Searching for Tom

THEY were best friends.

They grew up together, went to school together and went off to the First World War together.

Sadly only one of them came home.

Now the great nephew of Bendigo man George Ronald Wilkie, who was killed in the battle of Passchendaele on October 12, 1917, is on the hunt for his great uncle’s best friend Tom Hilson.

Aaron Fedrick, a salesman who lives in Queensland with his wife and two daughters, said this is one of the last pieces in the puzzle in tracing his great uncle’s life.

“I am trying to find a relation of Tom Hilson to complete my reach,” he said.

 “I am the great great grandson of William Henry Wilkie who was two-times Mayor of Bendigo during World War 1.

“William was born in Eaglehawk in 1869, and died of miner’s phthisis in 1938.

“From what I’ve been told about William he was a known mayor.

“Every year there was a mayoral ball and during the war he cancelled it.

“His son George Ronald Wilkie was killed during the Great War at the battle of Passchendaele (third Battle of Ypres).

“There was a death notice in the Advertiser on November 20, 1917.”

Mr Fedrick has several letters Mr Wilkie, known as Ron, sent home to his mum and dad from the front before he was killed.

In them he mentions his “best mate” Tom Hilson and passes his regards on to Tom’s parents.

Mr Fedrick is keen to put a face to the name, and hopes the facts he has discovered about Tom could trigger somebody’s memory.

“What got me interested was in two letters Ron says “say hello to Tom’s mum and dad”.

“They did everything together.

“We believe they went to school together.

“They were best mates and they joined at the same time.

“They were in the same battalion so they would have fought the same battles.

“They would have been together in the war and Tom was lucky to go home.

“I have got Tom’s service records and I know he survived and lived in Bendigo after the war.

“I would just love to see a photo if there is one existing.”

By piecing together various bits of information Mr Fedrick has discovered Mr Hilson was born in 1898 and grew up in 44 Rowan Street in Bendigo.

“He had seven kids and on all the service records it says he was a hairdresser, but my grandmother said he worked on the railways in the locomotive shed,” said Mr Fedrick.

“I think his wife might have been called Gertrude.

“I think Tom passed away in the 70s.

 “My grandmother used to be friends with Tom’s daughter, Joan Hilson.

“Tom’s daughters went to school with her in the 1940s.

 “Mum and my nana left Bendigo in the 1960s. Nana moved back there in the late 1970s and then came back to Brisbane about 25 years ago,” he said.

Mr Fedrick lives in Queensland but he said his family roots are in Bendigo.

 “The family house was on Langston Street.

“My grandmother lived in Langston Street in the mayor’s old house and she looked after my uncle Harold who lost his arm.

“I first got interested in the family history when I was 7.

“I used to stay with nana and she had this picture of Ron over the fireplace and I used to go in and look at it.

“I was always interested in him.

“It wasn’t until 1993 or 1994 I sent off and got his service record.

“It turned out he was killed on October 13.”

On Tuesday November 20, 1917 it was reported in the Bendigo Advertiser that ex-councillor W. Wilkie had received word his eldest son, Private George Ronald Wilkie, had been reported missing since October 13.

According to a stark report by the Australian Red Cross, Private George Ronald Wilke of the 38th Battalion was “blown to pieces by shell during attack.”

In an account written by his cousin it said “he was seen killed by his mates in his platoon”.

He was of slight build, height about 5ft 8ins, dark, and had turned 20 just four days before he was killed.

In a letter to his parents the army said he was buried “200 yards North East end of Augustus Wood, which is approximately 11 miles due North of Broodseine, and one mile South West of Passchendaele, Belgium”.

But due to heavy fighting in the area in September and October 1917, it was possible “all trace of his resting place was obliterated by shell fire”.

“The red cross records said he was hit by a shelling round,” said Mr Fedrick.

“Quite a lot were killed by shell and they said you could bury them in a sock with what was left of them which is very sad.

“My wife and I went to Belgium eight years ago to see the place and we spoke to a few people.

“Because of the whole thing with Ron, which I have followed my whole life, I want to put a face to his mate.

“They must have been close for him to mention him in his letter’s home.

“I have all this information but to get a photo of Tom, in the last 30 or 40 years would be great. To see one in his uniform would just top it off for me.”

Can you help Aaron in his search? Are you, or do you know, one of Tom Hilson’s descendants? Email cos@bendigoadvertiser.com.au or call 5434 4432.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop