Ivor Hill: The Boy Soldier Who Went To Sea

On Friday 1 October 1915, the Cosmo Club, Mountain Ash, held an evening to honour one of its own: Private Ivor Hill. He had been invalided home following his experience with the South Wales Borderers at Gallipoli. One can only imagine the pride of his father, George Hill, when he entered the club room that evening with his son. The room had been decorated and there were fifty members present to honour the young soldier. There were toasts, songs, and a clog dance in which Herbert, Ivor’s brother, took part. Ivor’s father proposed a toast, to the “Army and Navy”, and Ivor breathed the air of regard from those older than himself.

Pte Ivor Hill

Private Ivor Hill

He was a showpiece at a club proud of its contribution to the war. He was also only 15 years old, having been 14 at the time of his enlistment. That he was so young seems surprising given the official minimum age of 19 for recruits to serve overseas but his story is not exceptional: estimates as to the number of “boy soldiers” in the British Army during the First World War run as high as 250,000.

Ivor was born on 20 December 1899 to George and Bertha Hill, but not baptised until 1905 along with his older sisters Clara and Elsie. His brother, Herbert, was 5 years older. During this time, George Hill was a collier and the family lived in Strand Street, Newtown. By the time of the war, though, George was a fruiterer at 4 Miskin Road, had served as the president of the Cosmo Club and was on its executive.

One has a sense of a family rising in social status within the town.

When Ivor enlisted in the 6th Dragoons on 1 October 1914 at Aberdare, he was 14 years and 9 months old. The age he gave the authorities was 19 years and 30 days, thus placing himself over the minimum age for service overseas. Following his enlistment, he was posted to the 3rd Reserve Cavalry Regiment on 24 November 1914.

Ivor Hill's details at time of enlistment

Excerpt of the record of Ivor Hill’s enlistment on 1 October 1914

A December article on the Cosmo Club’s weekly “smoker” makes reference to the “Dragoon boys” turning up with “new army songs and patter”. No names are given, unfortunately. At this same smoker, George Hill was presented with a miniature silver cradle to mark the birth of a child during his time as president of the club.

On 3 June 1915 Ivor was transferred to the South Wales Borderers, Pembroke, before being posted to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 30 June 1915 where he was to join the 2nd Battalion.

The 2nd Battalion had landed at Gallipoli on 24 April 1915 and had been engaged in fighting the Turkish army. They were to remain there until 11 January 1916 when they were evacuated from Gallipoli to Egypt due to the number of casualties they had suffered, not only due to combat but also to disease and the harsh weather.

Ivor joined them on 17 July 1915.

A brief account of Ivor’s time is given in an article in the Aberdare Leader of 13 May 1916, alongside which his photograph was printed. “He spent four months in the Dardanelles, having landed at Cape Helles, Y Beach, and was in the memorable charge on August 21st, 1915, when the 3rd South Wales Borderers were so badly cut up. This engagement lasted the whole of August 21st and to the evening of the 22nd. His rifle was broken in two, and the bullet which did the damage took part of his knuckle off.”

Ivor came down with dysentery on 30 August 1915, which led to his being transferred to hospital in Malta on 2 September, somewhat short of the four months claimed in the article. He was destined for home, and on 19 September he rejoined the South Wales Borderers at Brecon. On 11 November 1915 he was discharged from military service under King’s Regulations Para 392: (vi) Having made a mis-statement as to age on enlistment: (a) Soldier under 17 years of age at date of application for discharge.

The circumstances leading to Ivor being discharged are expressed in simple terms in a Leader article in 1916: his parents brought his age to the attention of the authorities thus ensuring his discharge.

In November 1915, however, in the atmosphere of pride surrounding Ivor’s bravery, and with the news that his brother, Herbert, had joined the Royal Naval Division, there appears to be a somewhat defensive tone, coupled with an Abrahamic sense of patriotism: “Some red tape business on the part of the authorities induced his father to withdraw this young soldier from the ranks. However, Mr. Hill has been patriotic enough to send another son to fill his place.”

That Ivor had been too young to serve was not only known locally but was a source of pride and the focus of approval, to such an extent that removing him from service could not be expressed as a voluntary action but one involving a degree of compulsion.

Ivor’s total time in service was 1 year and 42 days. This was accurately reported in the Leader, which appears to have seen his discharge papers, along with the information that his age at discharge was “15 years and 11 months.”

Whatever the plaudits for the young soldier, whatever his wishes, Ivor was home.

Many boy soldiers were not so fortunate. The numbers killed and wounded are counted in the thousands, though a true figure will never be realised given that they had lied in order to serve. Where they are buried, the headstone will not reflect their actual age.

It does not seem likely that Ivor would have seen being removed from the ranks as fortunate. Not even his brother’s experience — Herbert suffered such severe injuries in France that he was pensioned off — was a deterrent for a young man willing to serve his country at a time of war.

J02937 example of stern mounted defensive gun

An example of a stern-mounted gun. (The photo shows a 4.7″ gun mounted on the S.S. “TOROMEO” as a weapon against submarine attack.)

In December 1917, Ivor disappeared from home, only to return in January 1918 as a Seaman, home on leave. He had enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 11 December, shortly before his 18th birthday. By 4 June 1918 he was a Seaman Gunner serving on Defensively Armed Merchant Ships.These ships were fitted with a stern-mounted gun, or guns, that could be used defensively in the event of attack. Ivor served in this role until 30 January 1919 when he came home, his duty completed.

Private Ivor Hill, Regimental No 24965, South Wales Borderers
Seaman Ivor Hill, Service No W Z/4768

Sources

(1) Aberdare Leader: the articles referred to may be read here, under the entry for Ivor Hill.

(2) Military Records – Pension records, Ivor Hill, Regimental No 24965, South Wales Borderers

(3) Naval Records – Name: Ivor Hill, Service Number Z4768, RNVR Division Wales

(4) Medal Rolls (British War Medal and Victory Medal)
Private Ivor Hill, Regimental No 24965, South Wales Borderers
Seaman Ivor Hill, Service No W Z/4768

(5) The South Wales Borderers in World War One
https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/322/south-wales-borderers/

(6) Baptism records, St Margaret’s, Mountain Ash, and St John’s, Miskin: transcription published by Glamorgan Family History Society.

(7) Census Returns
1901 census – Wales – Class RG13, Piece 5006, Folio 118, Page 36.
6 Strand Sreet, Mountain Ash – George H Hill, e.t.c.

1911 census – Wales – Class RG14, piece 32286, Schedule number 123.
11 New Houses, Mountain Ash – George H Hill, e.t.c.

(8) “Boy Soldiers”
The sites below offer an introduction to this subject.

History Learning Site article on boy soldiers
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-one/the-western-front-in-world-war-one/boy-soldiers/

Spartacus Educational article on boy soldiers
http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWboy.htm

BBC guide to boy soldiers of WW1
http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zcvdhyc

(9) Stern-mounted gun – photo
The photo is in the public domain. It was donated to the Australian War Memorial collection by Mrs. F.C. Funnell.
https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/J02937/

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2 responses to “Ivor Hill: The Boy Soldier Who Went To Sea

  1. Angela Richards

    Just found your very interesting resource for local history and many thanks for taking the time to provide it for others. I was wondering if you had any information on The Cosmo Club as my Grandfather was a member and he is mentioned a few times in the Leader when serving etc.

    Thank you Angela

    • Hi, Angela,

      Thank you for your comments about the site.

      I will be writing a post about the Cosmo Club, its membership and activities. The information for that article will be limited to secondary sources, which would appear further restricted to coverage in the Aberdare Leader.

      Given your research into your grandfather’s role with the club, I might not be able to add anything new. That said, I intend using the article as a starting point for further research rather than an end in itself.

      In the meantime, if you wish to keep in touch, please do.

      Thank you.

      Dave

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