Brigadier Stanley James Ledger Hill, M.C. DSO x 3
Service Number 52648
Born: March 14th 1911 at Bath
Educated: Marlborough School
Stanley James Ledger Hill was born in Bath on the 14th of March 1911. He attended Marlborough College where he headed the Officer Training Corps. He was the son of Major-General Walter Hill.
James “Speedy” Hill joined the Army in 1930 and attended the Military Academy at Sandhurst where he excelled in all aspects of Military life. He was an outstanding athlete, and became the Captain of the athletics team there, and due primarily to his great strides when running was duly nicknamed “Speedy”. He became a Sword of Honour recipient whilst at Sandhurst.
Commissioned into the 2nd Battalion The Royal Fusiliers where he continued his sporting prowess by running both the Athletics and Boxing teams. He was an active man who soon became disillusioned with the quiet mundane Military life of pre war England.
James Hill resigned his commission in early 1936 and worked for his families Ferry Company for three years, he stated he left the Army to get married, which he duly did in 1937 first, to Denys Gunter-Jones, with whom he had one daughter, and then latterly Joan Haywood.
OUTBREAK OF WAR
In 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War James Hill re enlisted into his old Regiment and left for France as a Captain in the 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, advance Party.
He led his platoon on the Maginot Line for two months before being posted to Army Headquarters as a staff captain.
In May 1940, James Hill was a member of Field Marshal Viscount Gort's command post, playing a leading part in the civilian evacuation of Brussels and La Panne beach during the final phase of the withdrawal. He returned to Dover in the last destroyer to leave Dunkirk, and was awarded an MC for his actions on the beachhead as rear guard.
Following promotion to Major in 1940, he was posted to Northern Ireland. He was dispatched to Dublin to plan the evacuation of British nationals in the event of enemy landings in Southern Ireland, something that he had proven experience of carrying out effectively, following Dunkirk.
JOINED PARACHUTE REGIMENT
On the 15th of August, 1941, James Hill was one of the very first officers to join the newly formed Parachute Regiment, and in early 1942 took command of the 1st Battalion.
The Battalion's first operation was a parachute assault into Souk El Arba a small town, deep behind German lines in Tunisia. He had received orders to secure the area around the town which was flat so it could be used as an intended airstrip. Whilst there, he was commanded to take the remainder of his Battalion, 40 miles north east of the town to capture a vital rail link at Beja. This objective was to influence the French Garrison there that they should join the Allied cause. Hill carried out a strange tactic here to make the French change their minds and believe that Hill, had indeed a great Force under his command. He first made the Battalion don helmets and march through the main street, and then quickly out of sight, made them change into berets and do it again, influencing the French command structure of far greater Para numbers, and a side worth fighting alongside.
The Germans quickly got wind of the fact that there was a great Parachute Regiment Force at Beja, and responded by bombing the town. In response, Hill had learnt from a small reconnaissance party that the Germans and Italians had taken up residence in a small town called Gue further north of his location. Hill struck fast and furious in a legendary night attack, which was marred at the start by a serious accident. A grenade in a Royal Engineer's sack full of grenades went off prematurely, setting of the remainder, and ruining the surprise.
This killed and wounded many of the soldiers in the immediate area. The explosions alerted the German/Italian force who, manned their tanks and gun positions quickly in response.
Hill lead two companies on a frontal assault and whilst doing so decided to personally take out a number of tanks in line, still parked, but their crews still frantically taking up position within them. He took out his service pistol and thrust it through the open port hole and fired a single shot of the first tank, the Italian crew inside immediately surrendered. He then went to the second tank and tapped on the closed turret with the same result….immediate surrender.
Thinking he was on a roll, he approached the third tank expecting surrender, only to be faced with a German tank crew who emerged firing their personal weapons and throwing grenades. Hill dispensed with the crew fairly quickly, but before doing so received three gunshot wounds to the chest.
For this action he received his fist DSO Distinguished Service Order, his citation reads:
For inspiring leadership and undaunted courage. This officer who led his Battalion after a flight of some 400 miles, and a parachute drop, displayed on every occasion conspicuous gallantry under heavy enemy fire. Leading his Battalion in raids against enemy A.F.V's he personally destroyed at least two and was mainly responsible for the successful results achieved. In a raid on an enemy post he led his Battalion forward under heavy machine gun fire and by his utter disregard of personal danger, and by his brilliant handling, was successful in entirely destroying the post and capturing a number of prisoners. This leadership and courage was an inspiration not only to his own troops but also to the French who recognised his gallantry by the award of the Legion d'honneur. On one occasion although severely wounded he continued to command his battalion until the successful completion of the operation.
He was rushed back to the Battalion Regimental Aid Post at Beja, where a Captain Robb of the 16th Parachute Field Ambulance operated on him and saved his life. He was evacuated to Algiers and then toEngland soon after.
The citation for Hill's first DSO paid tribute to the brilliant handling of his force and his complete disregard of personal danger in this attack at Gue in Tunisia. The French who witnessed at first hand the bravery of this young fit officer, James Hill recognised his gallantry, by presenting him with the Légion d'Honneur.
ENGLAND AND RECOVERY
Whilst in hospital in England, Hill was told that he must rest and not carryout any exercise whilst his chest wounds recovered, but being the man that he had always been, an active athlete, he often exercised at night in the grounds of the hospital, having crept out of the ward window. It took him 2 months to recognise his fitness had returned and in December was discharged.
PARACHUTE REGIMENT CONVERSION
In December 1942 he was responsible for converting the 10th Battalion The Essex Regiment, into the 9th Parachute Battalion. In April 1943, Hill took command of the 3rd Parachute Brigade made up of the 8th and 9th Parachute Battalions and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, which he later commanded on D-DAY as part of the 6th Airborne Division.
Hill was given overall command of the Merville Battery operation that our other Famous Face Lt Col Otway lead so gallantly. Hill was also responsible for ensuring that a number of bridges were blown over the River Dives to prevent the Germans from bringing in reinforcements once the landings had commenced. Whilst briefing his officers for these attacks, his famous quote was "Gentlemen, in spite of your excellent training and orders, do not be daunted if chaos reigns. It undoubtedly will." And how right he was, especially with the poor deployment of both the Parachute drop and the Glider landings. Many of the beacons for the drop zones laid by the Pathfinders had been lost, so the intended DZ and LZ were either poorly lit or not lit at all, and a great number of the aircraft used on the assault had been hit or experienced technical faults.
BOMBED ACCIDENTLY BY ALLIED AIRCRAFT
Hill landed in the River Dives near Cabourg, some three miles from the DZ. It took him several hours to reach dry land, with its criss-crossed terrain with deep irrigation ditches in which some of his men, weighed down by equipment, drowned.
He did not trust the radios, and decided to keep in touch with the battles and his areas of responsibility by riding around on a motorcycle often halting at key points such as crossroads, and personally directing his advancing men.
At Sallenelles, Hill and a group of men of the 9th Parachute Battalion were accidentally bombed by Allied aircraft; 17 of his men were killed. Hill was injured but, after giving morphia to the wounded, he reported to his divisional commander, who confirmed that the battery at Merville had been captured after a ferocious fight, and that Hill's brigade had achieved all its objectives. Hill underwent surgery that afternoon, but refused to be evacuated and set up his headquarters at La Mesnil.
Under his leadership, three weak parachute battalions held the key strategic ridge from Chateau St Côme to the outskirts of Troarn against repeated attacks from the German 346th Division.
COMMAND OF THE BLACK WATCH AND A SECOND DSO
On June 10, 1944 Hill was given command of the 5th Battalion, Black Watch. Two days later, when the 9th Parachute Battalion called for urgent reinforcements, Hill led a company of Canadian parachutists in a daring counter-attack. The 12th Parachute Battalion, took Bréville, the pivotal position from which the German 346th Division launched their attacks on the ridge. Hill said afterwards that the enemy had sustained considerable losses of men and equipment and a great defensive victory had been won. He was awarded a Bar to his DSO.
RETURN TO ENGLAND
In September 1944, the 3rd Parachute Brigade returned to England, but three months later it was back on the front line, covering the crossings of the River Meuse. In the difficult conditions of the Ardennes and in organising offensive patrolling across the River Maas, Hill's enthusiasm was a constant inspiration to his men.
In March 1945 Hill commanded the brigade in Operation Varsity, the battle of the Rhine Crossing, before pushing on to Wismar on the Baltic, arriving on May the 2nd just hours before the Russians.
He was wounded in action three times. He was awarded a second Bar to his DSO, and the American Silver Star. Hill was appointed military governor of Copenhagen in May 1945, and was awarded the King Haakon VII Liberty Cross for his services. He commanded and demobilised the 1st Parachute Brigade before retiring from the Army in July in the rank of Brigadier.
THE PARACHUTE REGIMENT ASSOCIATION
He was closely involved in the formation of the Parachute Regiment Association and what it stands for today, helping thoses members and families in desperate need. In 1947 he raised and commanded the 4th Parachute Brigade (TA).
He was for many years a trustee of the Airborne Forces Security Fund and a member of the Regimental council of The Parachute Regiment.
In 1948, Hill joined the Board of Associated Coal & Wharf Companies and was President of the Powell Duffryn Group of companies in Canada from 1952 to 1958.
He was Managing Director and Chairman of Cory Brothers from 1958 to 1970.
In 1961, Hill became a Director of Powell Duffryn and was Vice-Chairman of the company from 1970 to 1976.
He was also a Director of Lloyds Bank from 1972 to 1979.
BRONZE STATUE - NORMANDY LANDINGS
In June 2004, he attended the 60th Anniversary of the Normandy landings, where a life-sized bronze statue of him with his thumbstick, was sited at Le Mesnil crossroads, the central point of the 3rd Parachute Brigade's defensive position on D-Day. He had the honour of his statue being unveiled by the H.R.H Prince of Wales, Colonel-in-Chief of The Parachute Regiment.
He spent his latter years living in Chichester, where he continued his passion of his lifelong hobby of birdwatching.
Brigadier James “Speedy” Hill, Military Cross, Legion d'Honneur, 3 x DSO's, American Silver Star, King Haakon VII Liberty Cross, passed away peacefully on Thursday 16 March 2006 aged 95 years.
This man was a founding father of the Airborne Forces which we enjoy today and are rightly proud. He worked tirelessly for the Parachute Regiment Association, and served on many other committees to ensure that ex members of our fine Regiment and other Airborne Forces received respite care and other much needed help in their hour of need.
A true leader of men……………….. UTRINQUE PARATUS
With the greatest respect and esteem…….REST IN PEACE
Written and Compiled by Gil Boyd B.E.M 3rd