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66 Squadron, RFC & RAF, 1916 to 1919

Hilborn, William Carrall DFC


This is the story of William C. Hilborn, one of two brothers who served with the R.F.C., and who died a tragic death in the mountains of Italy in 1918. An "ACE" in his own right, William is one of 66 squadron’s better known pilots. His brother Clarence served in France with 59 squadron flying R.E. 8's, survived the war, returned to Canada and brought up a family, he died in the 1980's. They are both remembered proudly by their family.

Early Life

Bill Hilborn spring 1918William Carrall Hilborn was born at the family home on Reid Street, Quesnel, B.C. on 5 July 1898. The second son of Stephen Lundy Hilborn and his wife Josephine Elizabeth Marie Huot de St. Laurent who had married in the February of 1896 in the church built for their wedding in Quesnel, taking up residence at the house built by Stephen on Reid Street. Shortly after William's birth, the family moved to the Bohanon Ranch, Kersley, near Quesnel, using the Reid Street house as part payment for the 1600-acre ranch. The other six children were all born at the ranch. Things were different at the turn of the last century, you had to be self reliant, and Stephen Hilborn was an independent, hard working family man. He built extra accommodation at the ranch for his growing family and it was here when they were old enough to start their schooling, a schoolhouse was constructed alongside the highway close by. Later Stephen would hire a family from Alberta to work the farm. Their children would also use the schoolhouse, providing a few more pupils for the teacher, who lived in the spare room over the kitchen of the farmhouse. Some years later Stephen built a large house on Kinchant Street, Quesnel, and the children when old enough lived at this house during term time, attending the school in the town. In 1916 Clarence and William decided to join the Royal Flying Corps, being recruited by Captain Lord Innes-Ker. They borrowed some money and joined the B.C. Aviation School Ltd in October 1916. Basic flying training at the school would cost them $300 Canadian each. They are thought to have run out of money during the winter of 1916-17 and returned home to Quesnel. In the spring of 1917. Determined to join the RFC William enlisted and sworn in as a 3/Am in Toronto on 5 May 1917. After some basic training he was discharged to a commission as a Temporary 2/Lt on probation and was posted to Deseronto for flying training with the RFC. The brothers graduated from the Canadian flying training programme in the summer of 1917, William was granted commissions in the RFC on 23 July 1917, and on the same day William sailed for England and advanced flying training, on the troopship Scotian. Clarence was posted to 15 Training Squadron, Spittlegate. William arrived at the Central Flying School on 15 August graduating on 14 October 1917. He then expected to spend two weeks in hospital having an operation on his nose, and then to return to Upavon as an instructor. He remarked to his brother that he got sick in the air and that he would not be any good to send to France. He was alright as long as he flew straight and level but as soon as he started to stunt he became sick.

William was posted to 66 squadron via 2 Aircraft Depot, joining 66 on 10 November 1917 in France, eight days after his promotion to Flying Officer. 66 Squadron had been withdrawn from the action in France and were in transit to Italy as part of 14 Wing. William was in action very quickly with 66. He was shot up by Archie in December losing a wheel and crashing on landing. On Christmas Eve whilst fooling around with others in the squadron mess boxing, he broke his nose, although this did not stop him flying. He told his brother about his frozen face and fingers and that Reade and Rowat are still o.k. By March 1918 William was flying with C flight, which had been commanded by Cecil C. Morley. William wrote to his brother Clarence on 3 March 1918 and noted that Reade had gone down, leaving him in charge of the flight. He went on to say that position of O.C. is between himself and another, who is more senior than him. William did not become the new flight commander the task was given to the previous temporary squadron commanding officer Captain John M Warnock. Another Canadian would replace John M Warnock in early April when Captain William George Barker arrived from 28 squadron. On the 17 April when on patrol with Barker and Stanley Stanger, they found a patrol of eight Albatross D111's at about 16000 ft. They dived on the enemy aircraft and Barker was forced out of the fight when two enemy aircraft got behind him, Stanger shot one down off Barkers tail. Barker then attacked another enemy aircraft, which lost height and during the decent the right hand wings came off. William drove two aircraft down but was unable to close with them.

First Victory

Willie in a Camel summer 1918His first confirmed victory came on 1 May 1918. Whilst on patrol with Vivian S. Parker and Gerald A. Birks, engaged on a No 2 offensive patrol. William who was leading the patrol observed a D111 with Austrian markings at 14000 ft over Fonzaso, approaching the aircraft, he fired a short burst, the aircraft turned over, after going down vertically for about 1000 ft, it folded up, braking up in the air, going down in pieces. His next victory came on the 4 May 1918 while on patrol with Parker, Birks and Gordon F. M. Apps. The patrol engaged fourteen enemy aircraft a mixed formation of D111 and DV aircraft. They were painted in different shades of yellow and green. Five of which were claimed destroyed and one out of control. Three fell on the British side of the lines. William claimed a D111, but pulled away due to heavy AA fire, Birks confirmed the crash near Conegliano, and William re-crossed the lines at 50 ft. On the 8 May on patrol with Barker and Parker, they engaged two LVG's with German markings. Barker and William engaged one, with Barker following it down near Annone. Meanwhile Parker attacked the other machine, but it escaped they re crossed the lines at a low altitude and Parker was hit in the right shoulder by ground fire but managed to land safely at San Pietro in Gu. Again on the 11 May when flying with Barker and Birks they engaged a patrol of four D111's one was painted black and the rest were yellow, and one DV also painted black. Gerry Birks and William claimed a D111's each and Billy Barker a DV. The next squadron claim was on the 20 May, when a patrol of Barker, Birks, William and Apps attacked seven Berg Scouts with Austrian markings. William shot one down near Fantane, Birks also claimed one. William's next combat was on the 18 July 1918 when on patrol with Geoffrey T. C. May and Harry K. Goode. They engaged a mixed patrol of three Albatross D111's and two Brandenburg two seaters. William and Harry K Goode were credited with a D111 each and Geoffrey T.C. May a Brandenburg. William's last claim with 66 squadron was on 29 July when he was credited with an Albatross D111. Although he was involved on the 1 August, when on patrol with Alfred E. Baker and Harry K. Goode. William manoeuvred onto the tail of a Roland and fired 200 rounds into it, but the Roland due to superior speed managed to draw away, Harry Goode then followed the Roland, who was thought to have decreased speed enabling Goode to close and fire two burst of 100 rounds, which finally accounted for the aircraft.

Towards the end of July William wrote again to Clarence, he was not feeling well again in the air and thought he might have to go at the end of the month (August). He was expecting to be moved to 28 squadron as a flight commander, he and Peter Carpenter attended a dinner given by 28 squadron on 25 July, where the guest of honour was Colonel Joubert de la Ferté, the commanding officer of 14 Wing. William was looking forward to meeting up again with Stanley Stanger his "great pal". Five days later in another letter to Clarence he was again hoping to be posted back to England and that they would try get to the same aerodrome as instructors. He notes that he has been recommended for the D.F.C by wing and that he is not supposed to know about it. He went on to say that "decorations are very nice for sure, but I don't believe in taking foolish chances to get them. I have just gone along, and done my work, and with a little luck have done pretty well".

28 Squadron

William was then posted to 28 squadron as a flight commander, and he took part in combats on 11 & 12 of August both times with Lt Mc Ewen. They encountered four Albatross DV's over the Piave. McEwen shot down one William was unable to catch the other enemy aircraft due to engine problems. The next day they observed one D111 and seven unidentified enemy aircraft, they attacked and singled out a D111, William manoeuvred on to his tail and fired 50 rounds when over Cessalto, the enemy aircraft stalled and another burst of 50 rounds into the enemy aircraft, saw the aircraft start to break up into pieces at 14000 ft.

On 13 August William was posted to 45 squadron as a replacement for Alan Rice-Oxley who commanded C flight, sadly two days later whilst practicing night flying in Sopwith Camel D8238/W William crashed after colliding with a tree and crashing onto his home aerodrome of Grossa. He died from a fractured skull ten days later on the 26 August 1918, and is buried in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Montecchio. A letter from the Air Ministry dated 1 September 1918 to Clarence, who by now was residing at the Waldorf Hotel, whilst on home establishment confirmed the cause of death. The Prince of Wales, whilst visiting Canada presented Josephine Hilborn with her son's D.F.C. at a special ceremony in Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C. during 1919.

"This biography could not have been written without the help of Bill Hilborn's niece Margaret Sawyer, who was so kind in loaning me with out question the family papers on which this short piece is based. The photographs are the © copyright of Mrs Margaret Sawyer.

Updated 16/01/2014

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