In late November 1944, Gilbert Pate’s mother Kathleen received a telegram from the Royal Australian Air Force Casualties Department:
“FURTHER INFORMATION RECEIVED ADVISES THAT ONE AUSTRALIAN MEMBER OF YOUR SONS CREW WARRENT OFFICER R W PURCELL AND ONE ROYAL AIR FORCE MEMBER SERGEANT HILL ALSO LOST THEIR LIVES STOP THESE MEMBERS HAVE BEEN RECLASSIFIED MISSING BELIEVED KILLED” (A01-428-001)
It appears from this message that Jack Purcell and Eric Hill had both been identified and more or less confirmed dead at around the same time. But apart from the mention of his name on this and other similar telegrams, the Pates were told very little else about Sgt Hill.
When I first started this research, I also knew very little about the crew’s mid-upper gunner. Like Ken Tabor, Hill appears in the crew photograph:
His record at the Commonwealth War Graves tells us that his parents were Frederick and Fannie Rebecca Hill, and that they came from North Weald in Essex. A simple handwritten note in Gil Thew’s archive (A01-373-001) gave an address for Fred Hill, at 18 Bassett Gardens, North Weald. In September 1944 his address was Station House, Goring, Reading, Berkshire (A01-074-001). When I visited the British Library in July 2010 I was hoping to use this information to search for an electoral record and perhaps find names of further members of the family living at the same address.
Sadly this was one of the records that the Library was in the process of moving to another location when I visited, so a new angle was required. Enter Dave Franks with his Ancestry.com membership.
Dave is a family friend who lives in Nottingham and who is working on his own family history. I stayed with him and his family briefly on my last trip and we were able to spend a great night bouncing ideas off each other and searching through ancestry.com. We found a family tree which included Eric Hill, submitted by a man named Harry White. While only very distantly related to Eric, Harry when we contacted him was able to throw some light on the man and his family.
Eric Reginald Hill was, he told us, born in Goring on Thames, Oxfordshire on 7 June 1921. His parents were Frederick Hill, a GWR stationmaster – hence living in Station House – and Fannie Rebecca Noakes, both born in Reading in 1882. They married in the same town in 1904. Harry knew of five children:
- Winifred Margaret born about 1905 in Reading
- Marjorie Kathleen born about 1910 in Didcot
- Rita Ellen Francis born 1911 in the Wellingford Registration District
- George C born 1913 in Reading
- Eric Reginald born 1921 in Goring
There is another address on Gil Thew’s piece of paper (A01-073-001). It appears to read as follows:
“C.J. Duncan, 6 Ulster Rd Gainsborough, Lincs England. Married daughter of Mr Hill”
None of the names from Harry White match those initials. This raises the possibility of either another daughter or, perhaps, I’ve misread a document somewhere.
At the time of writing this was all I had in the search for Eric Hill’s family. Possible avenues for further research from here could involve tracing any further children belonging to Eric’s siblings, chasing up the C J Duncan lead or even searching for a possible archive or other records belonging to the GWR.
(c) 2010 Adam Purcell
I’m now in the middle of moving and so internet access may be a little intermittant for the next little while. Please bear with me, and hopefully normal service can resume shortly!
2 thoughts on “The Search for Eric Hill”
Thanks again for putting some more pieces of the puzzle together for me.
I feel like I have come in around the middle of the story. One day we may sit down over a glass of red and discuss.
In the meantime…I dispatch to my brother David Findlay and my sister Jo Chant anything you write. I feel guilty keeping such historic family information to myself.
Good luck with the move Remember keep the kettle a cup and your bed as the first things to unpack!
I am off to Melbourne for 2 days tomorrow.
I will keep you in my thoughts till next time you are able to write.
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