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66 Squadron, RFC & RAF, 1916 to 1919


Bell, Hilliard Brook MC

Hilliard Brooke Bell died on the 16 September 1960. A few years later in 1963/4 the Canadian Aviation Society published his "War Experiences" in their journal. This account is based on that series, with additional research enabling a broader view of him.

Introduction

Hilliard Brooke Bell was born on 9 March 1897 in the town of Chatham Ontario to Sarah R. nee Brooke and Edwin Bell. Sometime after his arrival the family moved to 30 Roxborough Street, Toronto. Bell was educated at St Andrews College now at Aurora Ontario and University of Toronto Osgoode Hall where he studied law, graduating in 1921. Whilst studying at St Andrews Bell was active with the College Officer Training Corps, but before finishing his course aged 19 years he enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on 23 May 1916, joining the 67 (University of Toronto) Overseas Depot Battery Canadian Field Artillery C.E.F. at Kingston. On passing his artillery examinations and whilst waiting for a posting to a Battery he became impatient and decided to transfer to the RFC after five months service, although he was discharged from the C.E.F. on 5 July 1916 for the purpose of taking a commission in the Active Militia.

RFC Training in England & Canada

Following ground training in the Spring of 1917 he was sent to Camp Borden. After yet more instruction in aeroplane construction he undertook flying instruction. After going solo he continued with flying training and instruction and about one month later he left Montreal for England. He was then commissioned as a 2/Lt and sent to Scampton for further training with 81 Bristol M1CSquadron (In 1918, 81 Squadron would become No 1 Squadron Canadian Air Force) which had been formed with the intention of becoming a fighter squadron, but which would remain as a training unit. It later merged with 11 and 60 Training Squadrons to become 34 Training Depot Station.

Here he was initially instructed on the Avro 504, but soon graduated to the Bristol M1C Monoplane or Bullet as it was known.

France & Italy

After less than two months in England and 6 hours flying the Bullet and Sopwith Pup he was sent to France on 16 October 1917 making his way to St Omer by train. Bell was posted to 66 Squadron on the same day according to his record, although he says it was on the afternoon of the 17th. He was one of two replacements following the loss on 12 October of Lt Alfred W Nasmyth (killed in action) and 2/Lt Robert W B Matthewson (prisoner of war) Hilliard notes the squadron establishment of officers consisted of the C.O. the newly arrived (on 16 October 1917) Major William Robert Gregory MC who was to lose his life in January 1918 whilst flying in Italy. Eighteen service pilots and three "ground" officers, the Recording Officer William Topham, "machine gun expert" Armament officer Francis M M Ellis and one other, this was engineering officer Arthur L Cockburn. The accommodation consisted of corrugated iron huts and a wooden mess hut.

His first flight in France was on the 18 October, a familiarisation flight along the trenches and also taking in some of the local sights of Ypres. The same day a second flight took him up to the height of 21000 ft, his first experience of high altitude flight and the extreme temperature change. No one had warned him he would need to take precautions against frostbite, next time he would use the whale oil on his face to afford some protection.

On the 14 October 66 started to re-equip with the Sopwith Camel when Major G L P Henderson collected B5402 from 1 Aircraft Depot only a short 15 minute flight away, senior flight commander John (Jim) M Warnock test flew this aircraft later in the day. The next day Henderson again took to the air in B5402 and crashed writing off the machine.

In November the squadron was informed that it would be part of the new force moving to Italy to support the Italians against the Austrians after the debacle at Capporetto. In one of the few 66 squadron accounts of the move, The squadron was withdrawn from the line and sent to 2 Aircraft Depot at Candas where the aeroplanes were dismantled, crated and loaded on to flat cars for onward transportation by train departing on 1 October. Bell says that two trains were used with the officers occupying an old second class carriage, "in which there were no berths and no running water". They slept in their clothes and were " soon in a climate warm enough to allow us to have baths in the open air". Progressing through the Riviera towns they were hailed as conquering heroes although they could not see why. Soon they arrived in Milan on the 22 October and quartered at the best hotel in the city, The Cavour. They remained here for a week as the weather was bad and they were not able to fly up to the line. They flew the one and a half hours to Verona on 29 October. On the 4 December they departed to Grossa where they were billeted in an old school house.

In late January 1918 Bell started to lead the A flight on patrols having his first successful engagement was on the 4 February when he intercepted a lone Albatros D111, which he shot down in flames, the first of nine claims. During February he was sent on leave to Home establishment and on his return he was promoted to flight commander and Temporary Captain. On 8 May 1918 he was awarded the MC, he says in his memoirs that he never knew why he got the award.

Awards & Citations

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He destroyed five enemy machines and drove down one out of control. He is a very fine patrol leader and an excellent officer. His work is thoroughly good, all round."

Photographs

Bell (left) with Alan Jerrard, who later won a contraversial VC with 66 Bell and Jerrard

 

 

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