Visiting Hux

Don Huxtable has featured on this blog before. A Lancaster pilot, he remains one of the living legends of 463 Squadron. He and his crew flew 32 operations between between September 1944 and April 1945, earning Hux a Distinguished Flying Cross in the process.

He has been a little in the wars in the last few months with a recent extended stay in various hospitals and rehabilitation centres. I made a mid-week dash to Sydney a couple of weeks ago and, with the prospect of a few hours to spare before my flight home, decided to see if I could arrange a visit.

The first step was to find out where he actually was. And when I rang his daughter a week before my trip I was most pleased to discover that Hux had returned home again. So on an unassuming Thursday morning I caught a train to Hornsby, on Sydney’s upper North Shore, and walked up the hill from the station to a simple weatherboard house on a quiet tree-lined street.

The importance of the ‘crew’ is one of the central themes of the Bomber Command experience, and in Hux’s case it was no different. In the words of Peta Fitzgerald, grand-daughter of Hux’s mid-upper gunner Brian Fallon[1], they had “[flown] together, lived together, drank together, prayed together, and on more than a few occasions saved each other’s lives… they became as close as brothers.”

In the years immediately following their return from war, the four members of Hux’s crew who were from Sydney stayed together as they settled back into normal life. They built four houses on adjacent blocks in the same street. Hux’s own house was the second to be finished. “We built that one first,” he told me, pointing through a window towards next door. Well, not that one, he corrected. “We built the one that used to be there!” And he raised the blind to reveal the solid brick wall of a huge McMansion now pressing up against his fence. Today, Hux is the only one of the four who is still there. The rest have all died.

When I first arrived Hux had just begun makinga simple salad for lunch, but after pondering it for all of, oh I don’t know, two and a half seconds, he suggested we instead went to “the Club” for lunch. I readily agreed.

I thought about it as we waited for the taxi. I’d seen the Hornsby RSL Club as I walked up the street from the station. Hux has been involved with the club for a very, very long time. In fact, the last time I spoke to him on the phone, when he was still in hospital and it appeared likely that he would need to move into full-time care, his main comment about it was that he did not mind whatever facility he ended up in if “at least I can still get to the club!” Knowing how special the place is for him I realised the honour implicit in an invitation to lunch there with him.

After a stimulating conversation about the quality or otherwise of the refereeing in the previous weekend’s rugby league semi-finals, the taxi driver dropped us off at the downstairs entrance. ‘When I first came here,” Hux told me, “the club was in a little tin shed about there,” pointing to what is now a large car park. “Look at it now!” It soon became clear just how well-known Hux is at the club. Every corner we turned was someone who said a cheery “morning, Mr Huxtable!” as we went past.

I was given the grand tour, then we ended up in the bistro for a classic RSL lunch: simple, cheap and lots of it. I drank beer; Hux had his usual scotch and soda. We chatted about all sorts of things: Hornsby, Hux’s post-war career in the meat trade, the recent tour of England by the Canadian Lancaster, the perils of shift work, life in Melbourne, the future of Bomber Command commemoration in Australia… I even found time for a quick portrait:

14Oct-Sydney 097

And on the way out we made a short detour. As if anyone needed any more proof of the importance of Hornsby RSL to Hux, or of his importance to them, there’s a room named after him:.

Don Huxtable outside the roon maned for him, Hornsby RSL, October 2014
Don Huxtable outside the roon named for him, Hornsby RSL, October 2014

“I thought they only named rooms after people when they died,” he said gruffly, though even as he said it I’m sure I could detect a touch of quiet pride in his voice.

We shuffled out into the Sydney spring sunshine, and Hux bade me farewell. When I looked back, I saw the old pilot waiting at the street corner for the lights to change. Slightly stooped as he leant on his walking stick, he still towered over the rest of the crowd.

(c) 2014 Adam Purcell

[1] Fitzgerald was writing in the preface to Brian’s posthumously-published memoirs, Press On Regardless: Memories of Bomber Command, which she edited. Privately published.

One thought on “Visiting Hux

Comments are closed.