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Radio Operator (Ret’d) John Hillman

Radio Operator (Ret’d) John Hillman was born in South Wales, United Kingdom in 1919. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1937 at the age of 17 and went on to serve in the Second World War. Hillman was awarded four different Second World War medals, including the Burma Star – which recently prompted a special connection with a comrade overseas.

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John Hillman
Photo by Molly Jane photography

As a Radio Operator, Hillman saw action in France, Britain, South Africa, and Italy. He also served in Burma from 1944 until Japan officially surrendered on 14 August 1945. His role was quite diverse, but one of the main operations he takes pride in is assisting with the dropping of supplies to the Army. “We had to make sure they had the necessary supplies required to push on.” Following the surrender of Japan, Hillman returned home to South Wales.

Hillman moved to Canada in 1999 with his wife, Irene. They have been married for 78 years, and have made Victoria, British Columbia their home since relocating. Hillman currently resides at the Carlton House of Oak Bay. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to evolve, Hillman caught wind of a story from one of his fellow Allied comrades – and decided to put his own Canadian spin on it.

Captain Tom Moore of England gained international attention in April when he began a walking fundraiser in the weeks leading up to his 100th birthday. His goal was quite simple: walk daily laps around his garden with a goal of raising £1,000 for the National Health Service, all towards COVID-19 relief.

What happened next was beyond anyone’s expectations. Moore’s efforts went viral on social media – by the time the campaign closed, he had raised over £32.79 million. For his efforts, Captain Moore was knighted by the Queen of England on 17 July 2020 at Windsor Castle.

“It struck me that we were colleagues and had both served in Burma.”

Hillman received wind of Moore’s efforts, and noticed something while watching coverage on Moore’s charitable campaign – they both were recipients of the Burma Star. “It struck me that we were colleagues and had both served in Burma. I thought to myself, ‘I was there, too!’”

Inspired by his comrade, Hillman launched his own campaign geared towards raising money for COVID-19 relief in Canada. “I thought it was the right thing to do.”

He would walk five laps of the Carlton House retirement residence courtyard daily, with his progress posted to the Carlton House Facebook page. The goal was clear: the 101 year old Veteran would walk a total of 101 laps, in the hopes of raising $101,000 towards the Save the Children Canada’s Emergency COVID-19 relief fund. The relief fund helps children and their families to afford basic essentials such as food and healthcare.

As Hillman began walking his daily laps, the momentum continued to grow – local media outlets picked the story up, leading to national exposure. By the time Hillman walked his 101 laps, he had raised a total of $166,551.83.

“Canada accepted me some 20 years ago – I felt like I owed something.”

Hillman has enjoyed living in Canada over the last 20 years, and wanted to do something to help Canadians who may be struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Canada accepted me some 20 years ago – I felt like I owed something. It’s a good cause, and I know Save the Children Canada has appreciated it – and I enjoyed doing it.”

Although Hillman will not be able to attend a large scale gathering to commemorate the 75th anniversary of V-J Day, he’s taking extraordinary steps to ensure the commemorative milestone is not forgotten. “I’ll be hosting a small commemoration at my courtyard and have invited residents to take part.” The small ceremony, hosted and organized by Hillman, will include the singing of O Canada, God Save the Queen, and residents will join in two moments of silence.

“Unfortunately, we can’t have a large celebration, but it’s one way to ensure we always remember.”

In honour of the 75th anniversary of V-J Day, Radio Operator (Ret’d) John Hillman is this week’s Face of Freedom.

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