destroyers during the Second World War

Dear Sir,

Mr Jim Sheffield, a friend in Lincolnshire, England has very recently indicated your very interesting website in Australia to me.

My name is Ian Hawkins and I have strong connections with the Royal Navy. I have recently completed a book about the destroyers of the Royal Navy, United States Navy and the Merchant Navy during the Second World War. The book, an anthology of personal accounts by WW II veterans, is being published in London and in America shortly.

A Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Commander,  Warwick "Braces" Bracegirdle, retired to a small Suffolk village, Gislingham, in Mid-Suffolk,  England, quite close to my village. He took part in the Pacific Naval War and in the Korean War. Sadly, he passed away about five   years ago and was quite a "character," absolutely fearless.

Another friend, Gerald Ayres, in Hampshire, England who lost three close relatives, including his father, while serving with Royal Navy in WW II, is very interested in the travels of  the famous explorer Captain Cook, who I've noticed is included in your website.

I look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully,

Ian Hawkins


Hello Ian,

Thank you for your E-Mail, I would be delighted to correspond with you.

Your forthcoming book would be of great interest to me, will it become available in Australia? I would love to see a copy.

What a coincidence about Braces, as a watchkeeping Lieutenant RAN, I served with Warrick in HMAS Shropshire, where he was our Gunnery Officer as a Lieutenant Commander, over 1944/1945, and we were in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender. The stories about Braces are legion, and should you be at all interested I could relate a few to you.

Your friend Gerald may be interested in the fact that the National Maritime Museum at Darling harbour in Sydney, in concert with the National Library in Canberra have published a CD ROM of Captain Cook's Endeavour Journal.

It is a wonderful work, giving his hand written journal pages and typewritten equivalent side by side. It reproduces hundreds of artworks including original botanical and zoological images and specimens.

I can really recommend it to Gerald. As I have recorded on my AHOY site, I was fortunate enough when Aide-de-Camp to the Governor General of Australia, I was able to have Cook's original journal in my hands, it was a thrill indeed.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

Best Regards,
Mackenzie Gregory, ( Mac for short )


Dear Mac,
    Thank you very much for your e.mail. What an extraordinary coincidence you served with Commander Bracegirdle in the Pacific Theatre!! Needless to say, I would very much appreciate hearing any stories concerning him - He was  "larger than life", a real character and an example to all.
    I submitted the following excerpt, from Iain Nethercott's EARLY DAYS account, (Iain was an AB on HMS Keith a destroyer later sunk at Dunkirk), to the London publisher concerning Commander Bracegirdle - (I don't know yet if the publisher will include it):
  But Commander Pawsey caught up with me again while Keith was anchored off Weymouth. I'd been polishing  the tampions on the 4.7" for'rard guns and was leaning against the gunshield of "A" gun, having a quiet "burn", (cigarette), lost in deep thought when I nearly jumped out of my skin. A deafening voice, about three inches from my left ear, boomed:
     And there was the Skipper, also leaning up against the gun shield!
    *The Captain wandered off to see whom else he could catch.
    *Anthologist's Note: A similar deafening admonishment befell a Sub-Lieutenant who, exhausted by watchkeeping in HMAS Shropshire, (while operating with the US 7th Fleet in the south-west Pacific 1942- 1944), was seen to be 'nodding off' during Action Stations by the distinguished and fearless Royal Australian Navy destroyer and cruiser  Commander Warwick Bracegirdle, DSCxx, RAN. "Braces" switched on the loudspeaker, turned the volume control up top full blast and then bellowed: "GOD IS WATCHING YOU, GRIFFITHS!!...."
     Sub-Lieutenant Griffiths later became an Admiral. Commander Bracegirdle retired to Gislingham, Suffolk in 1957.

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This morning I received an e.mail from the London publishers. They will be sending me the "proof pages" of my manuscript within the next two weeks for checking asnd return.

In answer to your question: Yes, I'm in touch with F.W. "Fred" Brown, a former navigator with RAF Bomber Command, (Lancasters), who was shot down over Holland in July 1944, PoW for the remainder of the war. He emigrated to Australia and now lives in Somerton Park, near Adelaide, South Australia. Fred initially bought a copy of my last book "The Munster Raid: Before and After", liked it very much and has ordered two signed copies of the "Destroyer" book.

I'm sure Gerry Ayres will be very interested when he reads of your unique links with Captain Cook's original manuscripts etc. His uncle, Stanley Ayres, and my father were both lost in HMS Boadicea on 13th June, 1944 (English Channel, 12 survivors from 188 ship's company). Gerry and I went to the same Naval boarding school during the early 1950s, (from the age of 11), the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, Suffolk which was transferred up to Suffolk from Greenwich, London in 1933. The school was originally founded at Greenwich in 1694.

When Gerry and I were there, all the Seamanship Instructors were tough but fair-minded ex-RN CPOs, headed by an immaculate and very strict Royal Marine, Major A.H.R. Buckley RM, Rt'd. The school (680 pupils) eventually became fee-paying and then co-educational in 1992. It now admits pupils from all over the world, attracted by the school's outstanding facilities, RN discipline, customs etc.

I'm sending to you the "Introduction" and the "Foreword" to the "Destroyer" book. I will be pleased to send you a signed copy when the time comes if requested.
Thank you again for your very interesting email.
Best regards, 
Ian H.


Dear Mac,
I've recently contacted Stuart Robertson (Editorial Dept. at Chrysalis Books) re the Intro. & Fwd. Stuart's prompt response is below.
Best regards,

Australian Distributor?


Hope you're managing to cope with variious people coming at you from several different directions.       This morning I received an e.mail from one of my WW II  (RAN) veterans in Melbourne, Australia to whom I sent details of the "Destroyer" book, Conway Maritime's address in London, copies of the Intro. & Fwd, etc.

Mr Mackenzie Gregory, who has his own RAN website, has requested a signed copy of the book and requests to know, quote: "I just thought that given your book is still to come out, you may not wish those two pieces, (Intro. & Fwd.), to be in the public domain just yet."

Personally, I don't have any objections. Does the Chrysalis Books Group have nominated  Book Distributors in Australia and New Zealand? If so, please advise a.s.a.p.

Thank you.

Regards, Ian

Hi Ian,

(I wouldn't worry about the foreword & intro.)

Conway uses Chrysalis' export sales/distributors in Oz/NZ, whose contact details can be obtained from Keith Baxter and/or Peter Lee, our Export Sales team (kbaxter@chrysalisbooks.co.uk; plee@chrysalisbooks.co.uk).

I would guess that John Lee has already considered the potential sales in these territories so it would be worth an email to him when he's back on Monday, to ensure co-ordination of any efforts.

Sorry I can't be more specific myself. (see below for the Intorduction and Foreward

All the best,

Dear Mac,
Thank you very much indeed for sharing these unique reminiscences of the late, great Commander Bracegirdle, DSCxx, RAN. Earning one DSC is daunting enough and a really outstanding achievement, but three DSCs....

You will be interested to learn that among the 255 photographs I submitted to the publishers for consideration for the book, were several of the Pacific Theatre:

  • 8 May 1942 Battle of The Coral Sea -  Six Japanese Navy warships evading bombs from USAAF bombers.
  • 22 April 1944; USN LCTs during the invasion Hallandia, Humboldt  Bay, New Guinea.
  • 2 -3 July 1944, Five  photographs of USN LCTs, DUKWs etc during the invasion of Noemfoor Island.
  • Allied Airfields on Leyte, Iwo Jima and Saipan after capture. B-29 Superfortresses, P-51 Mustangs, C-47 Dakotas etc
  • August 1945: Hiroshima after the  Atomic bomb.
  • September 1945: "Val"  Japanese Air Force "kamikaze" dive-bombers.
  • September 1945: "Baka" suicide bombs found in a Japanese Air Force aircraft hangar.
  • September 1945: Different types of Japanese Navy submarines at Kure Naval Base.

I sincerely hope that the publishers will include at least some of these graphic pictures in the finished product.

Today I sent one of my earlier 8th USAAF books, as requested, by Air Mail to a lady researcher, (WWII RAAF), in   Queensland. Australia. Postage by AM was ¬£10.21 and the book should arrive in about five days. Surface Mail woud have cost ¬£4.20 but would have taken six to eight weeks to arrive.

I will keep in touch, God willing, and thank you again for sharing those treasured memories of a very gallant gentleman and a truly outstanding human being. I've printed your e.mails out on my printer, including the photographs, and put them inside the front cover of that classic book by the late Nicholas Monsarrat, "THE CRUEL SEA".

Best wishes,
Ian H.


It is unnecessary to introduce the work of Ian Hawkins to those readers interested in World War Two aviation. Ian has long had an international reputation as a historian with extensive knowledge of the Eighth US Army Air Force and the strategic bombing of the continent. The reason that so many other historians turn to Ian for guidance is that he has known so many of the veterans who flew these astounding missions and known them on a personal basis. Together with a few other English writers he has gained a reputation for fairness and accuracy. How else would he have been able to write such a fine book as the one about the US air raid on Munster? In it his skilful technique incorporated the memories of the people under attack with those of the airmen in the planes above.

Now, just as we all thought we knew about Ian and his lifetime of historical research, he has surprised us all with this superb book about  the grim and relentless war at sea. And it's a rewarding surprise.      It is typical of him that he is able to tackle this subject, without gimmicks or twisted ideas, and make it so thought provoking. This account  of the men who took their small ships into the deepest and cruellest waters is clearly the result of years of research and hard work. These  crews endured the most terrible conditions imaginable even without facing enemy fire. Not many fighting men - even those in tanks, the trenches or  the planes - envied those men for whom Ian Hawkins has produced this memorable book. I say memorable because I think I shall never forget some of the stories in this work. Here is a book that matches and complements that bestseller of the post-war years:"The Cruel Sea".

Surely no one will read this book without being deeply moved and inspired by the ungrudging sacrifice and the all-pervading cheerfulness. Some were  professional sailors, some were peacetime naval men but most of them were civilians who never truly adapted to a cold, cramped, wet, life in a bouncing tin can but did their duty nevertheless. If you want to know what that generation of matchless heroes were like, Ian's book will show you.

- Len Deighton

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By Rear Admiral John B Hervey CB, OBE, FCIM, RN, Rt'd.
President of The HMS Cavalier Association

On 17 February 1998, the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, under the chairmanship of Gerald Kaufman, took time out from their busy schedule to conduct an Inquiry into the future of one rather ancient Royal Navy destroyer, H M S Cavalier, which, it was feared, was about to be exported to Malaysia - or scrapped.

The Kaufman Committee took this step because, as they put it in their report, Cavalier was not only the last Royal Navy Destroyer but also the last remaining vessel from the category of Minor Warship/Escort Vessel from that vital period in our national history. And they thought, rightly, that it would be regrettable if future generations were to be deprived forever of the opportunity to learn, through first hand experience, about conditions on board such ships.

During the taking of oral evidence from those of us who had campaigned to save Cavalier, much time had to be spent shooting down the suggestion that we did not really need another ship from the 1939-1945 war era, when we already had HMS Belfast in the national core collection of historic ships.

Happily, the Select Committee agreed with us, that going to war in a comfortable 11,000 ton Cruiser - such as Belfast - with armoured turrets - could not possibly be equated with manning an open gun mounting in a barely 2,000 ton destroyer -  on a rough day - indeed on any day. The Kaufman Committee, therefore, very helpfully reported that Cavalier can and should be saved. They also used their influence to persuade Ministers and the Heritage Lottery Fund to take a more positive approach to saving the ship. As a result, she is now an important part of the Historic Dockyard at Chatham.

So the story had a happy ending. But it would have been very much easier to convince everyone attending the Inquiry, that we had a strong case, if only they had read the stirring stories in this excellent anthology of the war at sea, so well put together by Ian Hawkins.  Because, although his book ranges widely, the backbone is provided by the frank and very personal recollections of a group of, then, young men, who went to war in British destroyers.

Throughout their accounts of their war, there is a vivid immediacy, not to be found in official histories. They apportion praise and blame - as seen by themselves - and they give one the feeling of being there with the writer, experiencing events first hand. Maybe, going through the necessary, but extremely tough, breaking-in process of a Boy's Training Establishment as a very young lad away from home for the first time. Or later, in a destroyer, reeling from a Stuka dive-bomb attack, praying that something - anything - will somehow prevent the aircraft from returning. And then the Almighty seems to answer their prayer by rolling a welcome fog bank over the ship, as it limps back across the Channel with survivors from a shattered army.

Ian Hawkins has done a wonderful job of getting these vivid stories together. They often represent war at sea at its very rawest.

But he has also managed to capture the great resilience and sense of humour of the British sailor, who can always be relied upon to find something  to laugh at in the grimmest of situations. And any reader who, like me, thinks that Admiral Sir James Somerville was one of the great naval heroes of the Second World War, will enjoy Iain Nethercott's description of his salutation to a somewhat underdressed submarine stoker in the cramped after ends of HMS Tactician, which Sir James had gone to visit  before she sailed for a patrol in the nasty shallow waters at the north end of the Malacca Straits.

I promise, you will really enjoy this book. I certainly did. And it is a marvellous tribute to the young people who served us so well in the war, to let them tell their stories in their own words. And we should never forget that many of their friends and shipmates were barely seventeen years old when they gave their lives for their country. This was the other reason why we wanted to save Cavalier. She is a memorial to some very brave, very young people.

- John Hervey

Rear Admiral

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15 November 2003

Dear Mac,

Many thanks for Mr. Hawkins E-Mail address I am much obliged. I would like to say that you have a very informative web site. I am relatively new to researching a historical subject and especially a Naval subject and one that specifically deals with an individual ship, as I have never been in the service.

My interest is fuelled by the vivid memories of my mother who has never forgotten the young seaman who brought her gifts from Africa, after his return from Freetown.

Thanks again,

Kindest regards,
Mike Jackson.

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