The Hill Family of Cippenham in The Great War.

Cippenham War Memorial’s list of the fallen in WW1.

There are four members of the Hill family commemorated on the Cippenham war memorial. Dave Hill, who was born in Cippenham in 1943 and now lives in Cornwall, is of the same family. He kindly got in touch to share what he knows of his ancestors who died in WW1. Dave lived in Cippenham until 1968. His grandfather worked on building the “Dump” and had 11 children. Dave’s father was the eldest and worked on the Trading Estate until he retired at the age of 75.

This is Dave’s account of the Hill family in WWI.

 

THE HILL’S OF CIPPENHAM, SLOUGH, Bucks (as was!) IN WWI

I knew my grandad, William Hill, was in The Great War, I have some postcards he sent to my dad from France and Germany. He never spoke of it but I know he was in the Labour Corps, digging trenches etc and he went back after the armistice in the Army of Occupation. When I was a kid I remember him marching in the Remembrance Day parade from the Cippenham War Memorial to the British Legion. The flag bearer was usually my great uncle Harry (Henry) Godding (grandad’s brother in law) he had been a stretcher bearer in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Harry had a brother, Jack (John) Godding who was a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery, wounded in 1916, he went back to France in the Labour Corps and also survived the war.

There is a family legend that grandad William Hill met my other grandad (my mother’s father) grandad Arthur Trotter in France, he was in the Labour Corps as well. Unfortunately grandad Trotter died from Bright’s disease just before the armistice and is buried in France.

There are 4 Hill’s on the war memorial, I did not realise 3 were grandad’s brothers, the other was a cousin. Alfred Hill, one of grandad’s younger brothers joined the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and was killed in action in April 1916 with his cousin James. They were fatally wounded in a German bombing attack on an isolated post. Younger still were the twins Albert and George, Albert was tall and dark like his father, he was a rifleman in the 20th Btn The Kings Royal Rifle Corps. Albert was fighting in France from 1916 and was killed in the final advance on the Hindenburg Line on 1st October 1918, just 6 weeks before the armistice. George favoured his mother, a keen sportsman he had run in the Chalvey Harriers. Shorter than his twin brother he was not accepted by the army at first but joined the “Birkenhead Bantam Battalions”, the 16th Btn, The Cheshire Regiment. Attached to the 12th Entrenching Btn he was posted missing, presumed dead on 23rd March 1918, he was just 21.

I have only recently found that my great grandfather, Richard, had a large family, 14 children, just 2 girls, Elizabeth and Ivy, 12 boys, they lived in Orchard Cottages on the far side of Cippenham Green. He never recovered from the loss of his 3 sons, he died in 1921. Sons Baden, Hector, Fred and Wallace were too young to fight, John I know nothing about.

Recently a daughter of grandad’s oldest brother Richard, contacted me, she had only just discovered that her father had joined the navy in 1903, had been a stoker on HMS Collingwood early in the war and was amongst the sailors who had been sent (by Winston Churchill when First Sea Lord) to help the brave Belgians defend Antwerp. It was a futile gesture, to avoid firing on refugees the commander surrendered and most men became prisoners, being marched across Germany to Doberitz prison camp. Richard endured forced labour in Silesian Salt Mines which affected his health although he lived to be 76.

Thanks to the website “Bucks Remembers” and “Clint’s Roll of Honour” I now know that 2 other brothers survived the war but details are sparse. Harry was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, the Bucks Battalion, Thomas was in the Cycle Corps.

So of 12 sons, 3 died, 4 returned from the war, 4 were too young to fight, and lived to old age. I don’t think this is exceptional, but I wish I’d knew some of grandad’s brothers, I never met any of them, they were never spoken about. Cippenham was far smaller in 1914, the population was about 600 (as against about 10,000 today!) 84 men from Cippenham fought in the Great War, there are 19 names on the war memorial.

Dave Hill Cornwall 2014

In addition to the above, Dave Hill also sent some annotated extracts from two letters recalling the deaths of Alfred and James Hill written by Lionel Crouch who was their captain.

 

CAPTAIN LIONEL CROUCH

(by Dave Hill)

Alfred Hill joined the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, as did his cousin James, the other Hill on the memorial. They were killed together on April 22nd 1916. Lionel Crouch was their Captain and wrote a letter of condolence to Richard, Alfred’s father. He said that there was no large scale battle on at the time but Alfred and his cousin were severely wounded in an attack by a German bombing party on an isolated post. Captain Crouch went on to say that Alfred was cheery and happy-natured, very popular with the men.

Captain Crouch rather glossed over matters, he revealed the real state of affairs in letters to his father

“My Dear Old Dad, 21st April 1916

A horrible night and still pouring with rain. If you imagine a deep trench filled knee deep with a yellow brown liquid, that is what we are living in. I’m soaked to half way up my thigh and have spent the night sitting on a wooden bench in this miserable little dugout. Just before daylight these Scweinhunds of Boches bombed one of my posts knocking out 4. We managed to get one wounded man out but the brutes fired on my stretcher party. The others have got to stop where they are, we can’t get to them by day. Cheerful isn’t it for the survivors, to sit under a couple of sheets of corrugated iron with one dead man and 2 wounded all day? It has taken us hours to get the one wounded man we did get out, to the dressing station, 4 hours from the time he was hit. He was carried along soaked to the skin and covered in mud and slime, lying in a stretcher full of rainwater and blood. It was a nightmare getting the chap along the trenches knee deep in water and pouring with rain. I’ve had no sleep and I’m nearly dead. This is the worst I’ve had it in 12 months and I shan’t be able to lie down for 36 hours.

Dear Old Dad 26th April 1916

In my last letter I said that something rotten had happened the night before. Well when we got to them after dark it was worse than we thought. Imagine 3 survivors (1 of whom was only slightly wounded) and 2 stretcher bearers having to sit all day in a little shelter of corrugated iron with 2 dead man and 3 wounded. Another man who had been sent on a message was missing and was found 48 hours later lying in front of the wire wounded in the head but alive despite lying out in the drenching rain.. I have just heard he has died. None of the killed belonged to Aylesbury. 2 to Cippenham, 1 to Tring and 1 to Wolverton.”

Unfortunately Lionel Crouch was himself killed on the Somme just a few weeks later on 21st July 1916, his last words in a letter to his father were “but it’s all in a day’s work”. He laid where he fell for 6 weeks before the chaplain could bury him, identifying him by his medal ribbons and marking his grave with a simple wooden cross until later he was buried in an official cemetery. Lionel’s father had his letters published privately after the war (this is not unusual, other officers letters and war diaries were privately published although other ranks were not allowed to give facts or keep diaries). Fortunately his diary is on the web.

Lionel was a solicitor in Aylesbury and Deputy Clerk of the Peace for Bucks and a keen Territorial being made 2nd Lieutenant of the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry in 1907, hence his interest and knowledge of local Bucks men.

Lionel’s younger brother, Guy, also a solicitor, was also in the Ox & Bucks LI, surviving with the rank of Captain, he served in WWII reaching the rank of Colonel.

We, at “Historical Curiosities of Old Cippenham Village” are very grateful to Dave Hill for sharing this interesting and moving history with us.

 

 

 

 

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