Gerard Leader Hill
Captain, 5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment
Born 16 June 1882 in Warley, Romford, Essex
Killed in Action 26 September 1917 in the Battle of Polygon Wood, about 4 miles east of Ypres
Commemorated on the Addenda Panel at Tyne Cot Memorial
Gerard Leader Hill was born into a military family on 16 June 1882 in Warley, near Brentwood, Essex, the only son of Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Francis Hill, of the 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment. His mother, Mary Warburton Leader, was descended from the Radley and Leader families, Anglo-Irish gentry of Cork. Warley was the home of the Essex Regiment from 1881, when regiments assumed county titles, until 1958 when it became part of the 3rd East Anglian Regiment. Gerard had an older sister, Margaret, born in Burma about a year before him, and a younger sister, Dorothy, who died in Scarborough shortly after the family had moved there in 1900, aged just 10 years old.
Gerard attended Felsted School, a public school founded in 1564, from May 1893 until December 1896. In 1900 the family moved from Essex to Scarborough where the retired Lt. Col. Hill became Manager of the London and Yorkshire Bank (now the National Westminster Bank on the corner of Huntriss Row and Westborough). Margaret married Captain Reginald William Starkey Stanton, son of General Sir Edward Stanton, on 19 April 1906 in St Mary’s Parish Church, where the officiant was her uncle, Revd. Arthur Hill, Rector of St Leonard’s, Lasswade, near Edinburgh. At the time of her marriage she was living at 22 Ramshill Road, Scarborough but by the time of the 1911 Census the family were living at Northfield House, Scalby, now known as Stoneway House.
Northfield House, by kind permission of Mr Dennis Chapman.
The 1901 Census shows Gerard as an apprentice ships’ draughtsman, lodging at 4 Thornwood Terrace, Govan, Lanarkshire with a Mrs Mary Primrose and her 15 year old daughter Mary. He entered the famous Clydeside shipworks, John Brown & Co. Ltd., as a naval architect and was sent by them on a mission to Turkey, connected with shipbuilding, and later to Petrograd, where, when war broke out, he was British naval representative to the Russian Admiralty, engaged on important shipbuilding operations. He applied at once to rejoin the Territorial Battalion of the Cameronians, in which he had served for 10 years, but was not released from his work until April 1915, when, having received the thanks of the Tsar and the Russian Government, he came home and was given a company in the Cameronians. He passed a staff course at Camberley and a bombing course in London and became commandant of The Essex School of Bombing. In January 1916 Gerard was in Ireland where he transferred to the 2/5th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment and he embarked for France as part of the original contingent of officers of the battalion on 23 February 1917.
The Scarborough Mercury of 12th October 1917 reports
A SCARBOROUGH OFFICER KILLED. Recipient of Gift from Ex-Czar.
HIS MISSION TO TURKEY.
News has been received of the death in action of Captain Gerard Leader Hill, of the Lincolnshire Regiment, only son of the late Colonel Hill, who was manager of the London and Yorkshire Bank, Scarborough, and of Mrs Hill, of Morningside, Newby. It appears that Captain Hill was killed by a shell when leading his men in a victorious advance on Thursday, September 27th.
Previous to joining up he held a post at the Russian Admiralty as a British representative, being by profession a naval architect and on his leaving Russia he was presented by the ex-Czar with a gold cigarette case with the royal crest in diamonds and sapphires, and was also thanked by the Russian Government. On his arrival in England he joined a Territorial battalion of the Cameronians, with which he has previously served ten years, and passed the Staff College course, becoming
COMMANDANT OF A BOMBING SCHOOL.
He transferred to the Lincolns, thus getting to France sooner than he otherwise would have done, in January last, and was made a learner on the Brigade Staff in the summer. About seven years ago it is interesting to note, he was sent on a mission of some importance affecting shipping to the Turkish Government.
The late Colonel Hill, who died six years ago, served in the Army for 21 years and it is 17 years since the family came to the Scarborough district. Captain Hill, who was at home in July, was 33 years of age. An only sister is Mrs Stanton, whose husband is on the staff in France.”
Another paragraph in the Scarborough Mercury of 9 November 1917 reports
“TRIBUTE TO A DEAD OFFICER. In a letter to his father in Scarborough, a local soldier writes: “Did you read in the ‘Mercury’ a paragraph telling of Captain Gerard Leader Hill, Lincolnshire Regiment, whose mother lives at Morningside, Newby, being killed in action? Well, he was my old officer. I was his “runner” since April, and I can assure you a better company commander never was. He was a perfect example of a British officer and gentleman. Always courteous, a man of few words, and always cool and a splendid leader. We have lost a man whom the country I think can never replace.”
This ‘local soldier’ could have been Private William Pennock of 5 Commercial Street, Scarborough, who was in the 2/5th Bn Lincolnshire Regiment, but it is unlikely that this can be proved.
Gerard Hill died during the 3rd Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele. The Lincolns, as part of the 177th Brigade (59th Division) were attacking the objectives of Otto Farm and Dochy Farm during a phase of the main battle later known as the Battle of Polygon Wood. The brigade took its objectives that day but due to German counter-attacks (and an unknown unit retreating on the flank) had to temporarily vacate the ground that they had won. Captain Hill’s body was lost during, it would appear, a subsequent bombing of the battlefield. Very few of the 2/5th that day have known graves. He was initially posted as missing and it was not until 20 April 1918 that the Army Council concluded he was dead, confirmed in a letter to his family solicitors, J. F. Medley & Co., of 81 Newborough, Scarborough. There had been several letters between the War Office, Medleys and Gerard Hill’s mother, sister and her husband, Major Reginald Stanton since Gerard Hill’s death. On 4th January 1918 the solicitors sent copies of correspondence to the War Office in an attempt to persuade them to accept this ‘conclusive evidence’ that he had died so that they could wind up his affairs. This included testimony from his Commanding Officer, Lt. Col., Harold Bowyer Roffey, 2nd Lieut. Harry Jeynes and Private James Fidler. Among these letters in Gerard Hill’s records at the National Archives is one from fellow officer J. Urquhart, gently informing Mrs Hill that there was no chance whatsoever of it being possible to find a ring belonging to her son that she had described to him, and another from Harry Jeynes describing him as “tall, fair and slim” and “walking with a slight stoop”. A fellow officer who was killed with Gerard Hill, 2/Lt. Percy Grantham from Bracebridge, Lincoln, who is mentioned in the correspondence, has a grave at Tyne Cot, but Hill’s body was never recovered. The letters also contain Harry Jeynes’ thanks to Margaret Stanton for ‘the New Year’s cake’ she sent him at the end of 1917.
Testimony regarding Captain Hill’s death was received from Private Harry Baines from Nettleham, near Lincoln, of the 2/5th Lincolnshires on 3rd February 1918, whilst he was a patient in Northwood Hospital on Cowes, Isle of Wight. He said, “Capt. G. L. Hill was struck by a piece of shell and killed between 50 and 70 yards from me, as we were advancing on Sept. 26th 1917, towards Otto Farm. I saw him fall and did not see him move again. We retired late in the afternoon over the same ground, but did not see him. The Germans advanced as far as the spot, where I saw Capt. Hill fall, but we retook the position the same night. The whole ground was bombarded by the Germans during our retreat.” This final piece of evidence persuaded the Army Council to confirm his death.
As well as being commemorated at Tyne Cot and on the war memorial in St Laurence’s Churchyard Gerard Hill’s name appears on one of three brass plaques in the church of St Michael the Archangel, Felton, Herefordshire, where his grandfather, Rev Henry Thomas Hill (1814-42) was Rector for 30 years, and Prebendary of Hereford Cathedral in 1870. The other two plaques commemorate Gerard’s mother and sister Dorothy, and his father who died in Scalby in 1911, just 7 days after his name was recorded on the 1911 Census.