David Ernest Hornell VC

b. 26/01/1910 Mimico, Canada. d. 24/06/1944 Atlantic Ocean.

David Ernest Hornell (1910-1944) was born on 26th January 1910 in Mimlico, Ontario, Canada, the son of Harry Alexander Hornell. On the birth of his younger sister, Emily, Hornell’s mother died and the two children were raised by an aunt until their father re-married. Educated at Mimlico High School and the Western Technical School, Toronto, David Hornell proved to be an all-round athlete and sportsman at school, excelling at rugby, tennis, and other sports, and showing particular prowess in track events. Although he won a scholarship in his last year at school, with the opportunity to enter university for advanced education and academic qualifications, he chose instead to take up employment with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Toronto, working in the firm’s research laboratories. By the outbreak of war in 1939, he seemed set for a successful career with the company but the urge to enlist and serve his country proved too strong to resist.

David E Hornell VC

On 8th January 1941, just 3 weeks before his 31st birthday (when he would have been deferred due the age limits), Hornell enlisted voluntarily in the RCAF at No 1 Manning Depot, Toronto; and on 4th February began training at No 1 Wireless School, Montreal. On 22nd April he reported to No 3 Initial Training School, Victoriaville, Quebec, to commence pilot instruction and two months later, on 27th May, moved to 12 EFTS, Goderich, Ontario for basic flying training. His final advanced instruction commenced on 15th July 1941 at 5 SFTS, Brantford, Ontario, and he received his “wings” and a commission as a Pilot Officer on 25th September.

After a short course at 31 GR School, Charlottestown, Prince Edward Island in October-November 1941, Hornell was posted to 120 Squadron RCAF and attached to the RCAF Station Coal Harbour, Nova Scotia on 23rd December; flying his first operational sortie of coastal waters on 26th December. On 30th January 1942 he made his first flight in a Supermarine Stranraer biplane flying boat, and thereafter flew many patrols in Stanraers along Canada’s eastern seaboard, though without any direct contact with the enemy.

For the following two years, he remained based in Nova Scotia, during which he was promoted to Flying Officer and Flight Lieutenant. On 26th January 1943 he married Genevieve Noecker, a former music teacher and friend of Hornell’s sister Emily; while in April 1943 he was “loaned” to the Boeing Aircraft Company as a test pilot of various Boeing aircraft built for the RCAF.

On 22nd September 1943 he was posted to Eastern Air Command HQ at Halifax, and soon after arrival finally got his wish to be with a front-line operational unit when, on 9th October, he joined 162 Squadron RCAF – a Canso-equipped unit which had just moved from Yarmouth to Dartmouth in Nova Scotia. On 7th December, 162 Squadron received orders they were to be given an active role in the Battle of the Atlantic, and he was sent ahead to the squadron’s new base at Reykjavik, Iceland.

The first operational patrol came on 25th January 1944, and Hornell was initially second pilot to various flying boat captains, but on 1st May 1944 flew his first patrol as a Canso captain with his own crew. In late May 1944, the Cansos and Hornell moved to Wick in Northern Scotland, and their first missions in the middle of June.

On 24th June 1944 on sea patrol near the Faroes in the North Atlantic, Flight Lieutenant Hornell’s twin-engined Catalina amphibian aircraft was attacked and badly damaged by the German U-boat U-1225; nevertheless he succeeded in sinking the U-1225 and then with superhuman effort managed to bring his aircraft down on the heavy swell, the plane blazing furiously. There was only one serviceable dinghy which could not hold all the crew so they took it in turns in the water. By the time the survivors were rescued after 21 hours, Flight Lieutenant Hornell was blinded and weak from exposure and cold. He died shortly after being picked up.

David Hornell was laid to rest in the grounds of Lerwick Hospital, Shetland Islands, while the other members of his crew were admitted to hospital for treatment and rest. They all recovered and returned to Canada on leave. Hornell was posthumously awarded the VC on 28th July 1944, and other members of his crew received 1 DSO, 2 DFC’s and 2 DFM’s between them. On 12th December 1944, Hornell’s widow, Genevieve, received his VC from the hands of the Earl of Athlone, Governor-General of Canada at a special ceremony held in Government House, Ottawa. His VC was later donated to Air Command HQ, Winnipeg, Manitoba.