Feb. 16th, 1943
Do you remember I wrote to you sometime ago and told you about Betty's fiance, how he was reported missing early in Dec. and since then she has heard nothing about him? Yesterday I opened the paper and there - staring me in the face, was the announcement that P/O WC. Hillier had given his life in order that the crew of his damaged machine might have a chance to jump and save their own lives. His machine was hit and severely damaged. It was set on fire and began to lose height very rapidly. Hillier struggled with the controls trying to keep the ‘Halifax' on an even keel and at the same time, ordered his crew to jump. Four of them jumped successfully but the fifth was trapped by the flames and trying to free himself. Hillier stuck to the controls although he must have known that his own chance of escape became slimmer as each precious second slipped away and the ground of Germany came closer and closer. At last the Navigator freed himself and jumped. He was the last one to see Billy alive. The plane which had been his instrument of freedom, became his funeral pyre as it crashed into a hillside and trapped him inside. "Greater love hath no man than that he should give up his life for another" and Billy nobly lived up to traditions of British manhood. May God rest his noble soul. As long as such men as he live and die for England, who dares think that they can conquer her? I have written to Betty and tried to comfort her as best I could, but it is such a hopeless job trying to express comfort on paper when you know deep down inside that it is all such a hollow mockery and that Betty would gladly trade all the honour and glory now heaped upon his name, for just the sound of his quiet laugh again. But so it has always been and I suppose it always will be. Man (in his blindness) must fight and women must grieve. But Betty has proved that she too is of the bulldog-breed for she has joined the WAAF.'s. Of such blood and courage are the women of England made and if they can do so much, how much more should we - who are men, do to repay them their sacrifice?
I am going on four days leave tomorrow. I'm going down to Bath to see Mary and then probably on to London. There is still no news of when I am coming home. I'm very disappointed to say the least.
I got a letter from a girl with whom I have been corresponding for over two years, saying that she has managed to get in - too with Stanley at Camp Shilo, and that the very day on which she wrote the letter, he was coming to the house for the first time. She said they had a roast chicken in the oven for him as soon as he arrived. What a thing to tell me who hasn't seen a roast chicken in so long! Ruth is a very nice girl from her letters and I am sure Stan would like her. She would probably be a very good companion for him for I know how hard it is to get to know nice girls.
Well, I guess there is not much more I can say this time. The weather is still abominable but I am beginning to get used to it. It no longer has the power to make me glum.
Love to all as always,
Lancs. man's prison camp letter says,
"I owe my life to my pilot"
"I owe my life to my pilot" states Sergt. JE. Theckston, wireless operator in a ‘Halifax' which failed to return from an attack in South-West Germany in December, writing to his home in Bag-lane, Atherton, Lancashire from a German prison camp.
"He gave his life for me," Sergeant Theckston says in a letter to his parents, "and if possible I'd like you to let them know at the station and also his people".
"Our plane was on fire and I was trapped. He held on and kept her flying while I freed myself and jumped out, although he must have known at the time that it was his only chance to get out".
"His name is Pilot-Officer Hillier. I shall never forget a man like that".
Pilot/Offficer WC. Hillier was 24. It is known that other members of his crew are prisoners of war, but there is no news of Hillier. Sergeant Thecston is 20 years of age, an old pupil of Leigh Grammer School and before joining up, was a clerk at Gibfield Colliery, Atherton.