Posts Tagged 'Commonwealth War Graves Commission'

Leo

There are fifteen Commonwealth War Graves in the cemetery belonging to the small village of Hellendoorn, in the east of The Netherlands. My family and I lived in Nijverdal – the next town along – throughout the year 1995 and when we discovered that there was one Australian among the graves we decided to see what we could discover about him.

Flight Lieutenant Leo McAuliffe was a fighter pilot attached to No. 222 Squadron, RAF. He was killed on 17 March 1945, a matter of weeks before that part of the Netherlands was liberated. He was 24 years old and came from Bexley, NSW. While still overseas, we wrote to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to see what they could tell us about Leo. He had been killed in a ‘flying battle’, they said, and another letter to the Air Force after we returned to Australia in 1996 revealed he crashed while leading a section of two aircraft on a patrol and weather reconnaissance mission over enemy occupied territory.

Late last year I decided to obtain copies of Leo’s service record and A705 files from the National Archives of Australia. This was not intended to be as in-depth a study as I am doing on my great uncle Jack and his Lancaster crew. It was just a side-line interest, more for general interest of our family than anything overly complicated. I had vague plans of reading through the files and writing a short ‘interpretation’ of them so I could then bind the whole lot up and give it to Dad for Christmas. Unfortunately the National Archives are experiencing ‘high demand’ for copies at the moment, and the month turnaround that I was expecting turned into two – too late for Christmas. Dad got a packet of liquorice instead.

But I now have the files, and have spent the last couple of weeks reading through them and beginning to write my little story. And guess what? It’s turned out into something far bigger than I was intending it to. I’m not under the deadline of ‘Christmas’, so I have time to delve into the story a little deeper, following leads that I would have otherwise left alone. So questions raised in the NAA files have led to posts on the RAFCommands forum, which in turn led to the discovery that Leo served in Northern France following the invasion… meaning that my friend Joss le Clercq is also interested in Leo’s story and has been in touch.

The account of Leo’s final flight, from his wingman, suggests to me that he simply became disoriented and lost control in thick cloud – more accident than ‘flying battle’. And the story of how a young Dutch woman witnessed the crash and recovered a dog tag but was later killed in an air attack on Nijverdal caused me to contact a friend who volunteers at the small World War II museum that is now in that town. This, in turn, resulted in numerous emails from her contacts at the museum, and much information about the crash and the attack on Nijverdal.

All quite amazing. I’ve spent the last few hours translating those emails from Dutch and using Google Earth to try and pinpoint a crash location. But a line needs to be drawn somewhere. There is a lot of information out there – the tough part is deciding when you have enough, when you can stop researching and start writing. Leo’s story is well on its way to becoming known now. A couple more questions to my new Dutch contacts, and the writing can begin.

© 2012 Adam Purcell

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Stationmaster

An intriguing email popped into my inbox the other day. I had written to Janet Hurst, of the Goring and Streatley Local History Society in England, seeking assistance in the search for living relatives of Eric Hill, the mid-upper gunner on B for Baker. She replied with these details on E R Hill, from a book published a decade or so ago on the war casualties of that area:

Eric Rowland Hill

Rank: Leading Aircraftsman (LAC)

Service No: 1295905

Unit: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, served as clerk, special duties, 250 Wing, Middle East Command

Died: 21 September 1942 of enteric fever (typhoid)

Memorial: Ismailia War Memorial, Egypt 7C9

Next of kin: Mr & Mrs F. Hill (parents) of Goring

Home address: Station House,Wallingford Road, Goring

Educated: Goring School, 1928-1935

Personal details: He was employed in the office of Smallbones, builders. His father was stationmaster at Goring 1917 1947 and assistant organist at Goring Parish Church

Comparing this with my information raises a few conflictions. Most notably, the ER Hill buried in Lezennes – and therefore not in Egypt – was named Eric Reginald Hill, not Rowland. The service numbers and ranks do not match. Either do the dates of death (1942 vs 1944).

But his parents’ names and address do support what I have for Sgt Hill. I had a suspicion that the local historian who researched the book in Goring might have muddled up his details with another entry in the Commonwealth War Graves database. But how could I be sure?

The first thing was to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the man I was looking for was indeed Eric Reginald Hill. This might seem a reasonably obvious fact, but I decided to go back to primary sources to be sure. I have a copy of a ‘Circumstantial Report’ from 467 Sqn to the Air Ministry in London, dated 11 May 1944, that confirms “1352851 Sgt Hill ER, MU/AG” as a member of the crew posted missing the previous night. This service number matches that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database in the record for Eric Reginald Hill. It (unsurprisingly) also matches the service number on the gravestone in Lezennes. Phil Smith’s logbook has many entries including a “Sgt Hill”, and of course these entries are dated 1944, well after LAC Hill died in Egypt. This is to me fairly solid evidence that we have the right man – barring an extremely serious error by CWGC.

Next, I needed to find some sort of connection between Eric Reginald and his parents. CWGC records his next of kin as “Frederick and Fanny Rebecca Hill, of North Weald, Essex”. The names match Janet’s information, but the address does not. Wanting to discount the possibility of an error on the part of CWGC, I went back to some primary sources.

I found a letter written by Gilbert Pate’s father Sydney to Don Smith, the father of the pilot of B for Baker, dated 12NOV44:

“Your mention of Mr F Hill of Goring (Berks) completes the “tally” of 7 names, and we are obliged for this.”

Also in my files was a letter from W/Cdr Bill Brill, CO of 467 Sqn, dated 01SEP44 and again written to Don Smith:

“The addresses of the English members are:-

Mr F Hill (Father)

Station House

Goring

Reading

Berks.”

Janet then sent confirmation of an entry in the Goring Parish registers showing the baptism of Eric Reginald Hill at Goring on 26 June 1921. Critically, she says, he is recorded there as the son of “Frederick and Fanny Rebecca Hill, stationmaster of Goring”.

So I now had a name and address match for Eric Reginald Hill’s parents. But it still did not tally exactly with what is on the CWGC database. There was the remote possibility of another Fred Hill existing, one who also had a son named Eric R Hill. I needed a link between Goring and North Weald. And as it happened, I found something that, while not absolutely incontrovertible, is fairly strong evidence. It is a note on a scrap of paper found amongst Gilbert Pate’s box of letters. Scrawled on it, in an unknown hand, is this:

“Mr Fred Hill, 18 Bassett Gardens, North Weald,Essex. Father of Eric Hill”

This appears to match what is in the CWGC database. But can I explain the reason for the two addresses?

I can’t, at least not from what primary sources I have found to date. But I do have a possible scenario. I do not know when the unknown note was written, but perhaps the Hills initially lived in Goring and after the war moved to North Weald. According to Janet’s email Fred Hill was stationmaster until 1947 so a move around then is certainly within the bounds of possibility. Certainly it is plausible that, as it took CWGC some years to sort out all of their casualties following the war, their records were updated with a new address. The note may have been a record of that new address for the family of Gilbert Pate.

Having established, in any case, that Eric Hill’s father Frederick was the stationmaster at Goring, Janet sent me some photos of a rather pretty stone house in Goring Village.

It is called the Station House – and it is where Eric Hill once lived.

c05-215-003 copy

c05-215-004 copy

Janet tells me she will ask around the village in the next little while to see if anyone remembers or knows what happened to the Hills. She also suspects that the family tree on Ancestry.com that gave some information on Eric’s siblings may not be entirely accurate, so will have a dig through some primary sources for me.

The search goes on.

Image credit: Mike Hurst

Other sources: Janet Hurst, Mollie Smith, Gil and Peggy Thew

© 2011 Adam Purcell


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