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Brave Australian pilot returned to burning aircraft to steer it away from Kent village

William Henry Millington was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 11th August 1917 but was taken to Australia as a small child. The family settled at Edwardstown, South Australia.

He returned to England as a candidate for an RAF short service commission in June 1939. After completing his flying training Millington arrived at 6 OTU Sutton Bridge on 1st June 1940. After converting to Hurricanes, he was posted to 79 Squadron at Biggin Hill on the 17th June. Millington claimed a number of kills in July and August. These included:-

  • Me109 destroyed on 9th July

  • three He111s destroyed on 15th August

  • an He111 destroyed, another probably destroyed and a Me110 damaged on the 30th August

  • and a Do17 and two Me109s destroyed and another damaged on the 31st.

On this day his Hurricane, P3050, was set alight in combat with Me109s over Romney and his combat experience recalled in 'The Battle of Britain - Then and Now".

"On 31 August, came his closest brush with death. Streaking after a Dornier which had scattered its load across the face of the aerodrome, Millington was bounced near the coast by two Me109s of 6/JG3. Evading the attention of one, he fired along burst into the other sending it burning and slithering across the gun ranges at Lydd. Facinated, he watched the enemy pilot drag himself from the burning machine and, in that few seconds of distraction, felt the bullet strikes from the second Me109 thudding into his engine and radiator. With unbelievable swiftness, the tiny flicker of flame behind the instrument panel became all consuming tongues of fire roaring into the cockpit. Choking in the dense black smoke, he heaved the hood open, thrusting himself up and out of the cockpit. Clear of the blinding smoke, he saw below his wallowing Hurricane the houses of a Kentish village. In an action typical of the man, the young Australian settled himself back in the cockpit and brought the blazing aircraft down to a forced landing in open fields near Congleton Farm. With a bad thigh wound and severe burns, he succeeded in dragging himself clear seconds before the fighter exploded." ('The Battle of Britain - Then and Now', ed. Wilfred Ramsey, p811)

He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 1st October 1940).

Millington was posted to 249 Squadron at North Weald on 19th September 1940 from where he claimed further kills:-

  • a Ju88 destroyed and another shared on the 27th September

  • probable Me109s on 7th and 25th October

  • a shared Ju88 and a Do17 damaged on the 28th October

  • and another probable Me109 on the 29th.

Millington was in combat with enemy fighters over the Channel on 30th October, the last day of the Battle of Britain, in Hurricane I V7536. He was last seen chasing three Me109s towards France but he failed to return.

He was 23 and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 9

Bill Millington and 'Pipsqueak', 249 Squadron's mascot (above and below).

Photos and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website

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