Flight Lieutenant Philip Leslie Billing served with RAF 502 (Ulster) Squadron. Although serving with the Ulster Squadron, Billing was born in Worth, Kent in the south-east of England. He was the son of Mr and Mrs Peter Billing.
Billing escalated quickly through the ranks of the Royal Air Force. The London Gazette details his grading from Acting Pilot Officer to Pilot Officer on 12th October 1937. A further promotion to Flying Officer was listed in the same publication on 12th April 1939.
As an accomplished pilot, Billing was mentioned in dispatches on the 20th February 1940 in the London Gazette. Later that year, on 3rd September 1940, he was promoted from Pilot Officer to Flight Lieutenant.
Billing had married a Northern Irish woman, Jane Olive (Jenny) Elliott just weeks before the fatal crash in 1941. Jenny’s parents Jean and Christopher Elliott were farmers from Ballintoy, Co. Antrim before the war. Christopher himself was a Squadron Leader in the RAF.
After the fatal accident, in which Philip Leslie Billing was killed, Jenny married Dr Justin Martin from Sligo. He was also in the Royal Air Force and the couple married before the war ended. They lived at 33 Lansdowne Road, Belfast but later moved into Jenny’s parents’ house at 10 Taunton Avenue, Belfast. Tragedy struck again when Justin died young in 1948.
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley P5041
The Whitley was a metal bodied monoplane, a medium-heavy, two-engined bomber. The Mark IV, the predecessor to Billing’s plane, was the first to use Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. Whitley bombers served in the Royal Air Force between 1937 and 1945.
The Mark V, such as P5041, featured many improvements over earlier models. A Nash and Thomson powered tail turret held four 7.7mm machine guns. The rear fuselage was extended to improve the tail gunner’s view. De-icing equipment was also included, presumably as the planes, by now, were used by Coastal Command.
Billing’s plane was capable of carrying 7,000lbs of bombs in its bomb bay and wing racks. It could fly up to 1,650 miles and a top speed of 222mph.
Mull of Kintyre Crash
Philip Leslie Billing was piloting the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk V P5041. Flying with RAF 502 (Ulster) Squadron, the plane was coded YG-C. The plane had departed from RAF Aldergrove on 23rd January 1941 at 1222hrs.
The crew’s role was providing escort cover for Convoy HG50 sailing from Gibraltar to Liverpool. Becoming disoriented in bad weather, they veered off course, taking a route too far to the east.
On the return journey, the Whitley bomber crashed on high ground. The crash site is near a long-abandoned settlement called Balmavicar on the Mull of Kintyre. Also on the Whitley, were airmen Sergeant David John Peter Bradley, Sergeant Alec Raymond Hooker, Sergeant Herbert Pilling, and Flying Officer Arthur Peter Buckley Holmes. All five men onboard died in the incident. Flying Officer Holmes is buried in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Graveyard, Drumbeg.
Flight Lieutenant Billing’s grave is in plot B, Grave 6A of St. Aiden Church of Ireland Churchyard in Glenavy, Co. Antrim. On his headstone are the words attributed to Sir Winston Churchill.
Per adua ad astra. Never before was so much owed by so many to so few.