Pilot Officer Jack Driscoll Mills
On 10th February 1939, Pilot Officer Jack Driscoll Mills, of No.3 squadron, lost his life when his Gloster Gladiator (K7955) crashed into Firle Beacon, south-east of Lewes, Sussex, in thick fog. He was 21 years old and had been flying for two years, joining ‘A’ flight of No.3 squadron on the 19th February 1938 after completing his training at No.7 Flight Training School.
His funeral took place on the 15th February 1939, at St. Luke’s church in Whyteleafe.
Here is a contemporary newspaper report of the incident….
Plane Crashes in Fog: Downland Fatality Inquest
A verdict of “Death by misadventure owing to the fog” was returned at an inquest at the Barley Mow, Selmeston, on Wednesday on Pilot Officer John (sic) Driscoll Mills (21), of No.3 Fighter Squadron, Kenley, Surrey, who was killed when his plane crashed into the side of a hill at Tilton Hovell, Alciston, in a heavy fog on Friday.
The East Sussex Coroner (Dr. E. F. Hoare) sat with a jury.
Flight-Lieutenant Ayling said that at 2.30 p.m. on Friday, Mills left the aerodrome in a Gloucester (sic) biplane for a reconnaissance flight of 45 minutes. He saw deceased just before he took off, when the weather was quite clear. As far as he could make out the weather conditions were entirely local on the Downs, where there was low cloud. The following day he went to Alciston and identified the plane and the body of the pilot. Mills had been flying for two years.
Mills had left Kenley equipped with a parachute and it was found on the Saturday morning with the burnt wreckage. There had been no attempt to make use of the parachute. If there had been fog at the time Mills would not have seen anything. His ‘plane would have come out of the clouds on to the hill. Mills’s altimeter was set about 550 feet above sea level. Mills had no set course but was in the right district.
The Coroner said that he wished to have it made quite clear that pilots only knew how many feet they were above the sea.
Harry Geering, of 2, Denton Hill Farm-cottages, Bishopstone, said about 3 p.m. on Friday, when there was a thick fog, he was at Peacock Bottom and heard the noise of an airplane. He had the impression that the roar of the machine overhead stopped. He heard the Air Ministry’s SOS broadcast in the evening and at 7.45 next morning saw the wreckage on North Gallop.
Fred Collinson, of Stud Farm House, Bishopstone, said at 8 pm. on Saturday he was told that an airplane had crashed through a wire fence at Tilton Hovel. The pilot was lying about 80 yards in front of the wreckage.
Tom Dinnis, Milton Court Farm, Arlington, said that at 3,15 p.m. on Friday he saw an RA F. plane appear over the farm at a height of about 200 feet, travelling at a fast speed. It was foggy and the plane was heading south. He thought at the time that if the machine did not rise it would crash into the hillside. Later, he gave information to the police.
PC. George Knott, of Alciston, said that at 9.15 p.m. on Friday he and PC Finley, of Selmeston, went on a tour of investigation. They eventually abandoned the search at 3.45 am. They began another search of the Downs at 6 am. and on receiving information eventually saw the burnt-out wreckage with the body of the pilot about 80 yards away. Mills had his legs broken below the knees and his jaw was broken. Death had been instantaneous.
PC. Knott said that he thought Mills was catapulted when the ‘plane first struck the ground. The engine had been flung clear of the machine and was lying half a mile down in the valley. Mills wore a wrist watch on the left arm and it had stopped at 5 p.m.
Sussex Express – Friday 17 February 1939
Jack Driscoll Mills was brought up in Shoreham, and was educated at Worthing Boys’ High School, where he was a good all-round sportsman. In fact, he had gone to a dance held by the Old Azurians Association only a day or two before his fatal crash. Prior to enlisting in the RAF, he had worked as a cinema organist in Brighton for a short time. At the time of his death, his Mother lived in Hove.
Rest in Peace, Pilot Officer Mills and thank you for your service.