World War II fighter pilot shares his stories

Jack Henry Hilton was only 19 when he joined the military to fight in the Second World War.

Now 99, the St. Teresa Place resident says there are battles worth fighting.

“When there are injustices in the world, you have to do something about it. Sitting back won’t do any good.”

Jack with his Hawker Typhoon fighter plane.

As a Typhoon fighter pilot, Jack did more than 100 operational flights across Europe, including D-Day. Every time he climbed into the cockpit, he thought, “Is this my last?” Fearing death wasn’t unfounded. He’d witnessed many fellow soldiers’ planes spiralling down around him as they flew missions.

“There’s nothing nice about war. You lose people. You’re flying with a group of men and all of a sudden, someone gets shot down right beside you. It’s not easy. One minute you have a roommate, the next minute you’re packing his stuff to send home.”

Despite the risk, Jack served in the Royal Canadian Air Force for six years in WWII. Of the 28 men he deployed with, he was one of just eight who survived.  

After the war ended, President Dwight Eisenhower wanted people to see what they had been fighting against. He invited Jack and the other pilots to visit the German death camps.

Jack today in his dress uniform.

“That was a horrible sight,” says Jack. “There were bones there and blood still sitting on the operating table. Not many people saw it. It makes you mad. It’s something you don’t forget. And you don’t want the world to forget either, because it should never have happened.”

When Jack returned home to Canada, there were no mental health resources and very little support from the government. 

“I did a lot of thinking on my own,” says Jack. “The only way I could express myself was to write a book: The Saga of a Canadian Typhoon Fighter Pilot.

Jack shares many of his stories, but some of the most difficult moments he holds quietly in his heart because they are too painful to talk about. 

Jack appreciates people who take time on November 11 to honour those who serve or have served, and pay tribute to the men and women we have lost. 

“I’m amazed at how much interest is shown by people who have not served,” says Jack. “I notice that when I go to the ceremony, I'm constantly being photographed, shaking hands with everyone. It’s really nice.”

Chaplain Becky Vink, who is based at St. Teresa Place, often asks Jack if talking about his time of service is too difficult and if it churns up raw emotions.

“I asked him if we should stop asking him questions and he says, ‘No. Somebody has to tell the story,’” explains Becky.

“He’s seen a lot of horror of war and he believes it is important that we don’t forget. He kind of sees it as his duty, even though the day is very difficult emotionally for him. He’s very willing to speak about things that we need to learn about. We need him to share his wisdom with us. He is a very strong, resilient, patriotic, giving man. We have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to Jack and his comrades.” 


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