A Collection of Medals to the Gloucestershire Regiment

Date of Auction: 15th October 2020

Sold for £1,800

Estimate: £400 - £500

The Boer War medal awarded to Lieutenant and Adjutant W. L. B. Hill, Gloucestershire Regiment, who was taken prisoner at Nicholson’s Nek and imprisoned in the Staat Model School in Pretoria where, along with the young Winston Churchill, escape was at the forefront of everyone’s mind

Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 3 clasps, Natal, Orange Free State, Transvaal (Lieut. & Adjt. W. L. B. Hill. Glouc. Rgt.) extremely fine £400-£500

Footnote

William Leonard Bertram ‘Bertie’ Hill was born in Cheltenham on 2 December 1871, son of Major W. A. Hill (later Colonel Sir, K.C.B., commanding 3rd Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment). He was educated at Cheltenham College, 1884-87, and afterwards served in the 3rd Gloucestershire Militia. It was reported in Regimental Orders that on 17 July 1891, Hill rescued a boy from drowning, who had fallen into the lock at East Farleigh, on the Medway, near Maidstone. He was appointed to a regular commission on 23 December 1893, as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, which was at Malta and bound for India, being promoted to Lieutenant on 22 January 1898, and appointed Adjutant of his battalion on 30 July 1898.

He served in the Boer War where, on 29 October 1899, his battalion was part of a force despatched from Ladysmith to attack a Boer position near Nicholson’s Nek. The column consisted of 450 men of the Gloucesters, 520 of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and No. 10 Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery. They reach the hill at about 2 a.m. and prepared positions on a slope. However, as daylight broke they found themselves exposed and surrounded by Boers. One party of Gloucesters was cut off and, running out of ammunition, the officer in charge, Captain Duncan, raised a white towel to save his men. Amid the confusion a bugle sounded ‘cease-fire’ and the Boers began to cheer. The mistaken belief that the whole British force had surrendered took hold and the fight was over. It was called the largest surrender of British troops since the Napoleonic Wars.

The captured officers were transported to the Staat Model School in Pretoria, which was converted into a prison camp for officers. Lieutenant Radice, of the Gloucesters, wrote: ‘The school was a long single story red brick building standing on a corner plot of a residential quarter of Pretoria. Breast high railings separated the school from the adjoining two streets. We were lodged 8 or 9 to a room. One of the larger rooms was fitted out as a dining room. The school gymnasium retained its apparatus, we found this most useful to keep fit. Hill, the Adjutant of the 28th, who had been through a gym course in India, organised a class of physical exercises... Our guard consisted of 30 military police who lived in tents pitched on the southern half of the school playground. They were called Zarps from their collar badges which formed the initials of the name of their corps.’

Hill was lodged in room No. 12 along with Temple, Knox, Breul, Short, Radice, Beasley (all Gloucesters) and Gallway (Natal Carbineers). Five days after arriving, the men in room 12 began to plan their escape. They had discovered that a train left Pretoria at about 10 p.m. each night and that it had to slow down to climb a steep gradient nearby. It would be possible to board the train and then jump off near Middleburg and walk into Swaziland. But first they had to get out of the camp.

In a series of three letters, written to his father shortly after his release from Pretoria in June 1900, Hill chronicles his time there and attempts at escape, including tunnelling, not to mention a general dislike towards Winston Churchill:

‘I should like to add a little about Churchill’s escape. It was quite easy, simply a matter of climbing on to the top of a urinal like anyone you see in the streets, those green things you know, and dropping the other side. There were many of us preparing to do the same thing but were waiting because we had not got the necessaries of life and were collecting them. What so annoyed everyone was, that for his own aggrandizement and for copy, he should give away his means of escape directly he was clear, and so spoil everyone’s chances of using the same method, chiefly about the railway I mean. The Boers would have never found out but for him. It was not playing the game and he is cordially loathed in consequence.’

As a result of Churchill’s much publicised escape, Hill and his comrades were moved to a barbed wire compound outside Pretoria, where they remained until Pretoria fell to British troops in June 1900. Hill was subsequently attached to a Provisional Battalion, made up of recently released prisoners of war, which left for Kronstad. Eventually he returned to his regiment at Ladysmith, which was preparing to leave for Ceylon where, on 17 December 1901, he resigned as Adjutant. He was placed on temporary half-pay on account of ill-health on 20 December 1902, and was retired on retired pay on 15 June 1907. He had meanwhile, in March 1904, sailed on the St Louis from Southampton, bound for New York. He eventually settled at Konocti Bay, Kelseyville, Lake County, California, where he became a fruit grower. When war broke out in 1914, he eventually made his way back to England, where he was appointed temporary Captain on 30 July 1916, in the 5th Garrison Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment. According to his Medal Index Card, he served in England during the remainder of the war from July 1916 and was entitled to the British War Medal. He relinquished his temporary rank on completion of service on 16 February 1921, and returned to his home in California, where he died on 16 May 1944.

Sold with a good portrait photograph of Captain Hill in uniform of the Worcesters, and several other original photographs including two from the Boer War; copied transcripts of his three letters to his father (the first dated Kronstad, 4 June 1900, the other two dated Colombo, Ceylon, 17 and 18 October 1900); and a quantity of copied research.