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)
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.
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