Sergeant Leslie Charles Hill 1166187
Flight Lieutenant LC Hill 174424 DFC
I started writing about the history of 211 Squadron purely out of family interest in the 1990s: to preserve the notes of my father (Sgt Cyril “Nobby” Clark) on his own early World War II service with them; and to make those notes easily available to family and friends.
Between 1996 and 2003, our original little book 211 Squadron RAF, Greece, 1940—1941 had become a website and copies of both had circulated in a small way, in print, on disk and on-line. As a result, thanks to the late Ron McKnight in the UK, I had access to the 211 Squadron Survivors Association members list up to 2001. That list afforded me the pleasure of sending copies to surviving old hands, who might otherwise not have come across either booklet or website.
So it was that in February 2003, I had a very friendly Air Letter from Les Hill in Hampshire, thanking me for the CD-R of the 211 Squadron website that I had sent out to Association members for Christmas 2002. I filed Les’ letter so carefully—among the Christmas Cards and so on for 2002—that it only re-appeared to jog my memory in 2014, while checking other long-filed material.
Here, then, is the narrative of a 211 Squadron Sergeant pilot of the first Far East campaign in the Dutch East Indies in early 1942: a campaign that saw heavy losses in the air and many of the Squadron groundcrew fall captive to the Japanese with heavier loss still.
I regret that it has taken so long to appear and that I have since lost contact with Les. While I’ve chosen to omit his opening thanks, the story is in his own words. Any additional notes of mine are shown in the usual, way [thus].
Les Hill’s Narrative
[...] I was wondering what happened to the groundcrew we last saw in Java and was extremely sorry to hear of their trials and tribulations and that so many of them perished.
My own association with the Squadron was short but hectic.
I flew a new Blenheim IV [with Sgt Observer David Golding and WOp/AG Graham Wright, apparently in Z7992 but perhaps Z7792] from England to Cairo via Gibraltar and Malta and joined 211 at Helwan in 1942.
We were supposed to go to Singapore [sic] but flew to Sumatra via H4 (Pumping Station), Habbaniyah, Bahrein, Sharjah, Karachi, Allahabad, Calcutta, Magwe, Rangoon [with Fitter IIA Cpl WG Hillman 522467 as passenger, as one of the first flight of six aircraft led by CO Bob Bateson].
We were delayed in Allahabad when twice the port engine failed on take-off. We discovered the tanks had been filled with 87 octane instead of 100 octane and wouldn’t take +9 boost [takeoff power: supercharger and engine revs selected for +9lbs boost pressure, the maximum permissible].
We were again delayed at Magwe (Burma) by air raids in Rangoon and were relieved to catch up with the rest of the Squadron in Sumatra [possibly at Pakenbaroe].
Nobody quite knew what was going on. We were told to destroy our a/c [aircraft] and equipment and get out some way. This order was then cancelled and we were allowed to fly to Batavia (Java), where we met up with W/Cdr Bateson (CO).
Then on to Kalidjati where we bombed and generally mucked about. [The Squadron had very few serviceable aircraft by this stage, from 17 February 1942].
We were told to get out and managed to reach Tjilitjap where we were lucky to get on a Dutch steamer, the Kota Gede. A rough old journey took us to Ceylon and then by train to Karachi where we were given badly needed new clothing etc.
[Sgt Golding was also aboard Kota Gede, by his own account. Neither Sgt Wright not Cpl Hillman were taken captive and both survived the war. They do not appear to be among the Tung Song evacuees and on balance seem also to have been aboard Kota Gede. The trip by rail to Karachi was a journey of perhaps three thousand miles].
I was then posted to 20 Squadron [as was Sgt Golding] and flew Lysanders [to May 1943] and Hurricane IIds in Burma for the next 3 1/2 years. Hectic times. We then converted to Spifire VIIIs [from September 1945].
I came home in December 1945 and joined 122 Squadron in Scotland flying Spit 21s. While in the VR [the RAF Volunteer Reserve] in 1951 I flew Meteors and Vampires.
[Here Les ended his narrative, to close with some more warm and much appreciated remarks.]
Leslie Charles Hill 1166187 had joined the RAF (for war-time recruits, the RAFVR) in about April 1940 at RAF Cardington. He was a Sergeant pilot in 1942, when he flew Blenheim IVs from the UK to Egypt, and then with 211 Squadron from Egypt to the Far East that February. It was pretty much the darkest period of the War.
By March 1944 Les had been a Warrant Officer for some time, and was duly appointed to a commission as Pilot Officer with effect from March 1944. In August 1944, serving with 20 Squadron, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which he modestly omitted to mention in his correspondence.
Promoted to Flying Officer in September 1944, he ended the war in that rank in the General Duties Branch. As the Service continued to re-organise, post-war, he was appointed to a commission as Flying Officer in the re-constituted RAFVR GD Branch in November 1947. Promoted to Flight Lieutenant with effect from 3 March 1951, he continued serving thus until October 1954, when he was appointed to a four year commission as Flying Officer in the Training Branch of the RAFVR, extended to five years.
At regular intervals from October 1958, his period of service was extended by a further four years until 1975. In March 1976, the London Gazette at last recorded the end of his long service: commission relinquished from 5 October 1975, retaining the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
Flight Lieutenant LC Hill 174424 DFC had served in the RAF for no less than 35 years in both war and peace. A lucky and gracious man.
While the old hands quietly slip away, as they must, into the beyond where their lost mates are forever young, the 211 Squadron story has continued to grow since Les’s 2003 letter. Thanks for writing, Les. Many thanks.
In 2007 I was corresponding with Colin Burningham about RAF ferry flights to the Far East. In the course of exchanging information, pretty scant for the 1942 period, by way of thanks Colin sent a transcript of Les Hill’s Log Book for the 1942 flight from Egypt to the Dutch East Indies—a transcript that had been made by his wife, Les having died a year or two earlier. I’m the more sorry to have for so long lost sight of this most interesting record, just as I had of Les Hill’s own 2003 letter.
LC Hill personal correspondence with the author 2003
C Burningham 2007 correspondence with the author, incl Flying Log Book partial transript.
D Golding narrative.
London Gazette issues 1944, 1945, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1976
Air Force List issues October 1945, April 1957
www.211squadron.org © D Clark & others 1998—2021
Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 13 Apr 2021.Page created 31 Jul 2012, last updated 2 Mar 2017
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