I was delighted to find out so much about Tom Hill on Keith's website. I have come across him because for many years I have been researching the personnel of 179th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers, who served on the Western Front during the First World War. I have discovered that Tom Hill was a member and have found two service records for him which I have given a digest of below.
For the first nine months he was digging tunnels at a village called La Boisselle on the Somme which extended down to 100 feet below no mans land and detonating explosive charges to keep back the German miners. Over 100 underground charges were blown in this underground war. At the opening of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916, 179th Tunnelling Company blew two huge mines of 40,000 and 60,000 lbs of which the largest remains still as the Lochnagar Crater.
The group photograph of him with comrades at the front is particularly exciting for me I have already tracked down two other similar photos taken in the same location which is the town of Albert on the Somme. The rabbits and goatskin coats add something special however! As well as researching the personnel I have also been involved in an exploration of the actual tunnels on the Somme at 80 feet depth that 179th were excavating as part of the La Boisselle Study Group. We have a website with quite a bit of information at http://www.laboisselleproject.com/. A BBC documentary which features our work and the tunnels is due to be shown this May.
Tom Hill must have been a remarkable man. On the digest below you will see that his enlistment was delayed while the recruiter made sure that he should be accepted. Tom later he got an MP to write to the War Office over his pay while he was still at the front when he was demoted. The Tunnellers had two pay rates which was a major bone of contention: the 6 shilling a day rate was designed to reflect civilian miners pay but most were recruited at the Engineer rate of 2/2 and only paid 6/- if their commanding officer judged them 'efficient' which I am sure was an affront to the hewers.
If anyone can add anything at all about his service during the war, especially family stories I would be very interested.
All the best
simon.jones87[at]gmail.com (replace [at] with @)
Attestation Form. For the full record see
Digest of the Service of Tom Hill in the First World War
28/2/1880 born Blackheath, Staffs.
18/9/1915 note from Recruiter, Conisboro To O/C M Company RE, St Mary’s Bks, Chatham: 'A prominent local Miners Union Official and Mine Inspector on behalf of the Men enquires [re?] enlistment in Tunnellers Coy as he has been Check weighman for the men for the past 4 or 5 years he cannot get a certificate from the [mine?] manager but he states that he would not be allowed to take the position of Mine Inspector if he had not had at least 5 years experience of all kinds of colliery work. He states has had thorough practical knowledge of sinking driving tunnelling & c. I know the man personally but of course know nothing about his mining experience. Please instruct whether he may be enlisted.
Geo Brocklesby Recruiter.' [Note forwarded by M Coy to Miles Bailey. ]
21/9/1915 Reply from Lt Curtis, Tunnelling Companies RE, 7 Princes Street, Westminster to Chief Recruiting Officer, Conisboro., Nr Rotherham: 'This man will be quite alright for the Tunnelling Companies. He should be recruited at the 2/2d rate and sent direct to Chatham. Kindly note that all men are recruited at this rate, and an increase of pay is only granted on the recommendation of the Commanding Officers of the various Companies Overseas after the men have proved their ability and efficiency.'
28/9/1915 proforma request for reference to character and trade qualifications, from Geo Brocklesby to H Hulley Esq, Under Manager Cadeby Colliery, including ‘Qualified to undertake tunnelling work in soft ground &c’ replies employed 8 years, July 1907 to Sept 1915, honest, sober, excellent character, miner.
4/10/1915 attests at Conisborough enlisted Royal Engineers, 132468 as Tunnellers Mate pay 2/2 per day, res. 5 Clifton Hill, Conisbrough, declared age 35 yrs. 7 mo., miner & Check Weighman, married..., ht 5’ 4 ¼ “,... religion Salvationist, 4 children listed, also one born 26/12/1915 dies 17/8/1916.
8/10/1915 Approved at Chatham.
16/10/1915 embarked France.
28/10/1915 joins 179 Tunnelling Company from Base,
7/11/1915 remustered Tunneller (6/-) with 179 T Coy, sgd H M Hance.
leave from 179 T Coy not legible on form,
1/4/1916 admitted to Hospital.
6/4/1916 to Hosp 92 Field Ambulance.
8/4/1916 returns to unit from 92 FA.
31/5/1916 Disrated by 179 T Coy to Tunnellers Mate for inefficiency, sgd Cherry.
18/8/1916 note from Registrar Mexborough re death certificate of daughter states in 179th Coy, 1st Section.
8/11/1916 B R Ward, Col. i/c RE Records replies to WO letter of 4/11/1916 forwarding regt docs of Hill. ‘The communication from W. Brace Esq, MP is also returned. With regard to the statement thereon that Sapper Hill has been “gassed not less than three times”, - this man’s Casualty Card is clean and no report of any illness has reached this office. As regards his reduction to Tunneller’s Mate – Sapper Hill was attested as a Tunneller’s Mate on 4.10.15, with pay at 2/2 per diem. On 7.11.15 he was reduced to Tunneller’s Mate for inefficiency. Copies of the Certificates received from the Unit in each case are attached for information.’
5/12/1916 Capt for Col i/c RE Records to Sec WO, with ref to att corresp re Hill, docs with a report as to his reduction from Tunneller to Tunnellers mate were forwarded to WO on 8/11/1916, returned on 30/11/1916. Are they required again?
10/1/1917 Remustered Tunneller, sgd Hance.
28/1/1917 wounded remains at duty.
Feb. 1917 'States [2/10/1918] had trench fever & has suffered from muscular pains & weakness.'
16/2/1917 Admitted 42 Casualty Clearing Station.
16/3/1917 to UK 16 Gen Hosp.
17/3/1917 Admitted Red Cross Hospital, Christchurch, Hants.
29/3/1917 Discharged Red Cross Hospital, Christchurch. Radical Cured [?] successful.
2/10/1918 Medical examination at Chatham Present condition Slight debility. No disability.
9/10/1918 discharged at Sutton.
16/10/1918 Sapper, transferred to Class W Reserve for purpose of resuming civil employment as a coal miner, employer Cadeby Main Colly. New Conisboro Rotherham. Home address will be 5 Alexandra Tce, Clifton Rd, Conisboro.