Category Archives: The Making of a RCAF WWII Fighter Pilot

The Making of a WWII RCAF Fighter pilot – First Flight – July 22, 1942

Updated post 10 November 2020

This first chapter was published two years ago. Today the son of Flight Lieutenant Ken Williams contacted me. 

I believe my father flew with squadron 416 toward the end of the war.
He didn’t talk a lot about the war, but did mention his friend Larry Spur from time to time, and I see on this website that name. I am wondering if you have any information on my father F/L Ken Williams Spitfire pilot.


Ken Williams

Flight Lieutenant Ken Williams’ son spotted his father. He is seen behind the propeller.

Original post

All the information you need to know will be on these first pages.

These are taken from Gordon McKenzie Hill’s logbook carefully scanned by Clarence Simonsen.

This is the first page of the logbook. Gordon Hill is taken on strength at No. 4 EFTS Windsor Mills, Quebec.

His first flight is on July 22, 1942. Sergeant Cochand is flying Tiger Moth DH82E serial number 8929.

As always, I wonder what happened to the people whose names appear in a logbook.

What about Sergeant M. Cochand?

What about Tiger Moth 8922?

Tiger Moth #8922 was built at Downsview, Ontario in 1942. It saw service with No. 12 EFTS, Goderich, Ontario and No. 4 EFTS, Windsor Mills, Quebec until 1945, when it was sold to the Royal Canadian Air Force Association. The Tiger Moth was then stored for over 25 years. The Museum acquired the aircraft through George Neal, then a de Havilland Canada test pilot. The Tiger Moth was donated to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum by John Weir in 1973. A five year restoration program followed before the Tiger Moth returned to the skies once again.


The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Pilot – Part Six

The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Pilot
P/O Gordon Hill J37340
Part Six

The move into Germany begins on 11 April 1945, when thirteen squadron Spitfires depart for B.100 Goch, Germany, [76 on map] where they will remain until 14 April.
The ground party moves out on 12 April, and follow the blue line on map. They cross the Rhine River at Wesel, [#57 on map] and proceed to B.108 at Rheine, Germany, where they spent the night. Gordon was running the Orderly Room while Adjutant Howe was away, and requested to drive the squadron Jeep, so he could take photos of crossing the Rhine into Germany.

Crossing the Rhine [looking south] at Wesel, Germany, blue circle #57 on map

North bound to Wesel, Germany

On 24 March, the American 9th Army and British Second Army forces swept across the Rhine at this point and the city of Wesel was secured. At the same time airborne troops landed on the German plain north of the Ruhr.

No 416 RCAF ground “A” convey crossed at the same spot on 12 April 1945. Gordon returned to B.100 Goch and rejoined his flight.

The river banks were still heavily mined by the retreating Germans.

The pilots and thirteen 416 Spitfire fighters flown to B.100 Goch, Germany, on 11 April 1945. Gord flew patrol the next day, attacking buildings, and trains, from 06:48 until 09:16 hours.

Welcome to Germany, flak damage at B.100 Goch, Germany, 13 April 1945

No. 440 RCAF Typhoon at B.100 Goch

Gordon’s April trip to Dusseldorf clearly shows the effects of the Allied bombing campaign.

On 14 April 1945, the Spitfires arrive at B.114 Diepholz, Germany, and Gord records the fighters. It snowed on 21 April, and this image was taken some time later, with still snow on the ground. No. 416 [Lynx] Squadron left B.114 on 26 April and arrived at B.154 Reinsehlen, Germany, where they remained for the next two months.

Gordon with his camera

B.114 Diepholz was a former Luftwaffe base and contained excellent hangars and aircrew living quarters. They only stayed for twelve days and then departed North West 100 miles to B.154.

The ground “A” party left at 8 am 26 April 1945, and the Spitfires left just after 1 pm. The new drome was located 35 miles south east of Hamburg, Germany, near Schnenerdinge, Germany. Twenty miles south was the village of Bergen, Germany.

The fighter pilots were ordered to taxi to the end of the runway, park, and remain beside their aircraft, as the airfield had not been cleared of mines. Around 4 pm the British Army arrived and commenced to clear the area of German mines. By the time the area was secured, ground party “A” arrived and began to unload tents and supplies.

Ground party “B” arrived on 28 April 1945, and found they would be living in tents, and working out doors from their mobile hangar trucks. The Daily Diary made note the billets were not as good as the last ones, they would have to make the best of it.

The mobile aircraft hangar repair shop at B.154 Reinsehlen

The squadron group photo at B.154/ Reinsehlen, Germany, June 1945

Baseball game at B.154

On 2 May 1945, the pilots learned the village of Bergen was just 20 miles south of their location and two miles away was a large concentration camp named “Bergen Belsen.”

Gordon and four other RCAF pilots took the squadron Jeep and drove south to the large concentration camp. Gordon stated – “No amount of words can give a true impression of what we saw, heard, and smelled that horrible day. I still wish I had never gone, and it really bothered me for the next twenty years of my life. Nazi Germany conquered, enslaved, and plundered Europe, but we five pilots had no idea what to expect, and it defied any description, even still today.”

The entrance sign erected by the British Army around 29 April 1945.

Original black and white colorised by Pierre Lagacé

Flowers at a mass grave site.

Bremen bombed docks seen from a Canadian Spitfire, 3 May 1945.

F/O Picard and F/O McCallum

On 4 May 1945, F/O G. M. Hill was one of six Spitfires [TB237 – SM200 – SM191 – SM466 – SM470 – and his “S” TD187] attacking German shipping off shore at Eckerrerde Bay. They returned to base at 14:20 hrs. and were informed the war in Europe was over. This was later confirmed by radio at 20:30 hrs that evening.

On 5 May 1945, No. 416 was assigned a special escort of 14 Dakota transport aircraft to Copenhagen, Denmark, and the signing of the German surrender of Northwest Germany. Gordon flew DN-S, serial TD187, and the return trip took 2 hrs. and 25 minutes. The RCAF Spitfires could not land, as they did not have a self starter like the American P-51 fighters, who were also conducting escort of VIPs.

The 492nd Bombardment Group of the American 8th Air Force arrived at North Pickenham, England, on 14 April 1944, and flew a total of 64 missions until 7 August 1944. They were withdrawn from combat on 5 August and assumed special operations at Harrington, replacing the 801st Bomb Group. On the afternoon of 6 May 1945, Col. Robert W. Fish was assigned a secret mission to fly an American C-47 from Harrington, England, to Copenhagen [Kastrup] Denmark. The passengers were members of the Danish Government and two members of the Danish Royal Family. This was for a secret unconditional signing of the German surrender documents, as the Germans Forces had surrendered on 5 May 1945. The V.I.P.s arrived at Harrington on 7 May 1945, and the C-47 took off at 10:00 hrs, stopping for fuel at Eindhoven, Belgium. They were then joined by two American P-51 fighters who escorted the C-47 to the airport at Copenhagen, Denmark. They were cleared to land, and found the airport was still partly in control of the Germans. The V.I.P.s departed and the flight crew were treated to a huge meal by the Danish, then returned to England.

On 7 May 1945, “B” flight, No. 416 Squadron was informed four pilots would be flying escort for a single RAF Mosquito fighter to Copenhagen-Kastrup, Denmark. The Mosquito was transporting a special VIP for the unconditional surrender of North-West Germany, Denmark, and Heligoland. The No. 416 escort pilots selected were – P/O L. E. Spurr, [TD251 “F”] F/O K.J. Williams, [TB905 “K”] F/O R.O. Brouillard, [SM466 “Y”] and F/O Gordon Hill, [TD187 “S”].
These four pilots flew – “The last No. 416 Squadron operation in World War Two.”
This special escort took place from 16:05 hrs to 18:25 hrs, 7 May 1945. The special Danish V.I.P. is unknown. F/O Hill had aircraft problems and returned to base, recorded as [D.N.C.O.] Duty Not Carried Out. Gordon is unable to recall the events.

The total number of special escort operations completed by No. 416 Squadron on 7 May 1945.

This image was taken by Canadians at Fleasburg airfield, Denmark, 5 May 1945. The Danes had removed all the propellers and spinners from the German fighters, preventing them from being flown out.

Copy of the final WWII newsletter – ‘WINGTIPS XTRA.”


On 8 May 1945, the war was officially over, and all RCAF ranks had the day off. Gordon, two other pilots, and three ground crew, drove north from Hamburg to an airfield [B.164/Schleswig] south of Flensburg, Germany. They were looking for German aircraft to bring back to the squadron and German guns. They loaded two cases of rum [12 – 16 oz. bottles] and headed off into northern Germany.


The original history by F/O Gordon Hill in his photo album.

The ex-Luftwaffe airfield was now home to a unit of British Marines, and they loudly advised – “No Bloody way you’ll get any guns, let alone any German aircraft.”
While standing on the airfield a German two engine bomber appeared, landed, and the two crew surrendered to the RCAF pilots. Gordon Hill took three photos.

The German pilot [right under engine] stated he came from Norway then Denmark. Possibly Junkers Ju188D-2 from 1. Fernaufklarungsgruppe 122, Kirkenes, Norway. Number on nose appears to be 032.

Standard green camouflage with pale blue-grey over spray, code white H and black letter R.

The Canadians requested lodging for the night, and that evening invited the British Marine Captain in charge, and two of his officers over for a few drinks of rum. The morning of May 9, 1945, the two ground crew returned to base driving the squadron Jeep. The three RCAF pilots each flew off in a German aircraft, loaded with German guns, and Gordon stated – “The remainder of the rum was left with the British Captain for medical use.”

This No. 416 captured Messerschmitt Bf 109, was now joined by three more German aircraft.

This is the original note given to F/O Gordon Hill from the British Marine Captain, to take the two Bücker Bü 181 aircraft, which he identified as Me 108s. It’s amazing the power a bottle of rum has in making a deal. F/O Hill flew one of the captured Bü 181s back to base, and this unofficial flight is not recorded in his log book. The German aircraft [RL-E1] were given the code DN-X and Gordon flew it on 11 May 1945, 6 and 19 June 1945, recorded in his log book.


RCAF Batman LAC Grieve, [left] on right is “Jules” the No. 416 Flemish civilian Batman,
who received a ride in the German aircraft Bucker Bü 181 courtesy of pilot “Pic” Picard.

The third captured German aircraft, a Bf 108, was taken by the C.O.

It became the new squadron ‘pet’ as this Messerschmitt Bf 108, was flown by all the squadron pilots, who loved her soft leather seats. F/O Hill flew it one time on 15 May 1945, with F/L Parry, F/L Commerford, and the C.O. S/L Mitchner as passengers. Marked with 127 Wing and the initials of 416 Squadron C.O. S/L J.D. Mitchner used it to fly around bases in Europe and even to England for meetings.

On 30 May 45, F/O Chuck Darrow was flying too low in one of the Bü 181s and hit wires, taking off the tail and made a crash landing. His punishment was one-week Duty Pilot and one-week of Orderly Officer. The second aircraft had her engine destroyed by using 150 octane aviation fuel from the squadron Spitfires.

F/O Gordon Cameron, S/L Jack Mitchner, F/O Picard, and Dove, with war trophies.

Trap-shooting was used to keep fighter pilots eye-sight keen, and for pleasure.

F/L Walter Norman Douglas J2933, age 24, from Halleybury, Ontario, was accidently shot and killed by a shotgun blast. He is buried in the Becklingen War Cemetery at Soltau, Germany. F/O Gordon Hill witnessed this accidental shooting and was confined to barracks until the enquiry was completed. The official statements follow.

Now that the hostilities in Europe have ended, No. 416 is one of four RCAF day fighter units selected to remain in Germany under the British Air Forces of Occupation. They fly to Base 152, Fassberg on 2 July 1945, now under command of No. 83 [Composite] Group, No. 126 [RCAF] Wing.

The RCAF grave site at Eindhoven, Holland, June 1945

End of Part Six

Next chapter: Postwar Germany

The Making of a WW II RCAF Spitfire Pilot – Part Five

The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Pilot
P/O Gordon Hill J37340
Part Five

From 1 January 1945 to January 16, the squadron were operational for 44 sorties, 64 hours and 40 minutes. On 1 January F/L David William Armstrong Harling DFC, took off to attack 30 German fighters who were strafing the airfield, but was killed when he was shot down and crashed in Brussels, Spitfire SM304. Harling came from Westmount, Quebec, age 23 years, buried in the Brussels Town Cemetery, Belgium, on 3 January 1945, with most of squadron attending to pay their respects.

The weather throughout the end of the month was unfavorable and few operations were flown. In five armed recons several German transports were destroyed.

On 13 January, F/O William Frederick Bridgman failed to return from patrol, when his Spitfire SM279 was hit by flak. Bridgman came from London, Ontario, and is buried in the War Cemetery, Hotton, Luxembourg, Belgium.

P/O G.W. Haines and F/Sgt. McGregor were posted in as replacements for the two pilots killed in action.

This picture was taken at the end of December 44.

On the left is F/O M. R. “Mush” Sharun. On the wing is F/L D. W. Harling . Below is F/O W.F. Bridgman, then F/O W.D. “Wally” Hill and F/O Gordon “Gord” Hill, W/O L. J. “Lou”Jean, F/L W. R. “Webb” Harten, F/O J. Leyland and F/O R.W. “Tap” Tapley.

Colorised picture by Pierre Lagacé

On 1 January 1945, the Germans attacked all RCAF fighter units.

“Harpy” was code letter H, with black outline under nose, TB756. Next is the Spitfire of American F/L Steve Straub.

Seen above is a cold morning Spitfire start for “Sweet Sixteen” in late January 1945. F/O Gordon Hill flew 14 sorties in January, assigned seven different Spitfire fighters. SM466, [twice], SM404 [four times], SM248, SM389 [[twice], SM503 [three times], SM191, SM308, and his SM403.

On 1 March 1945, Lynx Squadron moved by road 55 miles north to Base 90 at Petit Brogel, Belgium. The squadron 17 Spitfire Mk. XVI aircraft were flown in the next day.

Adjutant F/O Rod J. Howe, in his tent office at B.90, Petit Brogel, Belgium.

P/O Larry E. Spurr arrives on 2 March 1945.

The weather was good for two weeks and they flew 190 operational sorties, totalling 240:40 hours. They did not encounter any enemy activity, and only P/O E.D. Downer made a successful crash landing when his engine gave out. S/L J. D. Mitchner, DFC, received the Dutch Bronze Cross by Dutch authorities.

Two of the French Connection, Roland Brouillard, an unidentified ground crew, and Louis Nault.

F/L L.L. Nault, F/O F.G. Picard, F/O J.J.M. Menard, and F/O R.C. Brouillard, were called the “French Connection.” by Gordon Hill. On 25 February 45, F/O Jacques “Jack” Menard had to force-land his Spitfire due to an engine failure, and became a P.O.W.

Spitfire Mk. XVI, DN-H, serial TB756, showing the clipped wing-tips.

Aerial view of B.90 Petit Brogel, Belgium

The airfield B.90 Petit Brogel, Belgium, 15 March 45.


Some of the ground crews, unsung heroes

Gordon Hill with Adjutant Howe

The squadron pilots are now living in three British Nissen Huts, a big change from the house in Brussels. Stu Hartley combs his hair.

Stu Hartley

An American battery fires at them, and then an American P-51 attacks them.

Two fighters lost to the Americans and none to the Germans. Trigger happy Americans again but no lives lost this time.

Arming a Spitfire in the rain and mud at B.90 Petit-Brogel, Belgium.

P/O Chuck Darrow and his German uniform

This 416 Squadron pilots photo was taken between 16-30 March 1945, showing 24 of 28 pilots. All of them were identified by Gordon Hill.

The squadron’s ground crew and personnel, photo taken at B.90 Petit Brogel, Belgium, mid-March 1945.

1. F/O Chris Preston J44034, arrived 21 February 1945.

2. F/O Gordon Hill, [Gordie] arrived 2 October 1944.

3. F/O W.D. Hill J35989, [Wally] arrived 14 November 1944.

4. F/O K.J. Ken Williams J9261, arrived 26 December 1944.

5. F/O Jack Leyland J26993, arrived 18 October 1944, ex-421 Squadron.

6. F/O Keith F. Scott J21239, arrived 27 February 1945.

7. F/O S.H. Steve Straub, arrived early October 1944.

8. P/O Chuck Darrow, arrived early October 1944.

9. F/L Larry L. Spurr, arrived 23 August 1944.

10. F/O B.E. Parry [Bert] J14717, arrived 13 January 1945.

11. F/O C.W. Haines [Cliff] J49322, arrived 21 January 1945.

12. F/Sgt. N.M. McGregor [Mac] R193516, arrived 21 January 1945.

13. F/O L.P. Comerford [Len] arrived 4 October 1944, ex-403 Squadron.

14. F/L Neil G. Russell J8136, arrived 4 July 1944, ex-Malta, 2nd tour.

15. F/O W.I. Gordon [Rocky] J6718, arrived 27 February 1945, 2nd tour.

16. S/L J.D. Mitchener DFC, [Jake] J16799, assumed command November 1944, replacing S/L J.F. McKiroy, DFC, end of tour.

17. C.O. F/O G. A. Cameron [silent Joe] arrived 3 July 1944, ex-Malta, 2nd tour.

18. F/O Vernon W. Mullen [Moon] arrived 15 March 1945. Shot down by American P-51, 31 March 45.

19. F/O L.J.R. Jean [Lou] arrived 20 October 1944.

20. F/O S.A. Round [Sam] J42360 arrived 3 February 1945.

21. F/O W. L. McCallum [Mac] J37906, arrived 3 February 1945.

22. F/O Walter Norman Douglas. [killed on 14 May 1945, accident, shotgun blast to face].

23. F/O F.G.H. Picard [Pic] arrived 29 September 1944.

24. P/O W.G.D. Roddie [Bill] J86972, arrived 9 August 1944

25. Sgt. Brechnel, ground crew member.


A dummy German Ju 88 mock-up at B.90 Belgium 1945

The squadron pilots were up at 03:45, 24 March 45, and in the air at first daylight. The C-47s with airborne troops and paratroopers passed directly over the base to Germany, crossing the Rhine.

Crossing the Rhine

Returning to England

Trap-shooting at B.90

P/O Chuck Darrow taking bath.

31 March 1945, the new home at B.78 Eindhoven, Holland.

Batman LAC Wally Grieve

The RCAF Squadron Jeep

Fueling a Spit from “Jerry” cans

Jules, our Flemish Batman


Ken Williams and Webb Harten

Group of pilots. Pilot [second from the left] “Webb” John Edmund Harten.


John Edmund Harten, age 24, was killed in Spitfire RR256, 19 April 1945, hit by German flak and crashed in flames Wilster, Germany.


End of Part Five
Next time, The move into Germany

The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Pilot Part Four

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
Next time…
The move to Germany!

The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Fighter Pilot – Part Three

The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Pilot

P/O Gordon Hill J37340

Part Three – We are heading for Holland tomorrow…  

On 30 September 1944, No. 416 RCAF [Lynx] Fighter Squadron 19 Spitfire aircraft Mk. IXB., departed from B.68 Base at Le Culot, Belgium for B.82 Grave, Holland.

F/L S. H. Straub, F/O E. E. Whitehead, and P/O Gordon Hill departed No. 83 Group Support Unit in an Avro Anson, and landed at Base 82 Grave, Holland, just after 15:40 hrs. The name of P/O Hill never appears in the Operations Record Book…


Gordon explains –

As we left the Anson aircraft, I met a fellow pilot from Canada, F/O John McColl, and we began to talk about life at No. 133 Squadron, etc. He asks if I would like to join the squadron on a patrol, and I answered “Yes.” I dumped my gear in the orderly tent, climbed into Spitfire Mk. IXE “G”, serial ML415, and we took off for the front German lines at 16:02 hrs. The flight lasted one hour, saw 20 plus German 190s passing east above us at around 2,000 ft. and two jets, McColl fired but no results were seen. After landing, I checked directly into the pilots [Dutch house] quarters at 17:30 hrs. and my name was never recorded in the Daily Diary. That is how I joined No. 416 Squadron at Grave, Holland. On 4 October, I was assigned Spitfire DN-D, which I flew on most of the patrols that first month.

Due to daily German anti-personnel bomb attacks, pilots were ordered to wear British – “Twitch Hats.”

With the sound of an aircraft engine, Canadians had developed a twitch, the name was applied to the British steel helmets, appearing in Daily Diary 26 October 1944.

On 12 October 1944, a direct hit was received on the dispersal site, damaging six Spitfire aircraft, and killing five of the ground crew members who had been working on the fighters.

One of the five…

J.D. Beck

F/O Hill carried three passport size photos taken wearing a civilian suit.

Should he be shot down in Holland and not be captured, these photos would allow the Dutch underground to print false official identification papers, to fool the German check-points. These are Gordon’s original photos.

The Commanding Officer, S/L J. F. McKlroy, DFC and Bar, and five other pilots completed their tour in October and more new replacements were posted in – F/O S.H. Staub, P/O E.E. Whitehead, F/L R. D. Phillip, F/O R. W. Tapley, F/Sgt. C. Darrow, F/Sgt. J. E. M. Patus, F/L W. R. Harton, F/L A. E. Fleming, P/O J. Leyland, WO I L. J. R. Jean, joined P/O Gordon Hill.

The RCAF stay at Grave lasted 22 days and Gordon would fly 40 patrols until 19 October, sometimes three flights per day. From the 1st to 18th October 1944, they flew 458 sorties, damaged four German trains and left two vehicles in flames. Total pilots on strength were 24 Officers, and one NCO, eleven listed above, in yellow.

No. 416 Squadron began flying the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IX series in January 1944, and had 20 production Mk. IXEs on strength in October 1944. The Mk. IXs production was second in total Spitfires built, reaching 5,665, at a cost of $180,000 U.S. dollars [1943] per fighter. [45,000 English pounds in 1943]

This is the first Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXE image taken by pilot Hill at Grave, Holland, early October 1944. The pilots were instructed not to show code letters and most of all serial numbers of fighters in any photographs taken. Gordon cannot recall, but this might be his assigned Spitfire DN-D. This fighter was constructed with the British “c” Wing [extended] which has a much more pointed tip, compared to the normal standard “e” wing construction. This fighter also carried a rear fuselage band in light color, common to RAF units.

For protection from the German bombing, the 25 Canadian pilots were housed in a private home located some 30 miles north-west of the airfield, in the City of Ravenstein, Netherlands.

This became their new home for the next 22 days at Grave, Netherlands. The ground crews lived in tents on the base, and six would be killed from German attacks. The new Canadian pilots also became a major attraction to the local Dutch children, who are seen in many images taken by F/O Hill. Note pilot in second story window.

Flying/Officer Jack Leyland J26993 [left] and W/O Class I, Louis J. R. Jean with Dutch children.

These two pilots had just arrived with No. 416, replacements along with F/O Gordon Hill.

F/L Neil ‘Russ’ Russell with children at Ravenstein, Netherlands.

F/L Russell became Officer Commanding “B” flight, tour ended 17 March 1945.

F/O Rex W. Tapley at Ravenstein. ex-Malta pilot, 2nd tour, arrived 6 October 44.

Windmill at Ravenstein, October 1944.

The tree line around the ex-German airfield contained hundreds of Luftwaffe bombs.

In early October 1944, F/O William “Bill” Bridgman [left] looking at this strange bomb. It is believed this was an unpowered German guided Fritz-X bomb, that reached an impact velocity near the speed of sound.

F/O Bridgman will be killed on 13 January 45, flying Spitfire SM279.

The railway bridge over Meuse River at Ravenstein, destroyed 10 May 1940, by Dutch engineers to prevent invading Germans from crossing into Netherlands.

Dutch children at Ravenstein returning home from school, October 1944.

Formation of “A” flight passing over airfield Grave, Holland, October 44.

Formation flying over Holland, No. 403, No. 421, and No. 416 Squadrons.

“A” Flight takes off Grave, Holland.

On 15 October 1944, the RAF Allied Expeditionary Air Force is disbanded and when taking part in airborne operations, Lynx Squadron will now come under control of Commanding General, First Allied Airborne Army.

The remains of the 17 September 1944, “Operation Market Garden”,
American Waco gliders landing zone. Photo taken 16 October 44.

16 October 44, F/O Mush R. Sharun and F/O Gordon Hill [wearing his twitch hat] visit the area on the south bank of Waal River, just north of the Nijmegen bridge. The ground was covered with American Waco gliders used in Operation Market Garden invasion. Gliders used by the famous 82nd Airborne during their assault on this area, 17 September 1944. Germany was only six miles East from this drop zone.

F/O “Mush” R. Sharun


Gordon had flown his last operation from Grave, Holland, on 15 October, a high front line patrol at 20,000 feet. On the 19 October, the heavy winter rains came and flooded the airfield, all flights were cancelled.

This image shows the conditions the ground crew lived and worked in at Grave. On 21 October, the squadron was ordered south to Brussels for a two-week rest, and the Spitfires departed, Hill flying DN-B. Flying out proved to be very dangerous as water was everywhere. Each Spitfire required four ground crew members, two on tail, and one on each wing, just to taxi for take-off. The take-off was conducted in three or four inches of water, and all aircraft departed safely.

No. 67 on the map is the location of Base 82/Grave, Holland, where No. 416 remained from 30 September until 21 October 1944. This base in Holland was flooded by heavy rain fall on 19 October and the Spitfire aircraft departed south on 21 October. The next day the squadron moved south to Brussels and Base 58/Melsbroek, a “castle” [No. 19 on map] and two weeks’ rest. This was the first break the squadron received in the past four months. No. 20 on map was Base 56, Evere, Belgium, where they moved to on 4 November 44.

End of Part Three

Next time, Part Four