The Soldier's Details
- First Name:
- Nick Name:
- Lance Corporal
- Regimental #:
- 'B' Company
- Place of Birth:
- Fremantle, Western Australia
- Father's Name:
- Arthur Joseph Hill
- Mothers's Name:
- Margaret Jane Hill (nee Pickett)
- Church of England
- Pre-war Occupation:
- Truck Driver
- Kranji War Cemetery, Plot 2, Row C, Grave 20, Age 31.
- Cause of Death:
- Bacillary Dysentery
- Place of Death:
- A. G. H. Roberts Barracks Changi
- Date of Death:
- A.I.F. Cemetery Changi, Grave No. 80
John Hill was one of nine Indigenous Western Australians to join the 2/4th. Tragically ‘Johnny’ was the only one not to return home to his land and beloved family.
Wounded in action at Pasir Panjang and admitted to Field Ambulance with gunshot wounds to his left arm and head on 14.2.1942. Admitted to 2/13th Australian General Hospital on 16.2.1942. Soldier died at approximately 1330 hours on 11.3.1943 at the Australian General Hospital at Roberts Barracks Changi from mycotoxicosis, diphtheria and acute but resolving bacillary dysentery. Soldier’s body was cremated by order of Imperial Japanese Army and his ashes buried on 11.3.1943. The funeral service was conducted by Chaplain G. Polain of 2/26th Battalion.
His grave was marked with a cross made by his fellow prisoners.
After the war ended his grave was moved to Kranji Cemetery and the old cross was replaced with a new headstone. At the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion reunion in 1990, Tom Hampton informed me that the old cross, from Johnny’s original grave had been brought back to Australia. Enclosed in a glass case, it now stands in the introductory gallery of the Canberra War Memorial to represent the men who died as prisoners of the Japanese.
Hand made grave cross made from poured concrete, with ‘AIF’ cast on the lower limb of the cross. ‘L. CPL. HILL J. 2/4 M.G. BN 11. 3. 43’ is painted (now very faint) around an impressed brass strip bearing regimental number ‘WX8756’.
The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Richard Cruise, the story for 22 September 2016 was (WX8756) Lance Corporal John Hill, 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, 2nd AIF, Second World War. John Hill’s photograph was displayed beside the Pool of Reflection. Watch a recording of the ceremony courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.
WX8756 Lance Corporal John Hill, 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, Second Australian Imperial Force
DOD 11 March 1943.
Story delivered 27 June 2018
Today we pay tribute to Lance Corporal John Hill.
A member of the Wardandi Nation, John Hill was born on 1 January 1912 in Fremantle, Western Australia, to Arthur and Margaret Hill. The eldest of nine children, John was followed by Roy, Dorothy, Harold, Edith, Margaret, Isobel, Marjorie, and Arthur. Growing up in a weatherboard cottage named “Snake Gully” in the small seaside town of Busselton, John and his brothers spent what time they could going fishing with their father.
In the years prior to the Second World War, John and Roy had saved their money to purchase a Chevrolet truck, and found work contracting and wheat-carting in the wheat belt area of rural Western Australia.
At the outbreak of war John, Roy, and Harold volunteered to serve their nation. John Hill enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force on 23 October 1940. Harold enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy, and Roy enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force.
John Hill was posted to the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion. A support unit for the 8th Division, it was raised in Western Australia and commenced training in Northam military camp, east of Perth. Hill was assigned to B Company, and over the following months attended a number of training schools from which he qualified as a mechanic and transport driver. He was soon promoted to lance corporal, and assigned as a driver of a Bren gun carrier. In July 1941 the battalion moved to Adelaide and, in October, to Darwin.
Following Japan’s entry into the war in December 1941, the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion was sent to join units of the 8th Division then stationed in Malaya. However, the Japanese attack on New Britain forced the convoy carrying the battalion to travel the long way around Australia, via Sydney and Fremantle. It did not reach Singapore until the end of January.
By the time the battalion arrived the Japanese had captured Malaya and were preparing to invade the island of Singapore. During the ensuing battle for Singapore, Lance Corporal Hill was wounded in the arm and head. Despite this, he still managed to drive his Bren gun carrier, with its dead and wounded crew members, back to an aid post.
After weeks of fierce fighting, Singapore fell to the Japanese on the 15th of February 1942, and Hill became one of 45,000 Australian and British troops captured in the surrender. He was sent to Selarang Barracks in the large prisoner-of-war camp at Changi, where he slowly recovered from his wounds. Later, he was moved from Changi to the camp at Adam Park, from where he was employed on work parties around Singapore.
In late February 1943 Hill contracted dysentery. He was sent to the hospital in Changi but died from his illness on 11 March. He was buried the following day in the AIF Cemetery in Changi.
Harold and Roy Hill both survived the war. After enlisting in the RAN, Harold had joined the crew of HMAS Perth. He, too, became a prisoner of the Japanese following Perth’s sinking, and narrowly missed meeting up with John when he passed through the Changi camp in October 1942; John had left the Changi camp on a work party only a few days earlier. In fact, it is likely John was working on the wharves when Harold’s transport ship docked in Singapore. Harold was put to work on the Burma–Thailand Railway, and later wrote a memoir of his experiences.
Roy Hill, who had enlisted in the RAAF, became a pilot and an officer in Bomber Command. Serving in Britain, he flew Lancaster bombers for No. 106 and No. 189 Squadrons of the Royal Air Force.
Following the war’s end, John Hill’s remains were re-interred in the British and Commonwealth war cemetery at Kranji, Singapore. The original cross that had marked his grave in Changi was collected by his mates and brought back to Australia. It was later donated to the Australian War Memorial. The epitaph on his grave in Singapore, chosen by his family, bares the inscription: “His duty nobly done. Ever remembered.”
Lance Corporal John Hill was one of thousands of Indigenous Australians to serve during the Second World War. In honour of the great oral tradition of Indigenous Australians, we tell his story. His name is listed here on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 others who died while serving in the Second World War.
This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Lance Corporal John Hill, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Historian, Military History Section
The above is from AWM.
Johnny joined the army on 15 June 1940. He had a medical examination at Norseman, but was not required for duty until 23 October 1940 when he reported to the recruit reception depot at Claremont.
The 2/4th was being formed in October that year, and Johnny became a member of ‘B’ Company in the unit. In the ensuing months he attended several motor transport schools at Claremont or at Karrakatta. He qualified as a mechanic and motor transport driver, and was made a lance corporal. By November the battalion was at full strength, and undergoing intensive training at a camp in Northam.
In July 1941, the 2/4th Machine Gunners moved to Woodside in South Australia for further training. They stayed there until 11 October when they were entrained at Oak Bank to go to Darwin. Battalion HQ were at Winellie Camp, a few miles south of Darwin, where defensive beach positions were soon established. ‘B’ Company was held in reserve doing guard duties at Adelaide River. On 30 December 1941 the Battalion was again moved. They embarked on SS Marilla and HMAS Westralia and sailed on 31 December for Port Moresby. There they were transhipped to troopship ‘Aqjuitania’ and sailed south. They arrived at Sydney on 8 January 1942.
‘Aquitania’ sailed from Sydney on 10 January and arrived at Fremantle on 15 January 1942. No leave was granted but as Fremantle was home port for most of the men, many of them ignored the leave ban and went ashore in defiance of orders. Johnny was among them. ‘Aquitania’ sailed from Fremantle the next day on 16 January, 93 trained machine gunners were left behind, unable to reboard in time.
On 24 January the troops arrived at Singapore having been transhipped on the 20th in Sunda Straits to two small Dutch vessels, the SS Van Swoll and SS Van Der Lin. They immediately moved to the Naval Base Camp. From here they were dispersed to various defensive positions to try to repel the imminent Japanese invasion.
On 8 February the invasion began and despite fierce resistance and fighting by the Allied troops, the numerically superior Japanese quickly made inroads into Allied defences. On 15 February 1942, the Allied Force capitulated to Japan.
Johnny had been driving a bren gun carrier during the battle. Although wounded in his head and left arm, Johnny managed to drive his vehicle with its dead and wounded crew members back to a first aid post. After Singapore fell, Johnny became a prisoner in the Changi prison camp where he slowly recovered from his wounds.
Ron Badock wrote “In late December Johnny rejoined us. He looked particularly well, certainly better than the rest of us. Later in January he reported sick with diarrhoea and after some time was transferred to Roberts Hospital. After a few days we visited Johnny but he was no better, indeed he was deteriorating. We again visited him to find him much worse and he had been diagnosed as suffering with dysentery. He didn’t appear to be all that bad so we were shocked to learn he had passed away.”
Ron Badock and Johnny were two of a large number of enlistments from north east Coolgardie who joined 2/4th.
He died of Bacillary Dysentery on 11 March 1943.
Johnny’s brother Harold Joseph served on HMAS Perth, Ron Badock wrote the information for him.
Another brother Roy enlisted with RAAF.
John was the first child born to parents Arthur Joseph Hill and Margaret Jane Pickett who married Nov 1915 at Busselton. The Hill family grew to 9 children and continued to reside Busselton.
The siblings were John, Roy, Dorothy, Harold, Edith, Margaret, Majorie, Isobel and Augustus.
Johnny’s mother Margaret was born Katanning area in 1893, died in 1962 in Perth. His father Arthur who was born 1891 Augusta died at Busselton in 1959.