Thomas Tristram HILL
Known to all as 'Tris'

Serial Number: NZ4216049
RNZAF Trade: Pilot
Date of Enlistment: 1942
Date of Demob: 194
Rank Achieved: Flying Officer
Flying Hours:
Operational Sorties:

Date of Birth: 2nd of May 1923, at Horahora, near Cambridge
Personal Details: Known to all as Tristram, or Tris, he was the son of Tom LaTrobe Hill from Horahora, Cambridge. Tris's father owned a Chemists shop in Cambridge, and had served in the First World War, and during WWII was a member of the Horahora Platoon of the Cambridge Home Guard.

Tris was educated at Horahora School, and then Hamilton Technical School. He recalled, "We used to bike there from Horahora Monday mornings and return Saturday afternoons. Everybody did in those days." When asked how long it took to cycle that distance, Tris replied, "I could be in town virtually and beat the Hamilton bus, the bus through from Cambridge to Hamilton.” This shows how poor the bus service must have been in the 1930's on the old gravel road between Cambridge and Hamilton.

Tris recallled, “I was taking agriculture at Hamilton Tech when the war broke out. That was 1939. So I had to do another couple of years there instead.”

Service Details: Tris initially joined the 4th Waikato Regiment, New Zealand Army, in 1941. "I went into the Army first. Mainly because there was a very close friend in the Air Force who died in the Middle East, so my mother thought that I should have an extra year, so I went into the 4th Waikatos. That was 1941. For just a year."

Initially he was based at Hopuhopu Camp, at Ngaruawahia, however he says,"From there I went north. We got up one morning at Ngaruawahia at four o'clock, and from there we went to Whangarei, in a Bren carrier. We were only 18 at that stage. So we went under the trees at Maramarua, and didn't come out for about a week!"

It was from Maramarua that Tris was accepted to transfer to the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1942. At this time with the Japanese looking likely to invade, around 2000 soldiers transferred to the RNZAF where they could be better put to work defending New Zealand from imminent attack. Tris was posted to the RNZAF's most northern operational station at RNZAF Waipapakauri, home of No. 7 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron, but initially he didn't have much to do with the aeroplanes despite having been selected for pilot training:

He says, "And then I transferred to the Air Force at Waipapakauri, and sat out on 90 Mile Beach, because we'd learned how to handle the rifles, with instructions that when the Japanese landed we were to radio Waipapakauri immediately, and defend ourselves to the best of our ability with five rounds of ammunition each!"

Following his time defending Northland, then a stint at Whenuapai (again on an Aerodrome Defence Unit) Tris completed his Initial Training Wing course at RNZAF Station Rotorua.

Tris was then posted south to begin his flying training course at RNZAF Station Taieri, Dunedin. There, with No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School, he learned to fly in de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moths.

He then embarked on the SS Uruguay on the 19th of November 1943, sailing to Canada. His destination was No. 15 SFTS at Claresholm, which was 40km southwest of Nanton in Alberta. Here he was flying Avro Anson light bombers. He trained on Course No. 94B and graduated as a Pilot on the 7th of April 1944.    

On the way to England from Canada the troopship Tris was on got quite a scare. He recalled, "North of Iceland we were amongst a U-boat pack. That was the day I forgot I was turning 21, so I never had it. We got into England several days later and then I realised. Dates didn't mean a thing when you got only one meal a day. There were so many onboard."

Once in England and attached to the RAF, Tris recalled, "I was on Transport Command for a while. At RAF Lineham in Wiltshire when I was on transports out to India."

Although in June 1944 he had an altogether different role and quite a novel experience, "That was a pleasant, one of those things, we volunteered to drive a train for D Day, because they were short of drivers.They had plenty of stokers. So if we could stand on the hob that opened the doors and grab a shovel full of coal when the pressure dropped, and throw it in, you became a stoker. Well, you could. Everything was north at those stage, you couldn't bring everything down south because it was a dead give-away. We had enough explosive to blow London off the map dragging along behind you! So we saw a lot of the country that way." When asked how many trips he made on the train, he answered, "Ooh, it might have been half a dozen."

He mentioned another of his more interesting experiences, "Well they were all good really, because you were in close proximity with people. Well there were some silly things that you did, like climb onboard an Albermarle tug over Arnhem! But you can't talk about that because it was illegal to do that!" This was a glider tug aircraft that was taking glider troops into the Arnhem landings for Operation Market Garden.

"Oh there's plenty of stories. I've got a fuel cap off a V1 that went past my ear. There was plenty of that down south!"

"And then at the end I got a transfer to fighters. That was probably the big thrill, getting into an advanced flying unit, where you followed behind some of the best, because they gave us one chance in ten I think of surviving the Japanese, unless you knew how to fly. That was up in Wales. That was the way you flew No. 2 to the best they could muster. That was mainly a Canadian group. We were going to join up with – I think it was – No. 501 Squadron with Tempests, We were all set to fly straight out to Japan. But they dropped the bomb, thank goodness.

Was he relieved when the atomic bombs brought the war to an end? "Oh yes, that's right, it was a relief to everybody, because it was a no-win situation for everybody out there."

Died: 26th of September 2005, at Rotorua, aged 82

Connection with Cambridge: Tristram Hill was born just outside of Cambridge at Horahora and he lived there till joining the RNZAF

Thanks To: The late Tris Hill for his memories, and the late Ivan Lindsey for details of Tris's Canadian flying course


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