Front gunner: Flt Sgt Victor Hill

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, where he met a girl called Evelyn Hourihane. They were married in 1941 at about the time he joined the RAF. Evelyn came from the Rhondda in South Wales, and she moved back to Wales to be near her parents while Vic was away in the RAF, soon after their daughter Valerie was born.

Vic had been in groundcrew when he first joined up, 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. Two members of this crew, Cyril Paley and Max Coles, alive and well and living respectively in Yorkshire and Montreal, Canada, remember him as a brave and popular member of the crew.

In mid February 1943, most of this crew moved on to 83 Squadron, but Vic 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. With 22 operations under his belt, Vic must have been thinking that he would finish a complete tour in the next two or three months. As he made his way to Scampton in early May, he surely didn’t realise how significant his next operation would be.

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Sgt Victor Hill, 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.

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Victor Hill, 1942. Picture: Valerie Ashton.

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