The newest member of staff at the national memorial to the men who fought in the Battle of Britain has a unique link with the airmen who took part. David Hillier’s great uncle was night fighter ace Geoffrey Howitt, who flew Hurricanes with 245 and 615 Squadrons in the Battle of Britain and went on to be awarded the DFC and Bar during an outstanding wartime career.
“I only met Geoffrey, who was married to my mother’s aunt Patricia, as a young boy, but my mother told me lots about him and it sparked an interest in the Battle of Britain and the men who fought it that has stuck with me ever since,” said David.
Geoffrey Howitt became an RAF reservist in September 1936 and was called up at the start of September 1939, joining 245 Squadron in November before moving to 615 Squadron in October 1940.
Later in the war, flying with 85 Squadron, he established himself as a successful night fighter pilot under Peter Townsend and John ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham – gaining the unit’s first ‘kill’ in Havocs in April 1941 and later shooting down the first Messerschmitt Me 410 Hornet to be downed over England.
Howitt took command of 125 Squadron at Coltishall in December 1944 and led the unit until he was released from the RAF on October 6, 1945 as a wing commander, having flown around 300 operational sorties in an impressive career.
The recommendation for his DFC, awarded at the end of September 1941 described Howitt as “a relentless and skilful night fighter pilot” and added that he had set “a splendid example of keenness and devotion to duty”. He was awarded a bar to the DFC in October 1943.
After the war Geoffrey Howitt enjoyed a similar reputation for his work with the Air Registration Board, flying aircraft including Viscounts, Tudors and Comets. From 1949 until 1965 he did test flying from Shoreham, receiving a Queen’s Commendation in 1958 for his work as a test pilot. He is said to have flown more than 300 different types during his flying career. Sadly, he died in May 2001.
A retired police officer, David now works full time at the Battle of Britain Memorial in Capel-le-Ferne, just outside Folkestone in Kent, after helping out as one of the army of volunteers at the site for the past 12 months.
“I am very proud to have a personal connection with one of the Few and I love working here at the Memorial and helping visitors to understand a bit more about what made the aircrew who defended this island in 1940 so special,” he explained.