British expat who watched Luton Town with Eric Morecambe, dies aged 99

Major Austen Hawkins
Major Austen Hawkins in his Royal Marines uniform during the war.

A former British expat who was married in Kenya where his two sons were born, has died aged 99.

Major Austen Hawkins was born in Luton, Bedfordshire in 1919. Shortly after the hat factory in the town, owned by his father Ralph and two uncles, closed during the Depression, his unemployed and sickly First World War veteran father died shortly afterwards. Having to support his mother, brother and two sisters, Austen became a civil servant at 16.

A Royal Marine during the Second World War, Major Hawkins was summoned to Headquarters in the spring of 1944 to be briefed on his next command. All he knew about the targets were their codenames; Gold, Juno and Sword. Later he discovered he was being dispatched to the Normandy beaches for the D-Day landings. 

After the war, Austen settled in Kenya, working in human resources for Shell. In Nairobi in 1950, he married his wife, May, and their sons Mark and Andrew, were also born in the country.

Work relocations led to his family moving to Ghana, Oman, Turkey and Nigeria.

His chief pastime was supporting Luton Town Football Club, where he was a season ticket holder for many years. His cousin was club chairman and Austen used to watch matches in the directors’ box with fellow Luton fanatic Eric Morecambe, a fellow Luton fanatic.

In 1981, he was a passenger on an aircraft from Istanbul to Ankara that was hijacked in and diverted to Sofia in Bulgaria. On another flight thirteen years later, this time to Los Angeles, Auten suffered a suspected heart attack with the plane diverted to Reykjavik. His letter apologising for the inconvenience to Virgin Atlantic owner Richard Branson, was even met with a personal response.

Retiring in 1985, he chose Bournemouth as his new home because he felt it would be a great place for friends, children and grandchildren to visit as well as being a convenient base from which to continue his travels. These included annual visits to see one of his sons in San Diego and two journeys to Normandy to recount the story of the D-Day landings at Juno Beach to his family. 

In 2015, the French government announced the decision to award the Légion d’honneur to all surviving D-Day veterans. Austen was secretly nominated by his eldest grandson, Jack, with the medal arriving just in time to make Christmas 2015 especially memorable.

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