Flight Sergeant Arthur Henry Hill
By the time Arthur Hill was called up from the Reserve List on, 29 March 1941, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was well underway.
This had established training facilities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda and, lastly, Southern Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe). It was here, after his initial training at RAAF Somers, that Arthur Hill was sent. He joined the Initial Training Wing at Camp Bulawayo in Hillside on 03 September 1941. After two weeks, he was posted to No. 26 Elementary Flying Training School at Guinea Fowl, in Gwelo, where he learned to fly on the Tiger Moth.
After passing his initial flying training, Arthur was posted to No. 22 Service Flying Training School at Thornhill, also in Gwelo on 8 November, 1941, where he was awarded his Flying Badge on 23 December after progressing to the North American Harvard. He was promoted to Sergeant (Airman Pilot) on 28 February 1942.
On completion of his flying training, Arthur Hill embarked for Britain and arrived at No.3 Personnel Reception Centre on 4 May 1942. From there he proceeded to No.17 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) at RAF Watton on 26 May. AFUs had been set up to acclimatise trainees arriving in Britain from sunnier climes to conditions they would experience in the European theatre. The principal aircraft used on the unit was the Miles Master II. It was whilst flying with the unit that Arthur was treated for slight shock from an aircraft accident on 6 June. After a month at Watton, Hill was posted to No.52 Operational Training Unit to convert to the Spitfire.
By this stage of the war the courses on OTUs had stretched to twelve weeks so it was September before Sergeant Arthur Hill was posted to 66 Squadron, in 10 Group, at RAF Zeals south of Warminster, but not before he had been promoted to Flight Sergeant. Zeals had only opened the previous May and facilities were fairly basic, there was no concrete runway or perimeter track, although Nissen hits were available for accommodation. 66 Squadron prided itself on being an “allied” squadron and during Sergeant Hill’s time with it pilots from Canada, , France, Czechoslovakia, Poland, New Zealand, Rhodesia, South Africa, the USA and Belgium cold be found within its ranks over the period. In common with all newly trained pilots arriving on a squadron, Arthur Hill began training in a more realistic environment, however, during the first four weeks of his posting the weather hampered much of the training.
15 October was a red letter day for the squadron and for Sergeant Hill. The squadron flew five interception patrols and five convoy patrols; it was on one of the latter that Hill performed his first operational sortie. The following day, the squadron took part in a practice attack on a formation of Lancasters, a task they found very difficult, the squadron diary concluded it was almost impossible to attack the Lancasters without meeting heavy cross fire. As October progressed the weather continued to restrict operational flights and at times training ones. The grass runway at Zeals at times became unusable after heavy rain.
On 1 November 1942 the squadron moved to RAF Warmwell for an Air Firing Training camp. The Sergeant Pilots and ground crews were accommodated in huts dispersed from the airfield. However:
The huts were in a very clean condition, and personnel were disconcerted to hear that a “Domestic Night” was in force one night per week in order to keep billets spick and span.
Once again the weather hampered their training but with an increased effort all round a “considerable improvement” was noted in their results. RAF Warmwell had few amenities and seemingly Dorchester did not appeal, but:
On the recreational side, liberty runs were arranged on several evenings to Weymouth where personnel were able to entertain themselves and be entertained according to their inclination – dance, cinema, tavern or —-.
On their return to Zeals, the weather continued to hamper flying but on 20 November Flight Sergeant Hill took part in a squadron escort of Westland Whirlwinds as they returned from a Rhubarb practice.
Arthur Hill does not appear to have taken part in any further operational sorties for the remainder of the year. However, at the end of November, Squadron Leader Victor Ekins flew a stripped down Spitfire Vb to 38,700ft on an altitude test; something which the squadron had a penchant for. Squadron Leader Ekins had been posted to the squadron as a supernumerary prior to taking over a squadron of his own. Ekins had flown from Kenley during the battle of Britain, initially with the Training Flight of 111 Squadron and later with 501 Squadron.
Before the end of the year 66 Squadron returned to their preferred home at RAF Ibsley, moving in on 23 December. They were most put out however, as the previous inhabitants of the USAAF had “left very little in the way of civilised comfort behind”. January 1943 saw Flight Sergeant Hill take part in three convoy patrols. February began with a little more excitement for Arthur Hill; on the 3rd he was flying as “Red 2”, on an Anti-Rhubarb patrol to counter German tip and run raids, near Portland Bill when he spotted four FW.190s approaching Swanage at low level which appeared to be attacked. As the FW.190s headed south, Red Section in pursuit opened fire at long range without success, the chase was abandoned ten miles out to sea whereupon they returned to base. The following day Hill flew as part of the squadron cover for 616 and 504 Squadrons returning from a Rodeo.
9 February saw 66 Squadron leave 10 Group and head north to join 13 Group at RAF Skeabrae in the Orkneys. Whilst the “air party” arrived at their new home in a Bristol Bombay “in time for tea”, it took the remainder of the squadron until tea time on the 11th to complete their move via rail, boat and motor transport. The squadron were dismayed by the age of the Spitfire Vs they would now have to fly. Their location on the Orkneys in 13 Group charged them with protecting the fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow from Luftwaffe reconnaissance and attack. However, the weather had other ideas:
Zeals we always thought was the last word for weather but here we have a high wind which hasn’t stopped blowing yet.
With limited opportunities, Flight Sergeant Hill did not fly an operational sortie until 2 March, when he was scrambled on an interception, the intruder, however, turned out to be a Supermarine Walrus. Being in 13 Group meant the operational tempo was relatively low so the squadron took the opportunity to get more training in, weather permitting. As evidence by Flight Sergeant Hill participating in a Ground Controlled Interception (GCI) practise on the 4th. 9 March brought a new version of training sortie for Arthur Hill when he spent an hour beating shipping in the Pentland Firth, as one of the targets was a heavy cruiser it was concluded it was not the sort of attack to be attempted for real. The read of March remained quiet for Hill and it was not until 4 April that he flew his next operational sortie. In company with his Squadron Leader, Harold Bird-Wilson, he escorted a De Havilland Dominie with engine trouble back to Skaebrae. In the middle of April, 66 Squadron sent “B” Flight to RAF Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands, an even less appealing location than Skeabrae, fortunately for Arthur Hill, he was with “A” Flight. The end of the month saw a slight up-tick in operations for Hill with scrambles on consecutive days on 26th and 27th.
May 1943 saw Flight Sergeant Hill involved in more operational sorties, with an improvement in the weather, taking part in interception, convoy and dusk patrols. However, on 22 May, Hill was flying an air test when his engine failed:
In the afternoon F/Sgt. Hill was taking off to do an aircraft test when his engine cut. He managed to get his wheels up and made a belly landing. The whole aircraft was smashed up except for the cockpit, but the pilot walked away suffering from bruises only.
Hill spent two days in the station sick quarters as a result. He was back flying a dusk patrol on the 29th. This sortie was in a Spitfire Mk.VI, earlier in the month 66 Squadron had been issued with a handful of Mk.VIs to counter high flying German reconnaissance aircraft; they were a refinement of the Mk.V with a pressurised cockpit and extended wingtips. June turned out to be another quiet month operationally for the squadron, with Arthur Hill being scrambled on an unsuccessful interception on the last day of their stay at Skeabrae. The squadron had only sighted one enemy aircraft during their stay.
28 June saw the squadron begin the move back to 10 Group and RAF Church Stanton (Culmhead), without their Spitfires. The move brought an increase in the tempo of operations and Hill participated in four sorties during July, the last on 20 July 1943 saw him suffer another engine failure, which he calmly described:
When returning from convoy patrol I noticed that my engine was running rather roughly. I checked my instruments and found that the oil pressure was decreasing rapidly to zero. My position was about 15 miles from the nearest coast to which I headed immediately. I had to increase my engine revolutions and boost pressure to 2600 revs and plus 6lbs in order to maintain height. When I reached the coast the engine seized and glycol started to appear from the exhaust ports so I decided to make a “wheels-up” landing. This was done into wind with no further trouble.
His landing site was at Kingsteignton, up the Teign estuary from Teignmouth. 66’s stay at Church Stanton was brief before they moved to 11 Group and RAF Redhill on 11 August, however, they scarcely had time to unpack before they moved to Kenley two days later. Despite being in a busy sector, Hill once again fulfilled a junior role in the squadron’s operations, his two sorties being on escort missions to USAAF Marauders. He went missing on the afternoon mission of 22 August. The combat report of Flying Officer Bill Furniss-Roe later recalled:
I was flying White 2 with 66 Squadron…The Squadron was now 10 miles to the north of me. I saw White 4 (F/Sgt. Hill) 3000ft below mixing it with about 9 F.W.190s. I was then at 14,000ft. I dived to join him, but before I reached him he had half rolled and went straight into cloud, with the 190’s after him. I did not see him again.
During August 1943, 66 Squadron flew eighteen operational missions, but only on two did they fly with twelve aircraft. They flew with eight on 22 August.
Arthur Henry Hill, born on 20 April 1922, was the eldest of four children born to Charles Henry Hill & Mary Gladys Hill (nee Boyce), of Elsternwick, Victoria. He was educated in Melbourne and gained a Grade I Chemistry Diploma at Melbourne Technical College in 1938. He then went on to become a junior salesman with Rocke Tompsitt & Co. a wholesale druggist and chemist in Melbourne. He had enlisted on 23 July 1940 and joined the Reserve List.
Arthur Henry Hill is buried in Bernay (Ste Croix) Communal Cemetery. The inscription on his headstone reads:
A Gallant Knight of the Clouds
Rest in oeace Sir and thank you for your service.