Herbert Clifton HILL
Rank: Private
Number: 4627
Unit: 48th Battalion Australian Imperial Force
Date of Death: 12 October 1917
Age: 28
Cemetery: Menin Gate Memorial, Ieper, Belgium

Herbert' parents, Thomas Hill and Mary White, married at St Paul's Church, Portwood, Stockport between October and December 1873. Over the coming years, they would have many children and at the time of the 1901 Census, the fourteen members of the family were living in a four room house at 8 Rhyl Street, Stockport. Thomas was then 43 and earned a living making belts. Mary was 41. The children were William (21), Ernest (19), Thomas (17), Gertrude (15), Louisa (13), Herbert (11), Florence (10), Arthur (8), Walter (8), Harry (4), Albert (2) and Dora (1).

As an adult, Herbert emigrated to Australia and worked as a prospector. When he enlisted, on 16 November 1915, he gave his address as c/o Midland Junction Post Office, Midland Junction, Western Australia. The town, renamed Midland, is now an outer suburb of Perth. Herbert's service file is available on-line at the Australian National Archives website and it allows the reader to form an impression of the man. He was just over 5' 5" in height and weighed 130 pounds. Of small build his chest was 33.5 inches and he could expand it to 36.5 inches. He was of a fresh complexion with grey eyes and brown hair. . Herbert had given his religion as Church of England.

Herbert was assigned as apart of group destined as re-enforcements for the 16th Battalion and, after initial training, they embarked, from Fremantle, on board HMAT "A28 Militiades" on 12 February 1916, arriving at Port Suez on 11 March. After further training, they embarked on the MT Caledonia on 2 June bound for Marseilles. They reached France on the 9th and were, probably, converted into the newly created 48th Battalion.

Herbert will have been in action during the later stages of the Battle of the Somme in the late summer of 1916 and, again, will have been involved in the major attack on the German Hindenberg Line of defences in April 1917. On 3 August, he was treated, in a military hospital, for a dental problem which kept him out of action until 6 September.

The Third Battle of Ypres, commonly known as Passchendaele, had started on 31 July. Within hours, the attack had become bogged down, due to the mud and the determined resistance of the German troops. Over the following weeks, progress was made but it was slow and costly in terms of casualties. A further attack, along a six mile front, north east of Ypres was planned for 12 October.

Zero hour was set for 5.25am. In Herbert's sector, the plan was that the 47th Battalion would advance first and capture the first objective described as "the neck of the Keiberg, at the railway cutting". Herbert's battalion would then advance further to capture the second objective at the bottom of the next valley.

The men left their reserve positions at midnight and should have been at the jumping-off point just before 4.30, but the conditions of the track up to the front meant that they arrived with only 8 minutes to spare.

As the men of the 47th advanced, they came under heavy enemy fire, but the machine gunners and trench mortar specialists with Herbert's unit gave covering fire . The Australian Official Hisotry records that "The garrison of the dugouts In the Keiberg cutting opened fire with rifles but did not use its machine guns and was quickly captured." Both Battalions now took up a defensive position at this location. At 8.25am, it was time for the second stage, but the left-hand company of the 48th did not advance as there was no support on its left and enemy fire from the end of the cutting was severe. On the right, the company advanced, capturing a number of prisoners but suffering heavy casualties. They took the second objective but, in the afternoon, there was a strong counter-attack. This was generally repulsed but the now small party of men from the 48th was outflanked and had to quickly withdraw. Later, an even stronger counter attack was launched forcing a withdrawal along the whole of the 47th and 48th Battalions, back to their starting line.

Herbert has no known grave. He may have been killed by a direct hit from an artillery shell. Possibly he was killed or wounded in the advance and it was not possible to retrieve his body, until much later when identification became impossible. Perhaps his body was lost in the mud and lies there still. The official history of the Battalion notes that, out of 621 soldiers who had started the attack, 370 had been killed, wounded or were missing. It concludes "Leaving the wounded behind, however involuntary and inevitable, is a bitter experience and it formed a fitting and gloomy climax to the ill fortunes of the day."

News of Herbert's death soon reached Stockport and an "In Memorium" notice appeared in the press. It noted that the family home was at 14 Church Road, Heaton Norris. Herbert brothers, Harry and Arthur, were serving in the British army. Walter and Albert were in training. His eldest brother, William, now married to Lizzie and living at 32 Kilburn Road, Edgeley was, presumably, to old to have been called up.

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