The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Pilot
P/O Gordon Hill J37340
Part Four – Brussells
Daily Diary 19-23 October 1944
The new home was in fact an historic castle, which was constructed in 1296, and served as a rest center for the next two weeks. Its history now contains a lot of heavy drinking parties by young Canadian fighter pilots of 416 Squadron.
The squadron moved in on 22 October 1944, and then went looking for girls, all recorded in the Daily Diary. It was reported that the Germans must have taken all the girls, as none could be found. A few of the pilots are attempting to learn the Belgium language, a must to meet girls. New pilots were F/L W. R. Harten, F/L A.E. Fleming, and W/O I, L.J.R. Jean. F/O W.D. Hill reported for duty in early November and now the squadron has two pilots with surname Hill.
Total pilots on strength were 27, Officers – 24, NCO’s – 3. S/L J. D. Mitchner, DFC, was reposted to No. 416 as Squadron Commander.
S/L J. D. Mitchner, DFC, new Commanding Officer
Back side of the castle
The grounds of the castle, including the moat [left image].
On 4 November 1944, the squadron moved to Base 56 at Evere, Belgium, an ex-German Luftwaffe airfield. Eight days later they moved from the castle to a brick home at 11 General Wahis Blvd. in Brussels., just two miles from the B.56 airfield.
This brick house [#11 General Wahis Blvd.] became the home of No. 416 fighter squadron for the next five months. On 16 November 44, 20,000 cigarettes and several cartons of gum were received from their adopted City of Oshawa.
The official Lynx Squadron Badge was approved on the same date by His Majesty the King of England. Many a party would be held in this house, starting with a “House Warming” [on 7 November 1944] and then followed by “Christmas 1944”, where 30 bottle of various liquor brands and one keg of Belgian beer were purchased.
When the RCAF pilots flew their Spitfires into the ex-Luftwaffe base [5 November 1944] they found one abandoned German Fw190 fighter aircraft. Many photos were taken on or beside this enemy fighter, including four images by pilot Gordon Hill.
This became the first German fighter aircraft seen up close by most of the Canadian Spitfire pilots and they climbed all over the enemy fighter. F/L Neil G. Russell is seen on the nose.
F/L Neil G. Russell
F/L N. G. Russell, F/L R.D. Phillip, and F/L W.N. Douglas on the nose of the Fw190.
A month later, the British Army came to remove the fighter and it blew-up. It had been booby trapped by the retreating German troops. A lesson learned the hard way by all pilots in 416 Squadron.
The B.56 Evere, abandoned German airfield also contained the crashed remains of an American C-47 with nose art Miss Petite Jeanne.
She originated in the September 1944 issue of Esquire, a Varga pin-up for that month. Alberto Vargas dropped the ‘s’ in his name for all the WWII Esquire girls he painted.
Possibly lost in the 17 September 1944 invasion Operation Market Garden, 315th Troop Carrier Squadron.
Original black and white photo colorised by Pierre Lagacé.
The bar for house warming party, 7 November 44.
F/Sgt. Chuck Darrow, [far left] F/L S. H. Straub, F/L Dave W. Harling, [top right] F/O A. G. Sandy Borland
The first approved squadron ‘house warming’ party began at 7 pm on 7 November 1944, and became the biggest drunk of the year. Gordon Hill recorded the bar before the party, containing 75 bottles of assorted drink, plus two kegs of Belgium beer. The Daily Diary reports it was a great success, other than when the lowest rank LAC “Pongo” Joe Kelly [clerk] put his arm around the Group Captain and began to tell him how to run his air-station. Fortunately, the Group Captain had some drink in him, and took it all as good fun.
F/O Sandy Borland J25780, will be killed on Christmas day, by a trigger-happy P-47 Thunderbolt American fighter pilot, [friendly-fire]. F/L Davey Harling, DFC, J11481, will be killed New Year’s morning, by German Luftwaffe attackers.
A flight of B.25 Mitchells flying over Base 56, Evere, Belgium. The German cities and towns were ordered to surrender, and if they refused, the RCAF Mitchells dropped bombs on the location.
The 416 Spitfires protected the bombers from fighter attack. [Below], P/O Bill Roddie J86972, tour ended 28 April 1945.
From 1 to 15 November the squadron did little flying as the weather was bad, and only 55 operational sorties were carried out. They had 19 Spitfire IXB fighters on strength until the 20th of the month, then pilot P/O Whitehead crash landed two in 48 hours. Whitehead had arrived with F/O Hill in the Avro Anson on 2 October 1944.
On 22 November 1944, P/O “Whitey” E. E. Whitehead had his second Spitfire Mk. IXE crash in two successive days. The C.O. called him in, turfed him, and he was posted back to RCAF Base Planning Committee effective 30 November. 1944. Whitehead had just arrived on 2 October, with F/O S. H. Straub, F/L R.D. Phillip, F/O R.W. Tapley, F/Sgt. C. Darrow, and Sgt. J. E. M. Patus.
The “Saint” F/L Pierre St. George, tour ended 11 October 1944.
F/L Steve Straub [left- American] cleans his German Luger pistol as P/O Whitehead
and F/L Dagwood Phillips take instructions, late October 1944.
F/O Jack Leyland J26993, and F/O Bill Simpson J17787, [right] play cards.
On 8 December 1944, F/O Simpson was shot down, when they attacked three Me 109s. Missing in Action, he became a POW.
On 24 November 1944, the squadron pilots returned to England for Spitfire air firing refresher training at No. 13 P.T.C. [Personnel and Training Command] Warmwell. Their C-47 Dakota transport arrive.
Sgt. Pat J. E. M. Patus and F/Sgt. Chuck Darrow play cards in the C-47 on flight to No. 13 P.T.C.
Warmwell, England, then the transport is forced to land at Tangmere, due to bad weather.
The twelve pilots in the Dakota [air-lift] immediately set off to renew old acquaintances at Tangmere, and have a few pints.
24 November 1944, the 416 ‘air-lift’ pilots group photo. Left to right – W/O L. J.R. Jean, Gordon Hill, Sgt. J.C.M. Patus, F/L N.W. Douglas, [unknown] [unknown] F/O F.G. Picard, F/L R.D. Phillip, and [unknown] and bottom F/Sgt. C. Darrow.
Gordon Hill was not a drinker, and only enjoyed a Scotch or Rum from time to time. On 25 November, the pilots and Spitfire aircraft all arrived at Warmwell, and the course got under way.
Three Spits, “B” – “A” – “T”, heading for No. 13 P.T.C. for “Air Firing” course, 25 November 44.
On 28 November, Wing Commander “Johnny” Johnson and F/O Bill Warfield, No. 421 Squadron, flew from Belgium to see how the course was doing at Warmwell, and the gang had another “Go” [celebration] at Weymouth that evening.
Pic Picard and Larry Spurr
Spurr and Darrow next to a Spitfire at Warmwell
The course [and drinking] ended on 5 December and all returned to Evere, Belgium, by 7 December, the first day of wet-snow and Belgian winter had arrived.
The first wet-snow of Belgian winter, 7 December 1944
Fighter pilots like to play in snow too.
F/O F. G. H. “Pic” Picard keeps warm inside.
Gordon in flight dress on 7 December 1944
On 12 December 44, F/L Lou Nault, P/O Larry Spurr, and F/O Gordon Hill departed for England in an Avro Anson, to pick up their new Spitfire Mk. XVI fighters.
The official orders for new Spitfire Mk. XVI aircraft arrived on 14 October 1944, while they were on rest period at B.58 Melsbroek, Belgium.
His new Spitfire Mk. XVI, serial SM403 on 15 December 1944. [photo taken later]
Externally the Spitfire Mk. XVI was similar to the Mk. IX production models they had been flying. The major difference was the new pointed-tip tail rudder, which had been introduced with the late production Mk. IX series. These early models had “e” wings which were clipped at the ends, no more pointed tips. The clipped wings were for the low-level flights, and turns, the squadron employed over Germany. The reason these Spitfires were given a new mark number [XVI] was found under the hood, as they were constructed with the new Merlin 66 engine. These engines were manufactured in Detroit, USA, by the Packard Motor Company, as Merlin 266 engines, built by a large number of American ladies on the production line. These American engines were now reaching U.K. in large quantity by July 1944, and were being installed in the British Spitfires by early September. Their performance was similar to the Mk. IX aircraft, with larger fuel tank capacity. Gordon called his the “Sweet Sixteen” and the name stuck, becoming his nose art.
On 31 December 1944, the squadron had on charge, and were converted to 15 new Spitfire XVI, serial numbers – SM228, SM229, SM232, SM274, SM277, SM304, SM308, SM310, SM331, SM334, SM335, SM354, SM365, SM369 and SM387.
Gordon Hill was flying SM403 on 24 December 1944, with a patrol of twelve Spits over Malmedy-Houffalize area. The squadron encountered the worst German flak to date and four failed to return. F/L R. D. [Dagwood] Phillip [SM331] was hit by flak in the oxygen bottle, however he returned to base uninjured. Dagwood was posted out 24 January 1945, he later became Flight Commander in No. 421 Squadron.
F/O Joseph Ronald Beasley, J23867, was hit by flak and killed, his Spitfire SM277 crashed at Malmedy, Belgium, and today he is buried in the War Cemetery, Leopoldsburg, Limburg, Belgium.
F/O Joseph Ronald Beasley
Sgt. J. B. M. “Pat” Patus, flying SM228, was shot down and reported missing. He landed inside Allied lines and was flown to U.K. with head injuries. 12 January 45, he was recovering from his injuries and would return to action in a few days.
A very close call for Neil Russell, 13 January 1945
F/O “Sandy” Alexander George Borland, 21 years, [below] was in England, [Christmas Eve] giving his sister in marriage to F/L Don Hayworth an ex-416 squadron pilot member. He returned to base that evening, and flew SM303 the next patrol 11:20 hrs., Christmas morning. Shot down by American Thunderbolt, in full U. S. national markings, crashed in flames south of Eupen, Germany. No known grave, crash site never found.
Pilots are now ordered to shoot to kill, any attacking American fighters.
F/O “Sandy” Alexander George Borland
The Daily diary –
“Most of the gang enjoyed Christmas as much as possible under the circumstances and had a comparatively good time.”
From the 16 to 31 December 1944, the squadron flew 73 sorties on patrols and sweeps, totalling 98 hours. They claimed one Fw190 shot down, and were fully converted to their new Spitfire Mk. XVI fighters by the New Year.
On 27 December 44, F/O Jack Leyland brought his current Belgian girlfriend to the squadron bar.
Jack was known as a pilot lady killer, having more than one Belgian girlfriend.
F/O Gordon Hill named his new Spitfire “Sweet Sixteen” and had the name painted on her nose in late December 44. His ground crew proudly look on, five Spits carried this same name.
‘HAPPY NEW YEAR’ – Cover art by W.A. Winter.
The air war and killing will last four more months.
Gordon helps his ground crew rearm his fighter “Sweet Sixteen.”
End of Part Four
The move to Germany!