Major Richard Nelson ‘Red’ Hill, MMM, CD

RCAF Photographic Branch 1946 – 1982


Earlier this year, Red Hill brought two of his personal photo albums to the Comox Air Force Museum and spoke with members about the photos and tried to remember some of the faces and places over his lengthy career. This was most enjoyable and before leaving, Red granted the Museum access to his photos and stories and the permission to use them at our discretion. This photo album, reproduced using Red’s photos and words, is the result. We are indebted to Red for his gracious gesture, and are posting this in honour of his recent 91st birthday.


Richard Nelson Hill was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan on 26 November 1927. His Grandfather, Private Henry Mills, served in World War I, and his Father, Charles Nelson Hill, served in World War II with the 14thCanadian Light Horse (209thCanadian Infantry Battalion, CEF). Richard’s younger brother, Sergeant Leonard Hill, also served in the Army during the Korean War.


Charles Nelson Hill with the 14thCanadian Light Horse prior to World War II, circa 1939.


In 1941, Richard joined the newly formed No. 54 Air Cadet Squadron in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.


Air Cadet Richard Hill, Swift Current, Saskatchewan, 1943


No. 54 Air Cadet Squadron, July 1stin Swift Current. Richard is 5thfrom the left.


In 1944 the Hill family moved to Cabri, Saskatchewan. Richard found out there was no Air Cadet Squadron in his new town, so he joined the Reserve Army in 1944, and served with this unit until 1946. It was at this time that Richard enlisted in the RCAF at RCAF Station Regina, and was sent to the RCAF Recruiting Center in Calgary, Alberta, and then on to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, to spend three to four months in their Manning Pool.


Richard Hill upon enlistment at Regina, 1946


Finally, Richard was posted to RCAF Station Uplands, Ottawa to attend the photography course at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario.


Basic Photography Course, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 1946. Richard is in the front row, second from the right.


Basic Photography Course, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 1946. Front row center is Tillbury, back row on the right is Don Hill.


 Survey Camera Operators Course, Rockcliffe, Ontario. LAC ‘Red’ Hill is in the front row, second from the left.


After completing the photography course in 1946, Leading Aircraftsman Red Hill became a member of No. 1 Photo Establishment at Rockcliffe. It was known as “The White House”, and it was the leading air photo lab. Red took part in aerial surveying of the North in the summer months on Dakotas with 414 Photographic Squadron at Rockcliffe, flying out of Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Sawmill Bay (it had a dirt strip) and Norman Wells. The squadron used the Dakota to photograph 323,754 square miles (838,520 km²) of Canada’s North. This process aided in the mapping of the Arctic, and when this task was completed, 414 Squadron was disbanded on 1 November 1950.


Red at work with 414 Squadron, Rockcliffe, Ontario


Red (on right) at work with 414 Squadron, Rockcliffe, Ontario


Crew of 414 Squadron Dakota 979, AQ-X of No. 3 Detachment, Whitehorse, Yukon, 1949.  Red is in the front row, third from the left.


While working out of Norman Wells, NWT, the 414 Squadron Dakota required an engine change.  A new engine was flown in by Dakota 980.


The new engine being prepared for installation on the 414 Squadron Dakota, Norman Wells, NWT.


414 Photographic Squadron, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 1949.


414 Squadron Dakota KN511


408 Photographic Squadron Lancaster, Rockcliffe, Ontario


American Mitchells at Rockcliffe, Ontario, mid to late 1940s. Rockcliffe was a holding place for “old” aircraft.


9 (T) Group Spitfire R7143 and Liberator both based in Rockcliffe, Ontario.  The Spitfire was used to shoot down Japanese balloon bombs.


162 Squadron Dakota 984 GK-D overshot the runway and straddled the roadway at Uplands, Ontario. It was sunset and the pilot had the sun in his eyes.






9 (T) Group Privateer JT973, the “Rockcliffe Ice Wagon” was used on ice research, Rockcliffe, Ontario


In 1952, Corporal Red Hill was posted to 441 Squadron, with No. 1 Fighter Wing at North Luffenham, Rutland, England. Originally an RAF base, in 1951 it was transferred to the RCAF and became the first Canadian NATO base in Europe. Red serviced the nose and cine gun cameras on 410, 439 and 441 Squadron Sabres.


A formation of No. 1 Fighter Wing Sabres overflying the main entrance to North Luffenham during the Battle of Britain flypast, 21 September 1952.



No. 1 Fighter Wing Sabres were ferried to Europe via the aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent. They were off-loaded in Scotland and then flown to North Luffenham. The accident in the photos was a result of salt water corrosion in the wheels of the Sabre during its blustery trip across the Atlantic Ocean on the Magnificent.



Avenger and Sea Fury aircraft from from HMCS Magnificent at North Luffenham.



A 441 Squadron Sabre 19274 near North Luffenham. These photos were taken by Red from a T-33 aircraft.




The Towed Target Glider was designed to fulfil a joint RAF/RN requirement for a realistic full-size target for air-to-air and ground-to-air gunnery training. The glider was 26 feet long with a wingspan of 32 feet, was black with yellow stripes, and was towed by an RAF Gloster Meteor. The Sabres used it for gunnery practiceover “The Wash” on the east coast of England. The trial was discontinued about a year later when it was discovered that the stress of towing stretched the Meteor airframe.


On 15 July 1953, 439 Squadron flew to RAF Odiham for the Queen’s Review. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, were in attendance.






A visit to the Kodak Works in April, 1954. Cpl Hill is in the back row, third from the left.


When 441 Squadron was moved to Marville, France in 1955, Red was posted back to Canada to the NATO pilot training base at RCAF Station Macdonald, Manitoba.


A formation of No. 4 Advanced Flying School T-33 aircraft with NATO crews near Macdonald, Manitoba.


Flight Line, Macdonald, Manitoba in the mid-1950s.




Air Force Day, Macdonald, Manitoba in the mid-1950s.




Air Force Day, Macdonald, Manitoba in the mid-1950s.


A Bell 47D/H-13, 9609, of the Canadian Joint Air Training Center, Rivers, Manitoba.


A formation of No. 4 Advanced Flying School T-33 aircraft with NATO crews over Macdonald, Manitoba.


From 1958 to 1961, Sergeant Red Hill was posted to Camp Borden as an instructor at the RCAF School of Photography, which re-located to Borden from Rockcliffe in 1950. In 1961 he was again moved to RCAF Station Uplands to the Base Photo Section and the Central Experimental & Proving Establishment.



In 1966, Red received his Officer’s Commission as a Pilot Officer with a simultaneous promotion to Flying Officer in the Aeronautical Engineering field.

Also in 1966, Red was posted to RCAF Station St. Hubert, Quebec as a Flight Lieutenant. He was now the Command Photo Officer for Air Defense Command Headquarters, which was a lodger unit at St. Hubert. In 1967 he moved with ADC Headquarters to CFB North Bay, Ontario.


Captain Red Hill, c.1968


In 1970, Captain Red Hill became the Commanding Officer of the Satellite Tracking Unit (SATTU) at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta. SATTU was a lodger unit at Cold Lake and was actually part of NORAD (North American Air Defence Command).

“A unit that really depended on a starlit night was the Satellite Tracking Unit (SATTU). It began operations as part of NORAD’s Space Detection and Tracking system (SPADATS) in 1962 and finished in the summer of 1981. The unit had been located at the Primrose Lake Evaluation Range, some 30 miles north of RCAF Station Cold Lake. SATTU used a Baker-Nunn camera to observe any space-based objects orbiting the earth. The camera was powerful enough that it could photograph an object the size of a basketball at 20,000 miles. Data collected from Cold Lake and the Saskatchewan based Prince Albert Radar Laboratory was passed to the Space Defence Centre at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs.” (


On 9 December 1974, Red was appointed as a Member of the Order of Military Merit. On 28 May 1975 he was invested with the Order of Military Merit. It was presented in Ottawa by Governor General Jules Léger.


Captain Hill receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal, 1977


Major Richard Hill portrait


The SATTU Crew, Cold Lake, Alberta. Major Red Hill is second from the right.


In 1976, Major Red Hill became the Photo Officer Maritime Command Headquarters at CFB Halifax, Nova Scotia, in charge of Armament Inspections.

In 1979 he took this same position and charge with Air Command Headquarters at CFB Winnipeg, Manitoba.

In April 1982, Red took his release and retired in Comox, BC.


Major Red Hill being awarded his Retirement Certificate, April 1982.


Red with his retirement gift


* Special thanks to Dan, one of our volunteers, for this post!