Denis Hills

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Denis Cecil Hills (8 November 1913 – 26 April 2004) was a British author, teacher, traveller and adventurer. He came to international prominence in 1975 while he was living in Uganda and was sentenced to death for espionage and sedition following comments about President Idi Amin in a book which Hills wrote. After Amin rebuffed appeals for clemency by the Queen, Hills was released and allowed to return to the UK following the intervention of the British government.[1]


Denis Hills was born in the Birmingham suburb of Moseley. He attended King Edward's School, Birmingham before going on to Oxford University in 1932 where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Lincoln College. In 1935, he left Oxford to travel through Germany, funding himself by writing for the Birmingham Post.

Returning to England, he worked briefly at Shell-Mex before moving to Poland in 1937 as English editor of a cultural magazine. Hills' book Return to Poland showed his fascination with pre-war Poland, and in 1939 he moved to Warsaw to teach English. At the outbreak of war, he moved to Romania where Hills worked with the British Council. He was for a time seconded to General Kopanski's Polish Carpathian Lancers Brigade, and then to the King's Own Royal Regiment. Polish-speaking, he joined the 5th Kresowa Division in Iraq and Palestine before being sent to Italy in 1944.

In 1945 Denis Hills served as an officer of the British Eighth Army in Italy. He fought with the Polish Carpathian Lancers Brigade and the King's Own Royal Regiment in the Second World War. After the Battle of Monte Cassino, he was involved with the implementation of the Yalta Repatriation agreements. He found that thousands of Ukrainians and Russians were being sent to gulags or condemned to death. This was known as Operation Keelhaul. Hills could not accept this as they had fought alongside the Allies against the Nazis and he did everything in his power to thwart the return of all but a bare minimum. Norman Davies in his book Europe: A History and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago recognised Hills's part in this. These papers contain much valuable correspondence that Hills had with Nikolai Tolstoy, Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Bethell and many others together with Public Record Office documents help to show what really happened. Hills took a similarly humane and independent line over the question of the SS Fede, a decrepit hulk which was anchored off La Spezia and crammed with 1,200 Polish Jews, survivors of the Holocaust who were determined to make their way to Palestine in the face of a British blockade and quota restrictions on Jewish immigration. The Jews were already on hunger strike, and their leaders were threatening to blow up the boat if the British refused to allow them to sail. Hills persuaded the authorities to look the other way as the Fede raised anchor, an episode immortalized by Leon Uris in his novel Exodus.[2]

When the war was over, Hills became an interpreter and liaison officer with the Soviet military mission at Taranto. After being demobbed, he taught English in Germany and restless by nature cycled from the Arctic Circle to Salonika. In 1955 he moved to Turkey teaching English in Ankara before becoming an instructor at the Technical University.

In 1963 he moved to Uganda, teaching at Makerere University in Kampala, when Idi Amin seized power in 1971. Hills spoke out regarding Amin in the book he was writing, The White Pumpkin and was arrested in April 1975 charged with espionage and sedition, tried and condemned to death by firing squad for referring to the dictator as a 'black Nero' and a 'village tyrant'. The Queen interceded on Hills' behalf, and the then-Foreign Secretary, James Callaghan, flew out to Kampala to bring Hills home.[3] In 1981 Hills played himself in the film Rise and Fall of Idi Amin.[4]

He returned to Africa in 1976, travelling through Southern Rhodesia, which was the subject of his book The Last Days of White Rhodesia. In 1982 he taught in Nairobi.

In 1985 he returned to Poland but was summarily expelled as a result of a piece in The Daily Telegraph's Peterborough column, in which he was described as travelling through Poland in order to write a "less than complimentary book about the Communist regime".

Denis Hills had a daughter Gillian Hills by his first wife Dunia Leśmian, daughter of Polish symbolist poet Bolesław Leśmian, and two sons by his second wife Ingrid Jan.


  • My Travels in Turkey (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1964)
  • Man with a Lobelia Flute (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969)
  • The White Pumpkin (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1976)
  • Rebel People (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1978)
  • The Last Days of White Rhodesia (London: Chatto and Windus, 1981)
  • The Rock of the Wind: a return to Africa (London: Deutsch, 1984)
  • Return to Poland (London: The Bodley Head Ltd, 1988)
  • Tyrants and Mountains: a reckless life (London: John Murray Publishers Ltd, 1992)


  1. ^ Sandbrook, Dominic (2013). Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979. London: Penguin. pp. 84–85. ISBN 978-1-846-14032-7.
  2. ^ Davies, Norman (1996). Europe: A History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820171-7.
  3. ^ Greenfield, Richard (11 May 2004). "Denis Hills: Post-Yalta whistle-blower later sentenced to death by Idi Amin". The Independent. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  4. ^ "Rise and Fall of Idi Amin (1981)". IMDb. Retrieved 26 September 2018.

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