The Soldier's Details
- First Name:
- Ernest Thornton
- Nick Name:
- Regimental #:
- ‘D’ Company
- Place of Birth:
- Greenhills, Western Australia
- Father's Name:
- Charles Cogar Hill
- Mothers's Name:
- Flora May Hill(James)
- Pre-war Occupation:
- Epitaph, Labuan Memorial, Panel 18, Age 27.
- Selarang Camp Changi, Thompson Road (Caldecot hill Estate Camp)
- ‘B’ Force Borneo
- Cause of Death:
- Date of Death:
“WA. Paybook photograph, taken on enlistment, of WX7029 Private Ernest Thornton Hill, 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, Australian Infantry. He was one of over 2000 Allied prisoners of war (POW) held in the Sandakan POW camp in north Borneo, having been transferred there from Singapore as a part of B Force. The 1494 POW’s that made up B Force, were transported from Changi on 7 July 1942 on board the tramp ship Ubi Maru, arriving in Sandakan Harbour on 18 July 1942. Private Hill, aged 27, died as a prisoner of the Japanese on 28 May 1945. He was the son of Charles Cogar Hill and Flora May Hill, of Maylands, WA. He is commemorated on the Labuan Memorial Panel 18.”
Author of the following excerpt, was a younger sibling.
“Ernest Thornton Hill
Born on 19th February 1918 at Greenhills, Western Australia.
Ernie attended Northam High School and had to board in Northam as Dad was teaching at Bullsbrook. I do not know for certain but I think Ernie did some training in agriculture whilst at Northam. However, when he left school he went to work on farms in the Geraldton area. His brother George taught at a school at Yetna for a number of years and I think perhaps that is why Ernie may have gone to work in that area.
Ernie enlisted in the AIF on 30th July 1940. He was in Northam Military Camp doing basic training with his brother Reg. He came home on weekend leave and came down with mumps and had to stay at home until he recovered. In the meantime Reg was drafted to 2/28th Re-inforcements. Ernie remained in Northam and was drafted to the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion on 4th December 1940. During further training the 2/4th were renowned for marching from Northam to Perth. On the 13th July 1941 the 2/4th moved to Woodside Camp, South Australia. Then in October the Battalion moved overland to Darwin and worked on setting up defence works. The unit left for overseas on 31st December 1941 on the ‘Westralia’ and the ‘Marella’. The unit then transhipped to the ‘Aquitania’ and for some reason sailed via Sydney and Fremantle to the Sunda Straits in Indonesia where again they transhipped to smaller boats for the rest of the journey to Singapore arriving January 24th 1941. It transpired that the troops were given leave in Sydney and I believe, in other ports they visited except Fremantle. The troops went AWOL and jumped ship at Fremantle to visit their families. Ernie walked in the door at home when we were sitting down for tea. He stayed for a couple of hours or so and then went back to the ship which I believe sailed next day. All troops who jumped ship reported back except for a very small number who missed the boat.
I corresponded with Mr Les Cody who was the 2/4th MBG Historian and he had this to report on the events of Singapore.
With the creation of an additional Machine Gun Platoon in ‘D’ Company he was transferred to 16 Platoon, which together with 14 Platoon was attached to the 2/19th Infantry Battalion and occupied beach positions on the W NW shore of Singapore Island in the vicinity of the Sungei Berih Inlet. The platoon was in action during the landing until cut off and were forced to break through the encirclement. Your brother was in a section of Machine Gunners seven strong, who were ambushed, he was one of the only two survivors. Later he fought with the Company at Ulu Pandan and Buena Vista before being taken prisoner at the capitulation on 15th February. He remained in Changi until July 1943 when as a member of a force of 1500 Australians in ‘B’ Force he was sent to Sandakan in Borneo building an airfield. He remained at Sandakan until sometime after the end of January 1945 when the Japanese, fearing an invasion, began moving the prisoners to Ranau, a small village 160 miles west of Sandakan.
It is not known whether he died at Sandakan or on the march to Ranau. The official date of his death is given as 28th May 1945. There is apparently no known grave and his name is recorded at the Australian War Cemetery at Labuan in Borneo. Apart from some officers and men (three 2/4th) who were sent to Kunching, all 1500 Australians (only 6 escaped) died in Borneo.
The War Graves Commission advise that Ernie went to Sandakan aboard the Japanese Tramp Ship the ‘ Ubi Maru’ leaving Changi on 7th July 1942 and arriving Sandakan on 18th July 1942.
A few years ago there was a special exhibition in Perth about Sandakan and it showed that the authorities had been able to find the graves of all of the POW’s except three and Ernie was one of these three.”
Ernie’s parents Victorian born Charles Cogar Hill and Flora May James married 1914 at Claremont. Charles Hill was a schoolteacher.
Ernie had four older brothers. Reginald and Ernie enlisted together at Claremont July 1940. When Reginald was
drafted to go to the Middle East with 2/28th re-inforcements Ernie was unable to go being ill with the mumps. Ernie was then selected with 2/4th MGB.
Ernie Hill’s body was one of only three never located by War Graves.
- Selarang Camp Changi - Singapore
- Thomson Road (Caldecot Hill Estate Camp) - Singapore
- Sandakan - Borneo ***