Hills, Denis (Cecil) 1913-2004

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HILLS, Denis (Cecil) 1913-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born November 8, 1913, in Birmingham, England; died April 26, 2004, in Richmond, Surrey, England. Educator, journalist, adventurer, and author. Hills led a remarkable career in the military and as a traveling teacher who journeyed around the world, but he gained the most fame when he was imprisoned and threatened with death by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Educated at Lincoln College, Oxford, he was a better athlete than student, yet he still obtained a master's degree with honors in 1935. He briefly worked for the Birmingham Post as a freelance journalist in central Europe, then traveled to Poland to edit an anti-Nazi publication and teach English in Warsaw. Along the way, he became fluent in several languages, including German and Polish. With the invasion of Poland by the Nazis and Russians in 1939, Hills escaped to Romania, where he worked for the British Council, and then to Cairo, Egypt, where he enlisted in the King's Own Royal Regiment in 1940. He remained in the army until 1950, rising to the rank of major and serving in the Middle East, Austria, Germany, and Italy. With the end of the war, Hills had the unpleasant assignment of assisting the Soviet government in repatriating Russians and Ukrainians who had worked with Germany against Joseph Stalin; he knew that sending these people back to Russia would mean certain death or imprisonment at the hands of the Communist government, so Hills put up what bureaucratic barriers he could to prevent this from happening, though many were sent back despite his efforts. It was also Hills who was in the unique position of convincing Italian authorities to allow 1,200 Polish Jews aboard the La Spezia to leave Europe for Palestine, a journey that was immortalized in Leon Uris's book Exodus. After leaving the military, Hills resumed his teaching career, lecturing in history and economic theory at the University of Mainz for three years and then moving to Turkey, where he taught in Ankara until 1963. Next, Hills moved to Uganda, where he taught English literature at Makarere University and National Teachers' College in Kampala. Hills was disgusted when Idi Amin seized power in a 1971 military coup and murdered thousands of civilians. He wrote about this event in his 1975 book, The White Pumpkin, which labeled Amin a "village tyrant," among other disparaging phrases. Amin, of course, discovered this and promptly imprisoned Hills, threatening him with a death sentence. When the dictator received letters of appeal from Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, along with a formal apology and retraction from Hills and a visit from the British Foreign Secretary, his ego was satisfied and he released Hills. Now an international celebrity, Hills's career as a writer was assured, but he still enjoyed teaching and traveled next to Rhodesia to teach English and environmental studies for two years. He would later return to Uganda to teach, as well as to Kenya, while also working for British, Canadian, and Rhodesian television and radio stations as a journalist. In 1985, Hills was back in Poland, where he butted heads with the Communist government and was expelled from the country once by the police. As if these adventures were not enough, Hills was an avid mountain climber and bicyclist who once biked from the Arctic Circle all the way south to Greece. All of these adventures lent themselves well to being recorded in Hills many books, including My Travels in Turkey (1964), The Last Days of White Rhodesia (1981), Return to Poland (1988), and his autobiography, Tyrants and Mountains: A Reckless Life (1992). In 1992, Hills also received an honorary doctorate in literature from Birmingham University.



Daily Post (Liverpool, England), May 3, 2004, p. 11.

Guardian (London, England), May 4, 2004, p. 23.

Independent (London, England), May 11, 2004, p. 34.

Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2004, p. B11.

Times (London, England), May 3, 2004, p. 23.

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Hills, Denis (Cecil) 1913-2004

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