Last Saturday (28th February 2015), Chandler’s Ford historian Barbara Hillier shared a poignant story of her great uncle Wilfred Herbert Hillier, who died on the 7th of October 1916 in action in France, aged only 30.
Barbara’s storytelling was linked with a unique memorial plaque, which was once lost, but was never forgotten.
It was a story about a conscientious objector who later changed his mind, his love for his family, community and the world, and how the life of a fine young man from Chandler’s Ford was tragically lost in the Great War.
The plaque which remembers the life of Wilfred Herbert Hillier was re-dedicated by Reverend Peter Cornick. You’ll now see this plaque in the Dovetail Centre at Chandler’s Ford Methodist Church.
Rev. Peter Cornick: commit ourselves to the cause of peace
Reverend Peter Cornick, when re-dedicating the plaque, emphasised the importance of this plaque being put in a public place.
He said the plaque is not just about Wilfred Herbert Hillier, it also serves “as a lasting reminder to us of the tragedy of war, and to commit ourselves to the cause of peace.”
The plaque is particularly significant as the nation marks the First World War Centenary.
The memorial plaque carries the text:
In loving memory of Wilfred Herbert Hillier
A devoted servant of God and this church
Who fell in action in France
October 7th 1916
Aged 30 years
Erected by the Congregation and Sunday School
According to Barbara Hillier, the plaque was first erected by the old Methodist Church on Brownhill Road, soon after her great uncle was killed in the war. However, in the 1950s, the plaque was somehow lost as the church was moving and expanding.
The Hilliers in Chandler’s Ford
Barbara said her great uncle Wilfred Herbert Hillier was the second of four sons of her great-grandparent, and his elder brother was Barbara’s grandfather.
Barbara’s great-grandparents moved to Chandler’s Ford in 1898 when Wilfred Herbert was 12 years old. They lived in where Brownhill Surgery is now located.
Two of the brothers – Wilfred Herbert and Barbara’s grandfather Frederick – were very involved in the first Methodist chapel.
Barbara is the fourth generation of her family living in Chandler’s Ford. Her daughter Jo Nash, who also present at the re-dedication service, is the fifth generation.
A conscientious objector who later went to war
Barbara said her great uncle was a very gentle, non-violent young man.
“When the war broke out, my great uncle’s first instinct was to be a conscientious objector.”
However as he heard lots of stories coming back, he later changed his mind and decided to join, Barbara said.
A watch from Chandler’s Ford to France
Barbara also shared that during the last Sunday service at the chapel, people from the church presented her great uncle with a watch and he took it to France with him.
In 1916, shortly before he was killed, Wilfred Herbert Hillier met up with his younger brother in France. Wilfred asked his younger brother to take the watch home with him to England.
Perhaps her great uncle sensed that he was not coming home.
Mystery of the plaque
Barbara said since the plaque’s disappearance from the church, no one seemed to know its whereabouts. However, her mum often wondered what had happened to the plaque and she mentioned the plaque to Barbara very often.
One day, John Discombe, property manager of the church at the time, found the plaque somewhere from the bowels of the church. John told me that he couldn’t remember where he had found the plaque, and it could have been from the safe.
Barbara kept the plaque at home ever since, until Reverend Peter Cornick asked if anybody in the church was involved in the WW1 before the last Remembrance Sunday. The story of her great uncle and the mystery of the plaque got ‘dished out’ since.
Brian Hopwood kindly add a wooden frame to the original plaque.
Barbara: great story-teller
It was a moving re-dedication service. Many who listened to Barbara Hillier would agree that Barbara is not only a great writer and historian for Chandler’s Ford, but also a gifted story-teller.
Visitors who had tea and coffee at The Coffee Room in the Dovetail Centre last Saturday morning was lucky to hear Barbara sharing her family story.
There were also a few children in the audience listening to Barbara’s story. It was especially important for them to appreciate the history of the First World War, and how the newly restored plaque is linked to our community in Chandler’s Ford.
About Barbara Hillier
- Barbara Hillier was born in Chandler’s Ford in 1941 and has lived here all her life.
- She is the 4th generation living in Chandler’s Ford.
- In 1898, her great-grandparents, Mr and Mrs Herbett George Hillier, came to Chandler’s Ford from Bepton.
- Their eldest son married the younger daughter of Mr and Mrs Henry Orman, who also came to Chandler’s Ford in 1898 from Exbury.
- Both great-grandfathers worked in the brickfields in Chandler’s Ford.
From the book of The Chandler’s Ford Story by Barbara Hillier and Gerald Ponting
Books by Barbara Hillier and Gerald Ponting
Barbara Hillier has published a few books on the history of Chandler’s Ford, including:
- The Story of Chandler’s Ford (Barbara Hillier)
- The Chandler’s Ford Story: From Earliest Time to the 21st Century (Barbara Hillier and Gerald Ponting)
- Chandler’s Ford: Yesterday and Today (Barbara Hillier and Gerald Ponting)
You can now buy The Chandler’s Ford Story in Chandler’s Ford in the following places:
This book now contains a bookmark, which gives you an update (latest update 2015) about Chandler’s Ford since the book’s publication in 2005.
You can read more stories on Chandler’s Ford War Memorial and related posts in Chandler’s Ford Today:
Post Series: Chandler’s Ford War Memorial Research, by Margaret Doores:
- Chandler’s Ford War Memorial. Can You Help?
- Chandler’s Ford War Memorial Research: Part 2
- Chandler’s Ford War Memorial Research: Part 3
- Chandler’s Ford War Memorial Research: Part 4
- Chandler’s Ford War Memorial Research: Part 5
- In Loving Memory Of Wilfred Herbert Hillier
- My Poignant Visit To Auschwitz 30 Years Ago
- Beyond The Sunset
- Remembrance Sunday In Chandler’s Ford 9 November 2014
- Re-dedication Of Chandler’s Ford War Memorial
- Chandler’s Ford War Memorial Rededication
- Story Of Chandler’s Ford War Memorial
- Renovating Chandler’s Ford War Memorial