Private Jesse Hill was one of the many who did not survive the war. Hill was a member of the 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers, 13 Platoon, D Company. He was killed in action in France on 29 January 1917. At Wolverhampton Archives we have a collection of his letters, photographs, and memorial cards, gathered by his wife and deposited by a relative, so we are able to learn more about him.
Hill lived with his wife Margaret and their two children, Harold and Jesse, at 13 Peel Street, Wolverhampton. In his “Soldier’s Small Book”, it states Hill’s trade was as a fitter, and his height was given as 5 feet 2 1/8th inches. Apart from details of his next of kin, the rest of the book has not been completed.
Hill wrote regular letters and postcards to his wife and children, including an embroidered postcard. In his letters to his wife, he described the conditions in France and in the trenches. On 1 January 1916, he asked “how did you enjoy your Xmas. I expect you enjoy it a little better than I enjoyed mine for I was on Guard on Xmas Day.” In one of his last letters, dated 15 January 1917, he had “only just come out of the trenches and I can tell you weather his [sic] terrible snowing and freezing very hard.” Again on 14 Dec 1916 Hill described how “this weather is a bit off here plenty of mud about.” Hill also referred to home, stating on 1 Jan 1917
I have met a few Wolverhampton boys out hear [sic] one of them you no [sic] yourself and that his [sic] Mrs Moseleys Oldest Daughters Husband the Painter he was in the R. E. But they have put of a lot of them in our Mob.”
His letters also strove to reassure his wife, such as on 9 January 1916, “I don’t want you to upset youself about my lot because I am doing my bit for you and the children.” Again in December 1916 he said that “Dear Maggie I expect I shall go up line shortly but don’t trouble [I] shall be alright.” These words are quite poignant, coming as they do, with the benefit of hindsight. An undated letter to Hill from his brother and sister states that “I do hope you will come out alright it is awful I wish it was all over…I think those who make war should fight it.”
The next news that Margaret Hill received was from a Sergeant J. Noble, written from the No 10 General Hospital in France 4 Feb 1917:
It is my unpleasant duty to inform you that your husband no 27383 Pte J. Hill age 32 was killed at his post of duty about 2 pm the 29th inst. He had been with me for only a few months yet he was one of my most reliable men, always cheerful under adverse circumstances and indeed a great credit to me…As you can see by the address I am also wounded, but thankful it is no worse. Believe me everyone in the Platoon + Company sent their deepest simpathy [sic] to you, and trust you will bear up under this great berevement [sic].”
Margaret, although clearly upset, responded on 11 Feb 1917, saying that “it is one consolation to think he died for his King and Country, let all those in his Platoon know that I desire to thank them for their sympathy.”
As an aside, it will be noted from the memorial card above that there seems to be a discrepancy in Hill’s age, with his Sergeant believing him to be aged 32 when he died. The details in his Soldier’s book also conflict with this, as he is described as having enlisted on 10 December 1915, aged 28 years and 2 months, which would make him 29 when he died. The most likely birth entry for him on Freebmd is one registered in December 1887, so it seems probable that his Soldier’s book was correct.