Ernest Hill was born at Wingate, County Durham, in January 1892, the elder of two sons of William Hill, a Welshman born in Pontypridd, and his wife Sarah who was from Guisborough in Yorkshire. They moved house regularly: between 1895 and 1917 they lived successively at Brandon Colliery, Esh Winning, Wingate in County Durham, Barton-upon-Humber in Lincolnshire, and South Kirkby, near Wakefield. William was employed at one time as a stoneman in a coal mine and at another as a cycle examiner. In 1911 Ernest Hill was employed as a student teacher, and his brother, Charles, was an invoice clerk.
In the same year Ernest Hill began his first year of professional teacher training at Bede College, a course which he completed in 1913, passing the Certificate examination. He is listed in the college’s annual reports in the second Divinity Class. Bede College was keen to encourage the value of sport amongst its students and Hill is named in its boat crews and hockey team.
In May 1917 Hill enlisted at Grimsby into the Norfolk Regiment as a private soldier. This is in contrast to many of his contemporaries at Bede College who joined northern regiments, usually the Durham Light Infantry or the Northumberland Fusiliers, and consequently Hill’s subsequent career is comparatively sparsely recorded in the college’s magazine. After a short period of basic training on 12 June 1917 Hill, together with other recent recruits, transferred to the 2nd Battalion (City of London) Royal Fusiliers. The regimental diary has no mention of new arrivals on that day, but on 10 July it had noted that “draft of 39 joined – very little training”. At that time the battalion was based at Landes, and was engaged in training, resting, and sports activities. On 26 June the battalion moved to Proven for further rest and recuperation.
The bare circumstances of Hill’s death can be traced in the battalion’s war diary (WO 95/2301/3). From 6-9 July X,Y and Z Companies of the battalion provided working parties for reconstruction of local roads in the Woesten area (160 men) and supported XIV Corps Royal Engineers in a forward area (360 men): the men were split into units of one officer and forty men. On 8 July the war diary notes one killed and three wounded among the other ranks, and one accidentally wounded; in addition two other ranks were killed whilst attached to a Divisional Salvage Company. On 9 July two other ranks are reported to have been wounded, and one other rank to have died of wounds: this was probably Ernest Hill, whose death was dated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as having occurred on 10 July 1917. Four members of this battalion, including Ernest Hill, were buried at Canada Farm Cemetery, having been killed over this period.
Private Ernest Hill’s sacrifice is also commemorated on the cenotaph at Barton-upon-Humber, and on Bede College’s 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour.