Object of the Month - November 2023

30 November, 2023

First World War Officer’s Tunic

Our November Object of the Month is a Royal Artillery Officer’s Service Dress Tunic, 1913 Pattern which belonged to Captain Joseph W. Hillyard of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). The tunic has four Overseas Service chevrons on the right lower sleeve and three Captain’s pips on each lower sleeve. It also bears Royal Artillery flaming grenade collar badges on each side of the collar.

Joseph Wilfrid Hillyard was born on 16th May 1888 and was a farmer before he joined the North Riding Territorial Force. Our research indicates that he served in the Territorial Force from 1909 to 1912 and rejoined the North Riding Battery RFA of the 2nd Northumbrian Brigade on 9th September 1914, following the outbreak of war.

In November 1914, Hillyard served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 50th Northumberland Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC). DACs were an integral part of the RFA and were made up of Gunners, Drivers or Bombardiers equipped with horse drawn ammunition wagons. They had the dangerous role of delivering ammunition to the front line Batteries, and also collecting the spent brass cartridge cases plus any unused ammunition after a unit had moved on. They were often in considerable danger when they moved ammunition forward to front line positions. DACs worked with not only their own Divisions but could be called on to supply any unit during an action. They were also required to replace casualties in the units they were supplying as well as their horses, wagons and supplies. Although they were not classified as front line troops, soldiers serving in DACs were often killed in action or died of wounds. Records show that three members of Lt. Hillyard’s DAC were killed over the period September to October 1916, during the Battle of the Somme.    

Joseph Hillyard was promoted to Lieutenant as of 1st June 1916. He was subsequently made acting Captain in January 1919. On 16th April 1919 he relinquished his acting rank of Captain upon ceasing to be employed. Having served in France, he was entitled to the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal, although there are no medal ribbons present on the tunic.  

Donated with the tunic were some handwritten songs and a poem, entitled “The Gunner’s Lament” which contains the following poignant lines:

I’m tired of building funkpits and filling bags with sand,

I’m tired of jam and marmalade, of Pinks and Sicklers jams,

I’m tired of sleeping fitfully upon a cellar floor,

And gulping down cold bacon at the early hour of four.

I’m tired of buying eggs and milks in execrable French

And tired of crunching down that foul communications trench.

But a gladsome time is coming, there’s a joyous time in store,

When the crumpats crump no longer and the whizzbangs bang no more.

When I leave that cursed cellar, mount the stairs instead,

For a room that sports a carpet & has sheets upon the bed.”  

49,076 soldiers from the Royal Artillery were killed in the First World War. May they rest in peace.