George Hill – The Story Behind the Name

By Jeff Lewis – OSA Secretary
In 2014, the OSA was asked to help fund the Peace Garden – brainchild of student Connor Reeve – at Sandbach School. At the official opening on 18th October, for one old boy in particular, it was perhaps especially poignant. George Hill stood at the back in the official photo, but his uncle, after whom he was named, stands proudly amongst the names of the fallen on the Remembrance plaque in the school chapel.

The Hill family connection with the school started at least as far back as 1914 when the first of the three sons of Walter and Ruth Hill started. Walter was the manager at Sandbach Gas Company, which was situated just across the road from the school in Union Street. The Gas Works were built in 1874, near where Waitrose is today, on the slope overlooking Brook Silk Mill and its former lake. The Gasometer held 24,000 cubic feet of gas and was supplied to Sandbach, Elworth and Wheelock. When the original manager Mr Bray left, Walter took over and was in the role for 50 years.

So, it was a short walk for all the boys across Crewe Road to the school. Tom was followed by John and then George. We also know that mum Ruth, a fine swimmer, gave a diving display to mark the opening of the school’s new outdoor swimming pool that was built sometime between 1924 and 1932, meaning she was probably over 50 at the time.

George left school in 1922 and went on to become a policeman. When the Second World War began, he was serving in Bootle Police Force in an exempted profession. However, he chose to sign up for the RAF working in Africa. He had finished his initial tour of operations and was entitled to return to ground duties but showed courage and a sense of duty when he signed up for a further operational flights in November 1944. He was a navigator in 69 Squadron and his Lancaster bomber was hit and crash-landed at Roermond, Netherlands in January 1945. He is buried in Roermond Catholic Cemetery, in Limburg, Netherlands.

The two surviving boys and their sister Margaret were well known and loved characters in Sandbach, who grew up living at the Gas Works, where John in his turn struggled to manage the wartime gas supply to the important Foden vehicle factory. On one occasion, John was awarded an honorarium of five pounds by the Gas Company directors, for stoking the ovens personally all one Sunday because so many of the staff had been called up. He also served as an Air Raid Patrol warden in Crewe. Tom – known as Tommy to the locals – ran a car battery business at the former Wheelock Train Station. The business traded for well over 50 years, and was certainly open when I moved to Wheelock in 1970
John married and it was perhaps no surprise that the youngest child was named George, in honour of his fallen brother. George junior in turn attended Sandbach School from 1967-1974, following in the footsteps of his father and two uncles. The third generation Hill also attended the school from 2000-2007. Peter graduated from Magdalen and Imperial, and now as Dr Peter Hill is presently a research chemist team leader in Amsterdam. In choosing chemistry, Peter followed in the steps of his father, who did cancer research at ICI (later AstraZeneca), and who in 2016 became sole author of the published history of that company’s 60 years of pharmaceutical discovery – including ICI’s wartime penicillin work – which George titled ‘Alderley Park Discovered’.

Talking with George at the OSA dinner, I was intrigued by the history of his family and the story behind his name. Every year at the OSA Dinner, we remember those Old Boys who gave their lives for their country and again in the chapel at our annual service. We look with deep respect, tinged with sadness, on the list of names on the brass plaque. Each name has its own story, but we rarely – if ever – get to hear them. I am grateful to George for bringing the story of his uncle to life, and in doing so sharing the Hill family’s connection with the school, which we now know covers four generations.

Jeff Lewis
OSA Secretary

Click the photos to see a full size version

George Hill

John, Tom & Margaret Hill
Grave Stone – George Hill