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The following four-page letter was written by
former 3 Squadron Commanding Officer and desert ace,
Al Rawlinson DFC,
to the father of Geoff Hiller, who died of wounds in a German field hospital in Libya on 2 December 1941.
MILDURA, VIC. 16 JUNE 1942. FIVE RAAF PILOTS WHO WON THE DFC.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: SQUADRON LEADER KEITH "BLUEY" TRUSCOTT OF NO. 452 SQUADRON, SQUADRON LEADER P. JEFFREY OF NO. 3 SQUADRON,
[CENTRE] FLIGHT LIEUTENANT A. C. RAWLINSON OF NO. 3 SQUADRON, SQUADRON LEADER F. FISCHER OF NO. 3 SQUADRON, AND FLIGHT LIEUTENANT C. W. WAWN OF NO. 452 SQUADRON.
TRUSCOTT AND WAWN WERE UNDERGOING A CONVERSION COURSE TO KITTYHAWK AIRCRAFT AT NO. 2 (FIGHTER) OPERATIONAL TRAINING UNIT,
RAAF STATION MILDURA, AFTER THEIR RETURN FROM THE UK WHERE THEY WERE FLYING SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE AIRCRAFT.
"Officers' Mess, Royal Australian Air Force, Mildura, 29-7-42.
Dear Mr. Hiller, I have just received your 2nd letter dated 24th January which had been returned from the M.E. [Middle East]. Geoff had taken part in many ground straffing jobs in Syria as well as destroying one plane in the air - a French Dewontine fighter if I remember rightly. When we returned to the desert he was engaged on Fighter patrols over the Frontier (Sollum-Capruzzo Madelena area generally); over shipping going into Tobruk and sweeps between Tobruk & the Frontier." [Historic Photos courtesy Paul Oaten.]
ROSH PINNA, NORTHERN PALESTINE. C. 1941-06.
PILOTS OF NO. 3 SQUADRON RAAF DURING THE SYRIAN CAMPAIGN.
A TOMAHAWK AIRCRAFT IS IN THE BACKGROUND.
Left to right: Sergeant Rex WILSON (later Killed in Action on 2nd December 1941); Sgt Dudley PARKER (KIA 12Oct41);
Sgt Derek SCOTT (Prisoner of War 14Dec41); Sgt Geoff HILLER, (Died as POW, 2Dec41);
Flying Officer Bill KLOSTER (POW 22Nov41); FO Peter TURNBULL (KIA, Milne Bay Papua, 27Aug42);
Flight Lieutenant Jock PERRIN; SQNLDR Peter JEFFREY;
Standing behind: Sgt “Tiny" CAMERON; (POW 11Jan42);
FLT LT Alan C. RAWLINSON;
Standing behind: SQNLDR ‘Doc’ Laver (Medical Officer);
FO John Saunders (KIA 22Nov41); FO Wally Jewell; FLT LT Lin Knowles (KIA 22Nov41); FO Tommy Trimble.
The parachute silk salvaged from the Vichy-French Dewontine 520 fighter shot down by Geoff Hiller on 10 July 1941.
"2. When the push started (18th November) we were engaged on Fighter Sweeps over the battle area. (Anywhere between Bardia - Sidi Omar and as far as Tobruk - Bir el Gobi, i.e. embracing Sidi Rezegh - Gambut and such God-forsaken places.) Geoff participated in most of these jobs& was thoroughly reliable. As far as I can remember he had a further two Messerschmitt 109F (Fighters) to his credit - one of these I am certain. I was leading the Squadron the day he was shot down. We were approaching Tobruk from the S.E. When we were between Sidi Rezegh and Tobruk about 6 ME109Fs came down from above, took a swift pass at the formation & disappeared into heavy clouds. Geoff's aircraft happened to be the target."
"3. His aircraft immediately burst into flames & Geoff baled out at the same time. "Tiny" Cameron (POW now) who was next to Geoff, says he has never seen anything so quick as the way Geoff got away from the aircraft. Tiny then proceeded to fly around Geoff to protect him on the way down. This he did successfully although he was attacked himself at one stage. Geoff waved his arm at Tiny as a signal of being OK & Tiny flew away as Geoff was settling on the ground. S/L Horgan [Squadron Leader Thomas Michael HORGAN, RAF] was in the next bed to Geoff at the German Field Hospital where he says the treatment was excellent - we found that the Hun treated our Prisoners and wounded extremely well. As a matter of fact the Huns saved a lot of lives - the Italians (when on top) were all for killing our prisoners and generally acted like pigs - not so the Hun. This probably surprises you - it did us to start with."
Haptm. Wolfgang Redlich, commander of 1/JG27, standing in the cockpit of "White 1", his personal Bf109F-4/Trop.
Redlich claimed a Tomahawk at the exact time that Geoff Hiller was shot down. [Photo: "JG27 Miniatury Lotnicze".]
"4. The report from S/L Horgan to me was that Geoff was burnt about the head. Apparently from an exploding petrol tank. Please do not think me callous for writing of Geoff so bluntly but I do want to explain that he was not shot during the parachute descent. This was a habit of the Germans - that is why Tiny protected him on the way down. With all sincerity I can say that we all missed Geoff very much. Our losses at that stage were extremely heavy and the loss of [such] seasoned & trusted pilots as Geoff left a large gap in the Squadron. The photo is of Sgt. Frank Reid who joined us at the same time as Geoff - Geoff has no doubt mentioned him in letters home. He was killed last January during a fight with our old headache 109Fs!! Thank you very much for your regards to the Squadron - a fine bunch of men. Yours sincerely, Alan Rawlinson."
A portrait of Geoff Hiller (centre, front) at Pyrmont Wharf, Sydney, on the 3rd of February 1941, before being ferried to the troopship Aquitania.
Geoff's two brothers also served in the Air Force. His brother John had been killed in a flying accident near Singapore, with No.100 Squadron RAF, just two months before Geoff's death.
A sad toll for the one family.
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