After three and a half years and more than 380 entries we have reached the end of this journey through WWI and the end of Captain Hills Letters.
We want to take this opportunity to thank you for your participation. We hope you have gained an insight into one mans experience of this terrible war through these incredible letters.
A very special thank you to Lilian, the volunteer who tirelessly typed up all of these letters. Without her work this project wouldn’t have been possible.
After the War John David Hills went to Oxford and read History. He became assistant Master at Eton in 1921 and was made Senior History Master from 1935 to 1939. While working at Eton he commanded the Eton OTC (Officer Training Corps) from 1930 to 1932.
He was appointed Headmaster of Bradfield College in 1940 and held the post until 1955.
He married Lady Rosemary Baring (elder daughter of the Second Earl of Cromer) in 1932 and they had one son and two daughters.
Captain Hills retired to Wales and died aged 80 in 1975.
Very many thanks for a host of letters. We work hard all the morning, repairing the ravages of war, and play games during the afternoon, leaving Orderly Room until the evening when there is enough work to terrify the bravest man. Lt. Col. Griffiths has got a D.S.O. – good for him, and we are all every pleased. Rugby football has started. Last Friday we had a sort of pick up performance in the Battalion. I turned out just to see how my knee would stand it. Finding that it stood very well I repeated the performance the following day. On Sunday a Brigade team was challenged by the 14th Tank Battalion and I was asked to play in my old place – left wing ¾. It was a grand game but they had played together often and we are only a scratch side. They won 5 pts. to 3 – i.e. a goal to a try. I ended up with my vest off and covered in bruises but it was simply great and I have not enjoyed myself so much for a long time. The knee stood it without a murmur. I shall now play at every possible opportunity. We have a new padre – one Walton by name. He arrived last night & plays Rugger so there is hope for him.
Letters Dec. 4th & 6th no news.
Nothing very exciting to tell you I am afraid. We are now official scavengers and are set to work on the one job which throughout the war we prayed we would never get – namely filling up trenches and shell holes and in general removing from the face of this cold and muddy country all traces of what the Daily Press has been pleased to call Armageddon. We deal with anything form a dead cow to a “bully”- beef tin. Meanwhile we continue to do a great deal of guards and ceremonial and all sorts of terrible things of that sort – and push ourselves terribly. In fact I should just love to hear a big shell coming and know that the war had started all over again! I suppose I am hard to please. I had dinner last night with Hickman whom I ran into somewhat suddenly the day before. He is out here with a motor transport company working with the Tanks. I think that except for walking, his old injury no longer worries him at all. The new Colonel is still as gloomy and silent as ever. I really do not know what on earth we are to do with him. Tell Petch if he comes along at all that they have given him and Banwell Bars to their M.C.s. and that little Jack has been awarded one. I only wish the latter could have lived to wear it. Banwell at present is away with a bad thigh. Wollaston has returned to us, so that is at all events one “old hand” about the place for me to talk to. We have started all manner of sports and I can now be seen running furiously after tea – trying to train for a X Country run
P.S. You may now add the letters M.C. after my name in future.
This is the entry in the London Gazette Concerning Hills’ award:
9740 SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 30 JULY, 1919.
Capt. John David Hills, l/5th Bn. Leic. R., T.F. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. At Pontruet, on September 24th, 1918, after the battalion attack on this village, he went forward and helped in the reorganisation of the battalion, bringing back most valuable information. On September 29th, north of Bellenglise, in storming the Hindenburg Line he worked with untiring energy, and. his services were invaluable in reorganising the battalion after having taken their various objectives.
Hills was also awarded the Croix de Guerre (with bronze star).
As far as we can make out we are not going to journey over the Rhine. In some ways I am sorry as seeing new countries at the Government’s expense is always a sensible proceeding. However if it means that we shall be all the sooner in England we have nothing to complain about. We are at present in a very cold home – due to the fact that there is no glass in most of the windows: however we must not complain, as we have at least got a roof. The gloomy Colonel is rendered still more gloomy by a boil and now never says a word. H.Q. mess is like a funeral and I long to throw cups and plates about merely for the sake of making a noise. I am trying to bribe the Doctor to send him away.
I suppose the war is now more or less at an end – at all events it is hardly likely that active hostilities will be resumed at the conclusion of the Armistice. There has been a marked lack of excitement about the finish, and all ranks are going about their daily jobs very quietly and contentedly. The only question that exercises our minds now is whether or no we are for Germany. Who is to be the Army of occupation? Everybody is asking. Personally I shall not mind a bit seeing some new country and I think most of the men are quite keen on seeing Boche land. You doubtless saw in the official communique a few days back that Leicestershire Troops captured a battery at the point of bayonet. It is good to think that this Battalion was about the last to be mentioned in a daily despatch – at all events we were fighting up to the bitter end. We are moving today out of our comfortable billets and shall probably be trekking for a day or two. However I expect we shall be more or less comfortably housed wherever we are. There ought to be no heed now to bivouac on a mud-heap.
Time at last for a line or two to let you know how we are getting on. My journey as far as Folkestone was uneventful except that at Charing X. I came across Gen. Heathcote, who was formerly commanding the 4th Lincolnshires, and whom I knew very well. I had just got on to the boat when he came along and asked if I would like to go with him on another ship – taking the Japanese Prince – Gen H. was made O.C. Troops on board. Of course I went and we crossed in great comfort. I was expecting it to be rather rough but it was not. We had dinner together the other side, and by a great stroke of luck I managed to get a train on the same evening as far as Amiens where I arrived in the very small hours of the morning. I slept for 4 hours in the Y.M.C.A. Rest House and then came by road. I was very fortunate indeed and by begging lifts on lorries and cars managed to get up to the line. The line however was going forward so fast that I did not reach the Bn. Until early the following morning. I did not miss any fighting but only just arrived in time. Even then we have not had to do anything very terrific – merely chase out the rear guard. Now he has gone so far and so fast that we cannot catch him. I found Dunlop very miserable and unhappy, however I soon cheered things up a bit. The new C.O. is an Irishman (Green!). He is most very quiet and seldom commits a smile: he has not yet laughed. However we all live in hope. We have of course been liberating large numbers of civilians who are simply over joyed. Our recent billets are the height of luxury and we are more comfortable then we have been for years. The only fly in the ointment is that we never stay more than five minutes in any one place. The rain has not made things over pleasant for the people on outpost duties and those doing attacks – and roads are not unnaturally getting bad in places. The thoroughness with which the old Boche has blown up cross-roads and bridges has also made extra work for us. However we don’t greatly worry over little things like that. One cannot help admiring the Boche rear-guard tactics. Only once have we managed to catch him napping. In the mist two days ago, Ball got his Company well forward and surprised a Boche battery of 4 guns. We captured or killed all the horses – took over 20 prisoners and killed half a dozen gunners. It was impossible to hold the Battery so we damaged what we could. Wollaston is probably coming back to us thought I understand he is getting leave first.