|Date of Birth||December 19, 1887|
|Place of Birth||Brigden, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Father - John James Hill, Owen Sound, Ontario. Sister - Anne Marie Hill, Keewatin, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Store Clerk|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Saltcoats, Saskatchewan|
|Date of Enlistment||December 28, 1914|
|Age at Enlistment||27|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||June 6, 1916|
|Age at Death||28|
|Buried At||no known grave/Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial|
|Plot||Panel 18 - 26 - 28|
Harkey Merlin Hill was born December 19, 1887 in Brigden, Lambton County, Ontario to John James Hill and Anna Bella Doman. His father had been born in Ontario on January 28, 1854 to Ireland-born parents and his mother in Ireland in 1860. Harkey Hill’s father was a cooper (barrel maker) by trade and in the 1890s moved his family with children Edna Maud (born 1879), John Lewis (1883), Sarah (Sadie) (1885), and Harkey to the town of Keewatin in northwestern Ontario where daughter Anna May was born in 1897. Anna Bella Hill passed away February 10, 1899, and by 1906 Harkey, his brother John, who used the name Louis as he grew older, and his father had gone west to Saskatchewan to try their hand at farming in the Lipton area of the Qu’Appelle Valley. His eldest sister, Edna Maud, had married William Reynolds of Keewatin in 1902, while Sarah wed Walter Bury, a local butcher, in 1907. Anne Marie lived with the Reynolds family. The senior Hill remarried while in the west but farming didn’t prove successful for the men.
When war broke out Harkey Hill was among the early volunteers, signing attestation papers in Melville, Saskatchewan on Christmas Day 1914 and being enlisted effective December 28, 1914. He gave his occupation at the time as store clerk. He was assigned to the 45th (Manitoba) Battalion which was raised in Saskatchewan and western Manitoba. By that time both his father and his older brother had returned to southern Ontario, settling in the Owen Sound area.
The 45th Battalion trained at Camp Sewell in southern Manitoba. Harkey was part of the 2nd Reinforcing Draft, sent oversees ahead of the balance of the battalion on September 4, 1915 aboard the Missanabie. Once in England Harkey Hill had $10 a month of his daily pay of $1.10 sent to his youngest sister Anna May in Keewatin. At the start of November the draft was reassigned to the 32nd Reserve Battalion. Harkey Hill spent much of the late fall 1915 with health problems, mainly recurring chest infections, and he was hospitalized for influenza in December 1915. His health improved and by March 1916 he was in France where he was assigned to the 28th (Nor-West) Battalion on March 15, 1916, another Manitoba based infantry battalion that had been in the field since September 1915.
On June 6, 1916 the battalion suffered its worst calamity of the war. Dubbed the Horror of Hooge and the Worst Day in two personal accounts of the battalion’s history, the battalion had moved into the front lines near Ypres, Belgium to relieve the Royal Canadian Regiment. They came under artillery attack at 9 a.m. and the shelling continued through the morning. At about 2:30 p.m. the Germans ignited four massive mines they’d tunnelled into place along 200 yards of the front trenches. An entire company of men was obliterated and the German infantry attacked in force. The Canadians were driven back from their forward positions and from the village of Hooge. However after intense fighting that lasted into the night they were able prevent a complete breakthrough.
By the time the 28th Battalion was relieved on June 8 over half of its nearly 1,000 soldiers were dead, wounded or missing. The Great War Project includes entries for 165 of the 28th Battalion’s men who died between June 6-8, 1916.
From the War Diary of the 28th Battalion, June 6, 1916: ‘As a result of operations ‘A’ Coy was practically wiped out ‘B’ Coy had a few remaining and ‘C’ – ‘D’ Coy suffered many casualties. Effective strength of battalion reduced about 50%.’
Harkey Merlin Hill’s body was never recovered. His death is among over 54,000 allied soldiers commemorated at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium. His name is listed on Panel 18-26-28. Harkey is commemorated on two Keewatin St James Anglican Church plaques, on the Municipality of Keewatin For King and Country plaque, on the Town of Keewatin Roll of Honour, on the Lake of the Woods Milling Company plaque, and on the Saskatchewan Virtual War Memorial.
Harkey Merlin Hill’s brother Louis John joined the war effort in 1917, he returned from overseas service and married in 1919. When their father, John James Hill, died in 1928 his body was returned to Keewatin where he is interred with his first wife Anna Bella in Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
by Bob Stewart
Menin Gate panel photograph: This image is copyright 2008 by Poppaholdfast. It may be used, with permission, for any non-profit purpose.