Douglas Estill was born in Brazil but was living at 25 Clifton Road, Heaton Norris, when the 1901 census was taken (the census form spells his first name, wrongly, as Duglas) . This was the home of his uncle, Charles Huffam, who was an agent for a soap manufacturer. It was obvious a lucrative business as Huffam could afford to employ two live-in servants.
It is possible that Douglas and his family were just visiting the area. This was, perhaps, to see a 68 year old man called Edward Douglas Estill who was a patient in a hospital in Heaton Norris and who may have been Douglas' grandfather. Edward and Gertrude Estill, aged 39 and 38, were at 7 Poleburn (?) Road, Stockport, but it is not known what relationship they had, if any, with Douglas. Two boys, Fred and Jack Estill, were living, as boarders, at 131 Barlow Moor Road , Didsbury. Jack was also born in Brazil and the two must have been Douglas' brothers.
It is not known when Douglas moved to South Africa. He did, however, join the 3rd Regiment fairly early in the conflict. The troops were drawn mainly from the Transvaal and Rhodesia. He enlisted on 12 August 1915 at Potchefstroom (about an hour's drive from Johannesburg). His service papers still exist at the South African Department of Defence archives. Douglas recorded his next of kin as his father, George Douglas Hill with an address only of Box 4795, Johannesburg. Douglas was very tall for those days, standing at 6' 1" and weighing 155 pounds. He had a fresh complexion, brown eyes and dark hair. His chest measured just over 32 inches and he could expand it a further five. At the time, he was working as a clerk. He gave his religious denomination as Church of England
The papers show that he arrived in England for further training on 4 September and, on 23 December, embarked from Devonport, arriving at Alexandria, in Egypt on 12 January 1916. His stay in Egypt was to be short and, on 5 April, the Battalion embarked for Marseilles, arriving week later.
Now fully on active service, Douglas was appointed lance corporal on 7 May, the papers noting that this was an "acting" rank without the increase in pay normally associated with a promotion. On 28 May, he spent a few days in hospital, returning to his unit on 3 June.
On 1 July 1916, British troops launched the attack that would become known as the Battle of the Somme. The first day's attack generally failed to make progress, except in the south of the battlefield. Here, the objectives had been captured and, over the coming days, further slow progress was made against determined German resistance. By the 14th, attention had been turned to Delville Wood. The initial attack to capture the Wood failed, but the next day, the South African Brigade was ordered to take it at all costs. They attacked and quickly captured almost all of the Wood, but now found themselves enveloped on three sides by German infantry, supported by artillery. It was reported that, for some time, the Germans were firing 400 shells a minute into the wood. Casualties were mounting dramatically. Because of the shelling, it became impossible for the South Africans to be supplied with reinforcements or to withdraw. They had no option but to try to dig in - a process hampered by tree roots.
At 8am on the 17th, the Germans finally counter-attacked, pushing the South Africans back within a small perimeter. There were heavy casualties, on both sides. To make matters worse, the attack now allowed numerous German snipers to take up positions.
The next day, the South African Brigade's War Diary records "Enemy artillery fire was intense. Companies reduced to just a few men. Enemy penetrated behind our defensive line on the perimeter. The seven machine guns with all their officers were knocked out. Four Lewis Guns of 3rd Regiment were knocked out and the few men left of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th regiments holding the perimeter were either killed or wounded......In the evening , the enemy made three determined attacks in force with large bodies of infantry from three directions: north west; north; north east."
The South Africans hung on until the early hours of the 20th. Of the 3153 men who had gone into the Wood on the 15th, only 755 came out. Many bodies were never recovered.