Remembered at Last – The Jimmy Hoather Story

08/10/2020  -  4.00

Steve Hunnisett

Last year, we were able to add the names of two players who had somehow been omitted from the memorial – an error made even more inexplicable because their loss had been recorded in some of the club’s own programmes for wartime matches.

As a result of some chance correspondence received from a family member of a former player from the club’s Junior Section, we can now reveal that yet another member of the club’s playing staff lost his life whilst serving with the Royal Air Force and was not subsequently recorded on the war memorial. Like the other two players, it is hard to explain how this omission occurred, especially as this particular player had received a decoration for gallantry.

James Alfred Hoather was born on the 26th September 1921, in Camberwell and was the son of Frederick Hoather, an Assistant Engineer for the London County Council and Rose Elizabeth Hoather. Jimmy was the second eldest of four siblings – two boys and two girls, who at this time lived at 8 Lomond Grove, Camberwell.

By the time that Jimmy was old enough to go to school, the family had moved to 147 Eswyn Road, Tooting and Jimmy attended the nearby Ensham Central Middle School in Franciscan Road, where he was a prolific sportsman, playing cricket and football for his school, as well as representing them at athletics.

Jimmy Hoather School Cricket Photograph (Brian Martin) 

He was a good enough footballer to be selected for Dulwich Hamlet’s Junior team and played alongside Ronnie Dicks, later to find fame with Middlesbrough, as well as post-war Hamlet stars Arthur Phebey and Pat Connett. The team in which Jimmy played were good enough to win the London Minor Cup in the 1939/1940 Season and although he appears in the team photograph below, we are uncertain at present as to whether he actually played in the Final.

Dulwich Hamlet Juniors 1940 (The Hamlet Historian)

When the 1939 Register was recorded in September 1939, Jimmy had left school to enter the world of work and was employed as a Clerk at an LCC Hospital, although we do not know which hospital this would have been.

We can only speculate whether Jimmy ever appeared for the Hamlet first team in wartime football, as programmes for these matches were not always produced and for those that were, surviving examples, especially for the early war years, are few and far between. In common with many Dulwich Hamlet playing staff, both senior and junior, Jimmy volunteered to serve with the Royal Air Force as aircrew and enlisted into the service on the 22nd July 1940, at No. 2 Receiving Centre at RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire. After his initial training in the United Kingdom, Jimmy was posted to Canada on the 5th April 1941, to undergo his elementary flying training at 16 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Edmonton, Alberta. Somewhat confusingly, there was another 16 EFTS located at RAF Burnaston in Derby, where Jimmy’s Dulwich Hamlet Junior colleague Eric Pierce trained and sadly lost his life in October 1941 but the two establishments were unrelated, other than in their function of training novice pilots.

RAF Portrait of Jimmy Hoather taken by Brian Martin

Jimmy Hoather RAF Portrait (Brian Martin)

Happily, Jimmy completed his elementary flying training on Tiger Moth aircraft without incident and returned to England on the 23rd August 1941 and promoted to Sergeant, was given a short period of leave. He was then posted to 10 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Abingdon in Oxfordshire, where he was to learn how to fly the venerable Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber, one of the early mainstays of the British bomber force but a type that was to be phased out in favour of more modern four-engine heavy bombers.

On completion of his operational training, Jimmy was posted on the 10th December 1941, to 58 Squadron at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire. The squadron was part of 4 Group, Bomber Command and was engaged in flying the elderly Whitley aircraft on raids sometimes deep into Germany. Jimmy was part of a crew as Second Pilot and flew his first mission on the night of the 6th/7th January 1942, to Stavanger in occupied Norway. The flight was completed without incident and during the following month he flew a further three operational missions to Mannheim, Aachen and Wilhelmshaven.

On the 3rd April 1942, 58 Squadron was transferred to the control of Coastal Command which was engaged on the vital work of defending Britain’s supply convoy lifeline across the North Atlantic, often at this point with aircraft that were wholly inadequate for the task, such as the Whitley bombers that they had inherited with 58 Squadron. The Squadron was initially based at RAF St Eval and we can only speculate as to whether Jimmy knew that he had arrived at the Cornish airfield less than one month after his senior Dulwich Hamlet playing colleague Billy Parr was killed whilst flying from this very same station.

If Jimmy was aware, he didn’t allow it to bother him as by now First Pilot, or Captain (whilst still holding the rank of Sergeant), he flew eleven missions, mainly anti-submarine patrols over the Bay of Biscay during this time. At the end of July 1942, Jimmy was part of a detachment sent north to Wick on the very north-eastern tip of Scotland from where he flew three patrols over northern waters before returning to St Eval on the 5th August 1942, where further patrols over the Bay of Biscay were the order of the day.

Jimmy Hoather with Sergeant Leonard Ott and Sergeant McKinley at Wick (Brian Martin)

Jimmy Hoather with Sergeant Leonard Ott and Sergeant McKinley at Wick (Brian Martin)

Jimmy received a promotion at this time, being confirmed in the rank of Flight Sergeant from the 1st August 1942. This return to Cornwall was short-lived as the squadron headed north again on the 29th August, this time to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, in the Western Isles of Scotland. Jimmy flew a further three patrols at this time over Icelandic waters but on the 2nd December 1942, the squadron returned south, this time to Holmsley South airfield in Hampshire to begin converting to the more modern Handley Page Halifax II aircraft and during this time, Jimmy attended a “Blind” or instrument landing course, no doubt as part of this process.

The conversion completed, the squadron began flying operationally once again in February 1943 and Jimmy skippered three further missions over his old stomping ground of the Bay of Biscay. Another move saw the squadron return to St Eval from the 15th March 1943 and Jimmy was to complete a further seven missions flying from this now-familiar airfield.

On the 10th April 1943, Jimmy was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) after a sortie over the Bay of Biscay to locate a German blockade runner, guarded by four destroyers and a strong air escort of Ju-88 aircraft. The enemy convoy was located and a striking force successfully homed in despite strong opposition from the Ju-88s. Although his aircraft was attacked and initially forced away from the enemy convoy, Jimmy flew back to the convoy and despite being attacked and driven off for a second time he persisted and remained in contact, successfully homing in British forces to attack the convoy. During the action, Jimmy’s crew possibly shot down one Ju-88 and damaged another.

Operations Record Book Extract for DFM mission UKNA AIR 27-544-50 (Author’s Photo)


Operations Record Book Extract for DFM mission UKNA AIR 27/544/50 (Author’s Photo)

On the 9th May 1943 at 06:11, Jimmy and his crew took off for another anti-submarine patrol in the Bay of Biscay, flying Halifax aircraft HR743, code BY-N and for this trip had on board a supernumerary pilot, Sergeant Harold Stuart Butler of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who was no doubt “learning the ropes” prior to beginning his own operational tour with the squadron. This was also the day on which Jimmy’s DFM was confirmed and gazetted but sadly he was never to be able to receive the decoration, as the crew were posted missing having failed to return from their patrol.

London Gazette Extract

Air Ministry, 11th May, 1943.


The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy: -

Distinguished Flying Medal

1174105 Flight Sergeant James Alfred HOATHER, No. 58 Squadron. In April, 1943, this airman captained an aircraft detailed to search for a German merchant vessel, escorted by 4 destroyers and a number of aircraft. He successfully located the convoy, reporting the position, and then, in spite of the formidable opposition, continued to shadow it. Although his aircraft was repeatedly attacked by the enemy fighters he refused to be beaten off until his task was accomplished. This airman displayed great courage and tenacity of purpose throughout. 

(London Gazette - Third Supplement to The London Gazette of Friday, the 7th of May, 1943 - Tuesday, 11 May, 1943)

Although the cause of the crew’s loss was initially unknown, it was eventually discovered after the war (based on the records of the enemy) that Hoather’s aircraft had attacked U-666 at 10:28 that morning. The submarine was a Type VIIC U-Boat commanded by Kapitanleutnant Herbert Engel and was proceeding on the surface from its base in L’Orient, France to take up a patrol position in the North Atlantic. Although the U-Boats possessed a formidable anti-aircraft armament, this manoeuvre was fraught with danger for the U-Boat crews and many were lost in this way due to the Allies overwhelming air superiority by this stage of the war.

Jimmy’s plan had undoubtedly been to drop depth charges on the surfaced submarine but the U-Boat’s anti-aircraft defences prevented an attack on the first run and the aircraft circled to make another attempt. On the second approach, the Halifax was hit on one of the port engines, causing the aircraft to crash into the sea about 500 metres from the submarine, with the loss of all on board. No survivors were sighted by the U-Boat, which continued on patrol but which was not to sink any merchant shipping on this patrol.

Including his time spent with Bomber Command, Jimmy was flying his thirty-fifth operational mission when he was posted missing and must have been very close to being rested by being posted as an instructor to an Operational Training Unit. Sadly, it was not to be and he is today commemorated on Runnymede Memorial, Panel 137.

James Hoather Panel at Runnymede Memorial (Nigel Stevens, CWGC)



James Hoather Panel at Runnymede Memorial (Nigel Stevens, CWGC)

Whilst we cannot explain why Jimmy was omitted from the club’s war memorial, we can do something to rectify the error and all being well his name will be added in November, at our annual remembrance ceremony held at the clubhouse in front of the memorial.


Steve is now a full time Battlefield Guide, military history blogger and researcher, specialising in the Home Front and London at war in particular, who took the plunge into self-employment in 2015. He is a Southeast London boy by birth and splits his football watching time between Charlton Athletic and Dulwich Hamlet FC, being a season ticket holder at both clubs. He has developed a great interest in the history and heritage of both these community-oriented clubs and is the author of ‘For Freedom’, which tells the story of Dulwich Hamlet’s Second World War casualties.

Steve Hunnisett Smiling in a photograph




Steve Hunnisett