Veteran Stories:
William Melville “Mel” Hill

Air Force

  • Principles of Flight instruction book from flight training.

    William Hill
  • A survival handbook issued to aircrew during the war.

    William Hill
  • William Hill in a Tiger Moth during flight training in 1942.

    William Hill
  • William Hill (2nd from the right), and his crew pose next to their Lancaster Bomber.

    William Hill
  • The bow of the ship that took William Hill home at the end of the war.

    William Hill
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"of course all the signs were down and we were taken out, and we had 48 hours to get back to base. The first two or three that got back to base got a bottle of scotch."

Transcript

I was selected to go to Vancouver and fly on [Consolidated B-24] Liberators [American heavy bombers], and do coastal patrol, which I wasn’t very happy about. It turned out that a guy by the name of Mel Rose, who had just got married in Vancouver and was slated for overseas, for England, wasn’t very happy about his posting. So we got together; and I said, well, I’d like to go where you’re going, you’d like to go where I’m supposed to go; let’s go and talk to the officer and see if we could exchange destinations. That’s what happened. He said okay, go ahead. So Rose went off very happy to Vancouver and I headed on the boat for Gourock [Scotland], then landed in England and went down to [RAF Station Beachy Head] Eastbourne, where we were posted.

Our first place to go was [RAF Station] Mona on the Isle of Anglesey [off the coast of Wales], a very desolate [aero]drome [airfield]; and we were flying [Avro] Ansons [multi-use aircraft] and doing some more navigation, and things like that. At one point, the CO [commanding officer] got pretty unhappy, I think, about the Canadians and the Aussies [Australians]. He was a very nice guy and out of his own pocket, the CO bought us some pretty nice food because it was mostly rabbits and brussel sprouts. But he was from a fairly well-to-do family; and he used some of his money to get us some nice food. He was a very nice gentleman.

Anyhow, he got a little fed up with us, so he decided that we would go on an escape exercise. We were to go strip to our underwear and wear coveralls, and no identification; and we were to be taken out. Of course this was in Wales, where a lot of people spoke Welsh, and; of course all the signs were down and we were taken out, and we had 48 hours to get back to base. The first two or three that got back to base got a bottle of scotch.

So we get in this bus, with the window’s all blacked out, and we start to drive off. We’re heading off in all directions; and, of course, there’s guys that have smuggled their compasses onboard and even have maps; and they’re trying to figure out how far they’ve gone and which direction the bus is going, which was rather hopeless. In any event, three of us were the first ones out. That didn’t mean we were closest to the airport. That meant that the bus had gone all over so we could be the furthest away or it didn’t really matter.

But, anyhow, the bus stopped and I got out with my two companions, Russ Kelly and Dick Whiting, and we were hollered at from the flight lieutenant in the front of the bus, telling us to get the hell back in because this wasn’t the first stop for anyone to get out. So I just slammed the door shut and the bus pulled away. So the three of us were standing there, very pleased with ourselves, and the bus disappeared in the distance.

So we started to walk and we had been told: imagine you’re in Germany and you’ve been shot down and you’re in one piece; and you’re healthy and you can use anything to try and get to the Swiss border. So we figured, well, if you can do anything, and we were walking along and there’s a milk truck idling in the country road; and the milkman is carrying a container of milk up to a lady at the farmhouse who is at the door with a container. So we look at one another and say, well, why not, you know, we’re in Germany. So we tossed to see who would drive; and I lost, so I drove. I got in and the milk truck had solid white tires on it, they weren’t inflated, they weren’t pneumatic; and I couldn’t figure out the gear shift. But once I started to move, the last thing I remember was the milkman running down the path towards this truck screaming, hoy, hoy, and we took off.

So we drove for a while and they were in the back, and got thoroughly splashed with milk. They were soaked with milk because the lids came off the cans because of the rubber tires, solid rubber tires, and we were hitting some bumps and potholes on the back roads. Anyhow, I realized where we were after a while and it was familiar, so we ditched the truck and we walked about two miles into the base and went in, and claimed our bottle of scotch. Well, the CO was really amazed at how we did it and, of course, we didn’t tell him. We were back and we went out, and that was it.

Incidentally, they had army types patrolling the roads while we were being led out of this bus in groups of two or three. If they caught us anywhere, they were supposed to shoot over our heads and we were supposed to stay where we were and then they would pick us up, and take us further away from base. We all had 48 hours to get back. So we got back probably in about, oh, about, I guess, three or four hours, which upset the CO. And so, anyhow, the next escape exercise, there was all sorts of rules. You couldn’t swipe a bicycle, you couldn’t steal trucks, you couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that. But, anyhow, it was kind of an adventure.

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