[Pic: Valerie Ashton]
Sgt V Hill
Lancaster serial number: ED906/G
Call sign: AJ-J
First wave. Fifth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing large breach. Aircraft returned safely.
Early in May 1943, not much more than a week before the Dams Raid was due to take place, a decision was taken to replace David Maltby’s front gunner, probably for unknown disciplinary reasons. With the operation so close, an experienced gunner was needed to step into the breach, and Victor Hill was hurriedly summoned from 9 Squadron, based at RAF Bardney.
Unlike the rest of David Maltby’s crew, Victor Hill had plenty of operational experience. He had flown twenty-two operations on Lancasters between October 1942 and March 1943 and had taken part in some of the war’s most famous raids, including the daylight raid on the Schneider works at Le Creusot in France.
Victor Hill had been born in Gloucestershire on 6 December 1921. He was an only child, the son of Harry and Catherine Hill, who both worked at Berkeley Castle. He was brought up on the castle estate and went to the local school. After leaving school, he also worked at the castle, as a gardener.
Hill joined up as ground crew, but volunteered for aircrew and trained as a gunner when the heavy bombers began to arrive and there were many more chances to fly. His first posting was to 9 Squadron in August 1942, round about the time it was posted to Waddington and converted to Lancasters from Wellingtons. He joined a crew piloted by Sgt Charles McDonald, a Canadian, and flew most of his operations with them.
In mid February 1943, most of this crew moved on to 83 Squadron, but Hill was left behind as a spare gunner and flew on his last operation in 9 Squadron on 8 March, with Sgt Doolan as the pilot.
After the Dams Raid, Hill carried on flying with the rest of David Maltby’s crew until they all took off from RAF Coningsby on 14 September 1943 on 617 Squadron’s first major operation since the Dams Raid.
In common with his pilot, he was also a young father. He had married Evelyn Hourihane in 1941, and at the time of the raid they had a two-year-old daughter, Valerie. They were living with her parents in South Wales. In a letter dated 10 July 1943, he told his brother-in-law Don that he was looking forward to seeing his wife and daughter again in August:
I think everyone must know Eve & myself on Cardiff station now as I say cheerio to her there so often. Val made it even harder this time, when I left, she was standing on the door with mam, waving her little hand and saying ‘Daddy’ that gave me one thought, well this is certainly worth ﬁghting for. I’m sure you will love her when you see her again Don I don’t think Val was walking when you saw her last …
Well Don, roll along August 11th and lets hope we meet this time.
Victor Hill is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
More about Hill online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Breaking the Dams website
KIA 15 September 1943.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Charles Foster, Breaking the Dams, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Further information about Victor Hill and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.
I served at RAF Scampton in the 1970s and remember the day that i walked onto the 617 aircraft dispersal. I felt so proud that day to be walking on the ground that them brave lads had trod 30 years previous.