Dambuster of the Day No. 34: Victor Hill

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[Pic: Valerie Ashton]

Sgt V Hill
Front gunner

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 at RAF Bardney.
Unlike the rest of David Maltby’s crew, Victor Hill had plenty of operational experience. He had flown 22 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 in 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 groundcrew, 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.
On the Dams Raid, Hill flew in the front turret. Some sources say that as he had worked on a country estate round horses, he might have ben the one to suggest stirrups to keep the front gunner’s feet out of the way of the bomb aimer.  But as he wasn’t posted into 617 Squadron until May, that problem may have already been dealt with by then. Fellow front gunner Fred Sutherland is of the view that it was probably a bomb aimer who thought this up as they were the ones who were always complaining.
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 617 Squadron’s first major operation since the Dams Raid. When their aircraft suffered its final crash it sank with the bodies of all the crew except the pilot, so he has no known grave.
In common with his pilot, he was also a young father, leaving a two year old daughter.
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

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David Maltby’s last flight: possible Mosquito collision

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Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his Dams Raid crew, pictured in August 1943, at RAF Blida North Africa. Sadly, they were all killed over the North Sea a month later. Standing L-R: Victor Hill, Antony Stone, John Fort, David Maltby, William Hatton, Harold Simmonds. In front: Vivian Nicholson. [Pic: Grace Blackburn]

Today’s Sunday Express contains a two page feature about the last flight of Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his crew, on 14/15 September 1943, almost exactly four months after the Dams Raid. This was an attack on the Dortmund Ems canal, which was called off when weather conditions over the target were found to have deterioriated. As Maltby turned the aircraft back towards base, some sort of explosion occurred and it crashed into the sea with the loss of everyone on board.
What caused the explosion has been the subject of some speculation over many years. When researching my book, Breaking the Dams, I came across some documents in the National Archives which indicate that the crash may have occurred because of a collision with a Mosquito on another raid, out of radio contact and also returning to base. The Mosquito was from 139 Squadron, and was piloted by Flt Lt Maule Colledge. he full story is told in my book, and in abbreviated form on my other website, breakingthedams.com.

Great turnout for Kent Dambuster salute

Crowds at the graveside of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry

The country’s only flying Lancaster couldn’t make an appearance, but a couple of hundred people were not deterred, and made Saturday’s tribute to the crew of Dams Raid Lancaster AJ-J in Wickhambreaux, Kent, a very special occasion.

The village churchyard contains the grave of pilot David Maltby, whose body was the only one recovered from the North Sea when the aircraft he was flying crashed on 15 September 1943. Every year, local people gather to commemorate David and the rest of his crew, who have no known grave. This year, we were privileged to be joined by representatives of the families of three of other crew members, John Fort (bomb aimer), William Hatton (flight engineer) and Victor Hill (front gunner).

As well as the graveside tribute, a small exhibition took place in the Village Hall, which was opened by the Sheriff of Canterbury, Cllr Hazel McCabe.

Obviously, people were disappointed that the Lancaster was prevented from flying by high winds (foreshadowing Monday’s gales in the wake of Hurricane Katia) but that did not prevent a very impressive turnout, and a poignant and moving service, led by the Vicar, the Revd Chris Wilkinson.

Many thanks to all who came, and to Revd Chris Wilkinson, the Wickhambreaux Parish Council, the Village Hall Committee, the Sheriff of Canterbury and the Rose Inn for their help.

Peter Fort, great nephew of Flg Off John Fort, his two daughters, and Rene Hopkins, sister of Sgt William Hatton.

Valerie Ashton, daughter of Flt Sgt Victor Hill.

George Foster, nephew of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry

The Vicar of Littlebourne, Revd Chris Wilkinson, conducting the graveside tribute. Photo: Ady Kerry

Charles Foster, nephew of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry

Lancaster flyover, Wickhambreaux, Kent, Saturday 10 September

This year, the annual commemoration of Dambuster David Maltby and his crew, which takes place in Wickhambreaux, Kent, has an extra ingredient – a flypast by the UK’s only flying Avro Lancaster.

The event takes place on Saturday 10 September, a few days before the 68th anniversary of the crew’s final flight, on an aborted raid on the Dortmund Ems canal on 14 September 1943. A small exhibition describing the lives of all the crew members will be opened in the Village Hall at 11.30am. This will be followed by an act of commemoration at David Maltby’s graveside, in the churchyard, starting at 12.15pm. The flyover will take place at 12.40pm, weather permitting.

Members of the families of David Maltby, William Hatton and Victor Hill will all be present, and anyone interested is welcome to attend.

Flt Sgt Cyril Paley

Cyril Paley was never a member of 617 Squadron, but he had a connection to it, in that his sometime crewmate, Flt Sgt Victor Hill was a last minute recruit to David Maltby’s crew as front gunner. Hill and Paley had served together in 9 Squadron throughout the latter part of 1942 and early 1943.

Cyril Milner Paley was born on 25 October 1914 at Littleborough near Burnley. He was training to be a solicitor, but the war intervened. Although in a reserved occupation he volunteered for aircrew. Initially trained on Blenheims as a navigator, he later switched to bomb aimer. He joined 9 Squadron at RAF Waddington in the early summer of 1942. Along with most of the crew, but not Victor Hill, he moved to 83 Sqdn Pathfinders at Wyton in the early part of 1943.  His plane “F for Freddie” was crippled over Stettin by a Junkers 88 on 21 April 1943. The Canadian pilot, Chuck McDonald, nursed the blazing Lancaster over the Baltic to near Malmo in Sweden, where they ditched in the shallows. The crew of 7 were interned in Sweden until August 1943. On return to England he became a bombing instructor and never flew combat again. He did 36 combat flights in total, including the Le Creusot daylight raid, many over Berlin and several during the Battle of the Ruhr.

Cyril Paley died in his sleep on 20 March 2011 at a care home in Lytham, Lancashire. He was 96.

RIP

Picture shows Cyril Paley in his 9 Squadron crew, late 1942. Left to right: Sgt Frank Charlton, flight engineer; Flt Sgt Cyril Paley, bomb aimer; Flt Sgt Maxwell Coles, wireless operator; Sgt Victor Hill, mid-upper gunner; Flt Sgt Victor Nunn, navigator; Plt Off Charles McDonald, pilot; Flg Off John Crebbin, rear gunner; Picture: Joe Paley.

Hatton, Hill and Maltby Dambuster families paying respects

Members of three Dambuster families came together earlier this week to mark the anniversary of the deaths of their relatives. Pictured above are (far left) William Castle, nephew of Sgt William Hatton, (third from left) Rene Hopkins (sister of Sgt William Hatton) and (second from right) Valerie Ashton (daughter of Flt Sgt Victor Hill). They are gathered at the graveside of Sqn Ldr David Maltby, in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent for the annual commemoration of the deaths of this Dams Raid crew after an aborted raid on the Dortmund Ems Canal in the early hours of 15 September 1943. David Maltby’s body was the only one recovered after their aircraft went down – those of the rest of the crew were never found, and they are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. The accident may have been caused by a collision with a Mosquito of 139 Squadron returning from a completely separate raid on Berlin, but this has never been proved.
The commemoration was organised by the East Kent branch of the RAF Aircrew Association, whose chairman, John Addley, is on the far right.

Annual commemoration, Wickhambreaux, Kent, 14 September 2010

All are welcome to join members of the East Kent RAF Aircrew Association and the Maltby family at David Maltby’s grave in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent, at 11.30am on Tuesday 14 September 2010. This annual event, commemorating the lives of all of David’s crew, takes place on the anniversary of their last operational flight. This year, we hope to be joined for the first time by members of the families of Sgt William Hatton and Flt Sgt Victor Hill, members of David’s crew, whose bodies were never recovered after their aircraft crashed into the North Sea.