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australian rowers profiles and history

Lance Hill

Mercantile Rowing Club (VIC)

The following story on Club member Lance Hill comes from the Bayside Times on 20th April 1988.

Some 70 years ago, Lance Hill was up to his knees in French mud and facing the full might of the German army’s ar­tillery.

Next Monday, Lance, a former Hampton dentist, will be among the many veterans in Australia whose thoughts will return to those years when they served their country at war.

And, like all those other ex-servicemen on ANZAC Day, they will recall the comradeship of the war years and the mates they left behind.

When The Bayside Times spoke to Lance, he was in Moorabbin Hospital for some minor treatment but on Monday he will be among the returned soldiers at the Hampton RSL sub-­branch’s remembrance service.

To many, Lance is probably familiar as a former dentist in Hampton St, but his time as a soldier will be foremost in his mind on Monday.

In 1917 and 1918 Lance travelled from Australia, to Suez, to Italy, to England and to the battlefields of northern France. It was only after a spell back in England that he returned to Australia in 1920.

In those few years he was trained as an artilleryman, employed as a draftsman by the army headquarters, moved to the front as a gunner, shelled by the Germans and, in one bizarre incident, placed under close arrest for a bit of innocent train spotting.

It was a tough life but, like so many ex-servicemen, he recalls those days with a certain amount of fondness.

Lance was born in Park St, South Yarra in 1897 and after going to school in Moonee Ponds he was employed by an architect, in 1913.

In 1916 he tried to enlist but was rejected because of his flat feet. After an unsuccessful brush with university life he tried again in 1917 and was taken on by the artillery.

Australians in their teens and early twenties these days might find it hard to understand why Lance was so keen to join the army.

“King and country was the thing in those days and any man with decency, he volunteered. Britain was in a bad way and the whole empire was helping her,” Lance said.

He sailed from Australia on December 23, 1917, and 29 days later arrived in Suez. It was when he arrived in Italy that Lance had his misunderstanding with the British Military Police.

Something of a train enthusiast, he was arrested for photographing a train, placed under close arrest and accused of ignoring a ruling against using cameras. The MPs relented only when they realised that no such warning had been issued.

It was the army who had the last laugh though, confining Lance and dozens of his mates to a freezing cold train for seven days on a journey up the leg of Italy to France.

After a few months in England, Lance finally made it to the battle zone of northern France, not as an artilleryman, but as a draftsman.

The First Division Australian Imperial Forces HQ was a splendid French chateau and Lance was placed up in the attic, with other draftsmen to draw maps for the top brass. “They seemed to have got tired of me there so I was sent to a unit, the 5th Battery of the AIF’s First Division,” Lance said.

“I came under bombardment before I even got to the front and joined my unit.”

The next three months of Lance’s life, like that of thousands of other men all over Europe, were spent in muddy dug-outs … hurling shells at the Germans, then sitting out the returning bombardment.

Often the mud was up to his hips as the dug-out for his gun filled with rainwater but, unlike so many others, Lance escaped the mustard gas and the shellings to see Armistice Day.

“What a day that was,” he said. “We were in Abbeville and I don’t think there was a drop of wine left in the village at the end.”

Lance came home in 1920 and trained as a dentist, first practising in Queenscliff. He returned to England during the ’20s – and still has a soft spot for London. In 1935 he opened his practice in Hampton St where he still lives. He practised there until he retired six years ago – but for a break during World War Two when he was called up as an army dentist to Heidelberg Hospital.

Lance’s story has a happy ending, he made it home from the front. On Monday he and the rest of Australia will remember those who didn’t.

Above: Lance Hill back right at a testimonial dinner for past President James Sprigg in 1983

Charles Warren
Bayside Times – 20th April 1988

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