Sudbury’s radio hero
Listeners to the BBC Home Service in April 1940 heard the cool, matter-of-fact voice of RAF gunner William Lillie describing how he despatched two Luftwaffe Junker 88 fighter bombers over the North Sea. It ended a concerted attempt to destroy his Sunderland Flying Boat which was protecting a convoy.
Nowhere could there have been more excitement than in Sudbury where he had been born, gone to school and sung as a chorister at St Gregory’s Church. There were no prouder parents than Charles and Ethel Lillie living in Girling Street, especially as their son had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.
Sudbury was delighted with its hero, the Mayor congratulated his parents and the town laid on an official party at the rail station to welcome him home on leave. But the modest former carpenter got wind of the plans, left the train at Bures and hitchhiked home. He found Girling Street decorated in his honour and a greengrocer’s chalk board reading: ‘Germans afraid of Girling Street Boy. Good luck Corporal Bill Lillie.’
Less than four months after the Home Service broadcast he was killed at only 21, when his Sunderland was shot down over the North Sea with the loss of all her crew. But Sudbury’s hero has not been forgotten. His deed is retold alongside a Sunderland Flying Boat at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. In Sudbury he is honoured by the name Corporal Lillie Close at the end of Edgworth Road, though he was in fact promoted to sergeant before he died.