Flt. Lt. William Devaux Woodruff Hilton (RCAF) – Berwickshire.

In the graveyard at Duns, in Berwickshire, not far from the village and former airfield RAF Charterhall (Trail 41), are two graves of nationals a long way from home.

Both airmen died in service whilst flying from RAF Charterhall, an Operational Training Unit airfield that prepared night fighter crews before posting to relevant night fighter squadrons.

The first grave is that of Flt. Lt. William Devaux Woodruff Hilton (RCAF)  who died on 23rd July 1942.

Flt. Lt. Hilton (Duns Cemetery)

Flt. Lt. William Devaux Woodruff Hilton

Flt. Lt. William Hilton (s/n: C/1626) was born on May 17th 1916, to D’Arcy Hilton (himself an ex pilot of the US Army Flying Corps in the First World War) and Gladys Woodruff, in Chicago, Illinois. He signed up for a flying career joining the RCAF as the United States were not at that time at war and therefore he was unable to train with the US forces.

Flt. Lt. Hilton reached the rank of Pilot Officer on 29th January 1940 after completing further training at RAF Twinwood Farm in Bedfordshire and RAF Acklington in Northumberland. On completion of this training, he was posted to RAF Charterhall and 54 Operational Training Unit (OTU), where he would fly Beaufighters.

The summer of 1942 suffered from poor weather, so poor in fact, that there were many restrictions on flying time, July only having 2,104 hours in total. This bad weather was to be responsible for many flying accidents and deaths that year, of which Flt. Lt. Hilton would be one.

On July 23rd 1942, he was tasked with flying a model new to him, the Bristol Beaufighter, and was taken by an instructor on several circuits to better acquaint himself with the various controls and idiosyncrasies of the aircraft. After several successful landings and take offs, the instructor passed Flt. Lt. Hilton to fly solo, and handed the controls of  Beaufighter #R2440 over to him. His instruction to Hilton was to stay within the circuit of the airfield, sound advice as one of Scotland’s summer storms was rapidly approaching.

Hilton duly carried out the order and took off to perform various solo flight tasks. An experienced pilot, Flt. Lt. Hilton found no problem landing or taking off himself and completed one full circuit before things went wrong.

On the second  circuit of the airfield, Flt. Lt. Hilton somehow got lost, whether through an aircraft malfunction or pilot error, it is not known, but after entering bad weather, the aircraft was instructed to climb to a safe height which it failed to do. Moments later, the Beaufighter was heard circling over the nearby town of Duns before ploughing into low-lying ground, one mile south-east of the town. At the time of the accident the aircraft’s undercarriage was in the down position. The crash killed Flt. Lt. Hilton instantly, the aircraft being torn apart by hedges and the subsequent slide along the ground. A board of enquiry was set up and investigations carried out, but no blame was apportioned to Hilton and the case was closed.

Flt. Lt. Hilton, an experienced pilot, somehow got into trouble, and that combined with the bad weather he was in, resulted in the loss of his life at the young age of just 26. To this day the cause of the crash is not known and Flt. Lt. Hilton remains buried in Scotland not far from the crash site, he is however, many thousand miles from home.

Flt. Lt. Hilton is buried in Duns graveyard in Sec. R. Grave 2.

The second airman’s grave in the graveyard at Duns, is that of Sgt. Thomas Alan Rutherford s/n 406626 (RAAF) who died on 14th August 1942, age just 20.

Sgt. Rutherford (Duns Cemetery)

Sgt. Thomas Rutherford

Sgt. Thomas Rutherford, born to Stamford Roy Rutherford and Laura May Rutherford, of Cottesloe, Western Australia, came from an aviation family, his father Stamford Rutherford RAAF (296635) and older brother Sgt Bernard Rinian Roy Rutherford RAAF (406540), were also serving Air Force members. As with many families who had siblings serving in the forces at this time, Sgt. Rutherford’s brother was also killed in an air accident, earlier that same year.

Sgt. Rutherford was born 3rd August 1922 at Brampton, England but enlisted in Perth Western Australia, on 3rd February 1941.

After completing his training, he also transferred to 54 OTU at RAF Charterhall in the Scottish borders.

August 1942 was, like July before it, a particularly bad month weather wise, which saw only 1,538 hours of flying carried out by 54 OTU. Only a small portion of these, just short of 400, were by night, the remainder being daylight flights. As a night fighter training station, this would be difficult for trainers and trainees alike, but undeterred they flew as many sorties as they could.

On August 14th, Sgt. Thomas Rutherford climbed aboard Blenheim Mk. V #BA192 along with is observer Sgt. James Clifford Kidd (s/n: 1417331). They dutifully carried out their pre-flight checks and lined the aircraft up ready for take off from one of Charterhall’s runways. After lifting off the Blenheim struck a tree causing it to crash. Both Sgt. Rutherford and Sgt. Kidd were killed instantly in the accident.

It is not known what caused the aircraft to strike the tree, whether it be pilot error or aircraft malfunction, but it was an accident that resulted in the loss of two young men far too early in their lives.

Sgt Rutherford is buried at Sec. R. Grave 3 next to Flt. Lt. Hilton.

Further reading.

McMaster University Alumni has further details of Flt/ Lt. Hilton’s life and career.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

National Archives of Australia website

13 thoughts on “Flt. Lt. William Devaux Woodruff Hilton (RCAF) – Berwickshire.

  1. So sad to read when lives were lost whilst training, somehow seems far worse than in action. Not sure why. Our middle son is a primary school teacher and went back this week with majority of pupils coming back next Tuesday. He’s just focused on looking after them and keeping them safe whilst putting parents minds at ease. A couple of teachers didn’t want to return so have been allowed to stay off but obviously makes it tougher for the rest. Hard decision isn’t it?

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is a difficult one Jonno. The head and I have spent hours going over timetables, whose where and when, distancing etc etc. It’s been a nightmare and frankly I personally don’t see the benefit they will get once back. You either say blow the social distancing, with its own implications, or keep well apart, how will young children cope with that? I’ve been in a day or two every week since lockdown began, and with just one or two children it’s been impossible to fully maintain.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A tragic waste of young lives. But the air, even more so than the sea, can be very unforgiving sometimes. I know how easy it can be to become disorientated in the circuit. Happened to me many years ago in a Glider, and that was on a summer’s day with only partial cloud. Good job my instructor knew where we were! VERY salutary lesson, that one was!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always thought that these lone graves, whose occupants are such a long way from home, should be subject to exhumations and the remains taken home, at the expense of the country where they are buried. That might conceivably stop these two stories from being so unbelievably sad.
    By the way, I don’t know what age group, you teach, but if you’re not happy about it, then don’t go back into school on June 1st, or whenever. I think it’s plain dangerous, and there’s no way I would have done it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you John, I think there is something to be said about exhuming these people. They are a long way from home and so from family who would, no doubt, love to be able to pay their respects. It’s one for debate. As for school (I teach yr 5/6!) I do have concerns, we are lucky we are only small and have very few numbers willing to return (about 10 so far). We surveyed parents and the overwhelming majority said ‘no’ to returning, even parents are concerned. Problem is as it’s ‘directed’ by the authority, we may be seen in breach of contract if we don’t! A difficult one indeed.


      • You might be “seen” in breach of contract, but I think Elf N Safety comes first above everything! I’ pretty certain that I read somewhere that nobody can be compelled to go back early if they don’t feel safe. Knowing how “toxic” kids can be, (that’s NOT a slur, it’s a FACT!) I wouldn’t blame you for staying off.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I dare say in these circumstances no one in their right mind would pursue such actions against a member of staff, the unions would take them to town. We shall see what develops over the next week!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Flt. Lt. William Devaux Woodruff Hilton (RCAF) – Berwickshire. — Aviation Trails – Lest We Forget II

  5. I have looked at Hilton’s record of service file. No photo of himself.
    In Canada he was also a flight instructor before being posted overseas.

    Liked by 1 person

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