He was the second son of Thomas Huddart Donking, of Guisborough, Yorkshire, and Isobel Hutchinson Donking (daughter of R. Lundie, of Catrine, Scotland). He came to Mr. Tyndale’s House from Terra Nova School, Birkdale, Lancashire, as an Exhibitioner in Classics. During his last year he was a Commoner Prefect. In the OTC he soon made his mark, eventually becoming CSM. In August 1936, whilst still at school, he received his Territorial Commission in the Green Howards. He then went to Christ Church, Oxford, where he represented the University in boxing, captaining the side. He went on to be Middleweight Boxing champion of the Territorial Army in 1939.
His local territorial infantry unit at home was 4th Battalion, The Green Howards, whose headquarters were in Middlesbrough. Although designated as a ‘motorized battalion’, 4th Battalion actually had very little transport. At the annual summer camp in 1939, tanks were imagined by Lance Corporals riding around on push-bikes with a placard dangling from a string around their respective necks emblazoned “TANK”, and flags were used for machine-guns.
Upon mobilization in October 1939, 4th Battalion welcomed a new commander, Lieutenant-Colonel C.N. Littleboy MC, who immediately began to train the men hard for what he knew was ahead. On January 17th 1940, 4th Battalion, now part of 50th (Northumbrian) Division, was inspected by HM King George VI in the snowbound town centre, then moved south to embark at Southampton for France. By February, the battalion was based at Wavrin close to the Belgian border where they remained until May 16th 1940, before moving east to take up defensive positions on the River Dendre.
The German advance in France and Belgium forced the British Expeditionary Force to retreat, and Donking distinguished himself greatly in the subsequent withdrawal to Dunkirk and the final embarkation on June 2nd 1940. 4th Battalion was amongst the very last units to be picked up by the Royal Navy.
After re-equipping and re-training in England, 4th Battalion moved with 150 Brigade of 50th Division to the Middle East. Between April 22nd and October 30th 1941 they served in Palestine, Cyprus and Egypt, before moving into Libya as part of armoured columns penetrating deep into the desert.
Donking was killed during an air attack off Alexandria on May 10th 1942. He had been wounded, and transferred at Tobruk to a hospital ship called the Aquileia. This vessel had been built for the Italian navy, but when the port of Massawa in Eritrea fell into British hands on April 10th 1941, she was pressed into service for British use. She made the hazardous round trip between Alexandria and Tobruk on a regular basis. As a hospital ship, the Aquileia was clearly painted with red crosses.
On May 10th 1942, Aquileia was on her way to Alexandria with 360 medical staff and wounded patients on board. German aircraft – probably operating from airfields in Crete – attacked her and set her on fire. When the order was given to abandon ship, Donking was one of the 155 wounded soldiers who had to be left on board. When it became clear that nothing could be done to put out the fires or take anyone else off, the Aquileia was sunk by the Royal Navy.
At the time of his death Donking was a temporary Major, despite his youth (he was still only twenty-three). He is commemorated on column 59 of the Alamein Memorial. His Colonel wrote:
“The country can ill afford to lose such men as Ian. He was a most keen and efficient officer and seemed to love soldiering.”
His housemaster ended his obituary with these words: “Few men can have been so well prepared in training and in spirit to meet the rigours of war, where, in the manner of Chaucer’s Squire, he bore himself more than well in Flanders until, like the Knight, he was called to service in Mediterranean lands. He had, indeed, much in common with these two immortal characters. Read the description of the Squire, and you may almost picture Ian Donking at his ease among that chance company of pilgrims. Certainly he would have found a warm friend in the Knight, for both loved “truth and honour, freedom and courtesy”.
- Surname: Donking
- Forenames or initials: Ian
- House: K
- Years in School: 1932-1937
- Rank: Captain
- Regiment: Green Howards
- Date of Birth: 26th June 1918
- Date of Death: 10th May 1942
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner A1
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: Unknown but commemorated on the Alamein Memorial, Column 59