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Cedric Waters Hill (1891–1975)

by Darryl Bennet and Neville Parker

This article was published:

Cedric Waters Hill (1891-1975), air force officer, was born on 3 April 1891 at Maryvale station, near Warwick, Queensland, fourth child of Edward Ormond Waters Hill, grazier, and his wife Phillis, née Clark, both native-born. At Brisbane Grammar School, Cedric was 'Sluggish at his work, but good natured and honourable'. He learned sheep-farming in New Zealand, took an apprenticeship with a Brisbane engineering firm, completed a course in shearing-machinery maintenance and began working in sheds around Queensland. After seeing the magician Nate Leipzig perform, Hill studied and practised conjuring; his other interest was flying and he built two gliders before World War I broke out.

Sailing to England, Hill was commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps on 3 July 1915 and by the end of the year was in Egypt with No.14 Squadron. His precision bombing of the reservoir at Bir el Hassana on 27 February 1916 won acclaim, and he was mentioned in dispatches that year. On 3 May anti-aircraft fire forced his B.E.2c down, east of Romani. Using his dismounted Lewis-gun, he traded fire with some Arabs for six hours before surrendering and being handed over to the Turks. They took him to the prisoner-of-war camp at Yozgat, Turkey, where he befriended a Welshman, Lieutenant Elias Henry Jones. To entertain their comrades, Hill and Jones communicated with the spirit world by ouija-board, conjured ghostly 'manifestations' and perfected a telepathy act.

Although forbidden to escape by their own superiors, Hill and Jones decided to exploit the greed and superstition of the camp's commandant in order to get away. In early 1918 they convinced him that their supernatural informant, 'the Spook', could reveal the whereabouts of buried treasure if he were consulted on the Mediterranean coast—whence they planned to abscond to Cyprus. To justify their removal from the camp, they feigned madness, Hill exhibiting symptoms of 'religious melancholia' and Jones general paralysis of the insane. A mishap foiled the plan, but the conspirators decided to persist with the ruse of insanity to gain repatriation on medical grounds.

Having hoodwinked the local doctors, Hill and Jones were sent to Constantinople in May. On the way, a fake, double-suicide attempt almost cost them their lives, but it helped to lend authenticity to their deception. In hospitals and camps, in and around the capital, they underwent psychiatric examinations and overcame ploys to expose them. With his 'forehead puckered, jaw dropped and mouth open', Hill read from the Bible, and fasted until he became ill from malnutrition and dysentery. By August he and Jones had been certified insane and approved for an exchange of prisoners with the British. Hill sailed for England on 1 November 1918 and resumed his career in the Royal Air Force.

While again serving in the Middle East, he married a fellow Australian Jane Lisle Mort on 16 March 1921 at Port Said, Egypt, with Church of England rites. Back in England, on 5 October 1930 he flew from Lympne aerodrome, Kent, in an attempt to beat Bert Hinkler's time for a solo flight to Australia. A crash on the 18th, when he was taking off from Atambua, Netherlands Timor, for the final leg to Darwin, prevented him from breaking the record. Hill commanded squadrons in Britain and the Sudan, rose to wing commander in 1937 and was given charge of the R.A.F. Station, Tangmere, Sussex. Promoted temporary group captain in June 1940, he performed staff and training duties in Britain and had operational commands in the Middle East before being placed on the Retired List on 5 January 1944. For the next two years he was a ferry pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary.

'A friendly, jolly person, tall and very sunburnt', Hill was an outstanding rifle and pistol shot, a keen skier and photographer, and a member (1933) of the Inner Magic Circle. In retirement in England he took up gliding. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died on 5 March 1975 in his home at Windsor, Berkshire. His account of his feat of 'malingering', The Spook and the Commandant (London), was published later that year.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Jones, The Road to En-Dor (Lond, 1921)
  • T. W. White, Guests of the Unspeakable (Syd, 1935)
  • E. P. Wixted, The North-West Aerial Frontier 1919-1934 (Brisb, 1985)
  • Magic Circular, 35, Jan 1941
  • Over the Front, 4, no 2, Summer 1989, p 148
  • C. W. Hill records (Queensland Museum)
  • private information.

Citation details

Darryl Bennet and Neville Parker, 'Hill, Cedric Waters (1891–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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