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Family history

Memories of Ernest Jack Quill (journalist)

Jack Quill in 1989Overview

One of the family married journalist Ernest Jack Quill in the 1950s. See photo opposite of Jack which was taken in 1989 (source: S Quill).  Jack worked for George Newnes and the IPC group, sometimes writing for a racing column, or about properties for sale in Country Life. He also wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph under the name Peterborough, or some such, where he was able to express his view of topical events; another pen name he used was Broadacre. Jack had a spirited West Highland Terrier named Monty and liked to walk him on Leith Hill and have a quick pint at Coldharbour before returning home for Sunday lunch.

Early Life

Jack was born at Ilford on 23rd February 1915, the eldest son of Ernest Casson Quill and his first wife Marguerite Dixon. The 1911 census records Ernest Casson Quill as a clerk in a chemical factory, and his father James, born on the Isle of Man, as a Lay Reader and a member of the Church of England Scripture Readers' Association. The Scripture Reading Association had been founded by the Bishop of London and others about 1850 to provide help to overstretched clergy in metropolitan districts.

When Jack's grandfather James married in 1884 he had described himself as an 'Evangelist in the Hallelujah Band'. In the latter half of the 1800s there was concern that the working classes were not attending church and 'Hallelujah Bands' allied to preaching by working class evangelists became fashionable in an attempt at outreach; the Salvation Army bands being a surviving example of this. Jack had a deep booming voice and one could imagine his grandfather reading out passages from scripture either in church or at public gatherings.

The photo below taken about 1930 shows Jack with his parents and younger brothers Philip, Eric and James (source: S Quill). His mother died shortly after this photo was taken.

Quill family group

Jack's early working life was interrupted by the Second World War.

Jack never mentioned that his brother Philip Quill, Sergeant, 775038, RAF Volunteer Reserve died, aged 21 years, on 21 Sep 1940, at RAF Finningley, when he walked into a propellor after returning from a night flight.

Jack joined the King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) and fought in the desert of North Africa with Montgomery and the 8th Army. Later the KRRC was deployed to Italy with the 9th Armoured Brigade as part of 1 Canadian Corps, but Jack never mentioned, nor did we know until after his death, that he had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1945 for an action in Italy during World War II.

Distinguished Conduct Medal

The transcription of the citation, held by the National Archives, reads:

9 Amoured Brigade, 5 Canadian Armoured Division, 1 Canadian Corps

Unit: 1st Bn KRRC

Army No and Rank: 6857254, W/Corporal

Name: Quill, Ernest Jack

For outstanding courage and determination in assuming the duties of Platoon Commander after being wounded. On 1st Jan 1945, Corporal Quill's platoon was holding a position in and around a house at MR 482462 ITALY 1:25,000 89 III NW. Corporal Quill's section was responsible for a bren position in the farmyard. At about 0300 hours the area was mortared, the listening post driven in, and the position surrounded by a strong enemy raiding party. Corporal Quill was badly wounded in the shoulder by a spandau bullet but continued firing his bren gun with the utmost determination and prevented any enemy entering his sector. However, the outside posts on another flank were neutralised, enemy entered the farmyard and bazooked the house, which collapsed except for a small part of the ground floor. All the posts in the house ceased firing and it was clear that unless they could be brought into action the whole position would be over-run with the possible exception of Corporal Quill's gun post. The only way in was across the open farm yard, which was brightly lit by burning haystack and through the door, which was under constant fire. Corporal Quill entered the building, where he found the platoon commander, platoon sergeant and several riflemen were wounded, one section commander and two riflemen were missing. Corporal Baptist and the few riflemen still in action were dazed and injured by debris, most of the weapons and ammunition were damaged or buried under debris. Helped by Corporal Baptist he reorganised the platoon, and organised the fire positions and treatment of the wounded. As soon as the the position in the house had been restored he again crossed the open yard with one rifleman to occupy an outside post from which he engaged the enemy until they withdrew. After relieving forces arrived, Corporal Quill completed the reorganisation of his platoon and stayed at his post until ordered back to the Rv by an officer when the full severity of his wound was discovered. This NCO's fighting spirit and self sacrifice were a magnificent example to his platoon. His courage and determination saved a very ugly situation.

Granted an immediate DCM

HR Alexander

Field Marshall

Supreme Allied Commander in Chief

Mediterranean

The signatures approving Jack's award were difficult to read, but appeared to be,

  • E A W Williams, Lieut Colonel, Commanding 1 KRRC
  • R B B B Cooke, Brigadier, Commander 9 Armoured Brigade
  • C F Keightley, Lt General, GOC Eighth Army

and we wondered who these officers were.

Not surprisingly they were all career soldiers who were educated at Public Schools and attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

Field Marshal Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis, KG, GCB, OM, GCMG, CSI, DSO, MC, CD, PC, was a senior officer of the British Army, who served with distinction in both World Wars. Educated Harrow and the Royal Military College Sandhurst.

Lt Col Edward Alexander Wilmot Williams (1910 - 1994) was the son of Captain BCW Williams, JP, DL, Herringston, Dorchester and Hon Winifred Mary Williams (MBE 1920), elder daughter of 2nd Baron Addington. He married in 1943 Sybilla Margaret Archdale, daughter of Col Osmund Audley Archdale. Educated Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

Brigadier Ronald Basil Bowen Bancroft Cooke (1899 - 1971) CBE, DSO, CB was the son of Lt Col Sydney Cooke, Orwell Lodge, Horsham; educated Charterhouse and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst; served with the Royal Armoured Corps, and rose to the rank of Major General.

Career soldier,  Lt Gen Sir Charles Frederic Keightley (1901 - 1974) DSO, GCB, Legion of Merit, was the son of clergyman Rev CA Keightley. Educated Marlborough College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Married in 1932 Joan Lydia, daughter of late Brig Gen GNT Smyth Osbourne, CB, CMG, DSO, of Ash, Iddesleigh, North Devon.

Up until 1993, different medals for gallantry were awarded to officers and to 'other ranks'. This nonsense was abolished by Prime Minister John Major and replaced by new series of medals open to all ranks. Jack's medal probably equates to the new 'Conspicous Gallantry Cross', which is at a level below the Victoria Cross.

Later life

After the war Jack worked as a journalist in London, living for a while at Raynes Park, before moving to Dorking, and finally, in his last years, living at Anmer where his house was on, and rented from, the Queen's Estate at Sandringham. He joked he could eat the Queen's apples, and nowadays of course you can visit the Sandringham orchards in the autumn and pick your own.

Independent in his views, he had an enquiring mind and was good with children, treating them as adults, despite having no children of his own.

Death

Jack's headstoneJack died at King's Lynn on 30th March 2006, aged 91 years and is buried in Anmer churchyard.

The inscription on his headstone reads:

Jack

Ernest Quill

1915 - 2006

Strong in your views

Modest in your achievements

Find some peace as you rest


Jack's life and outlook were no doubt coloured by his experiences during the war, as were the lives of many.

You can find out more about his family on the Quill's Queries website


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References

  1. National Archives
  2. Communications from S Quill January - August 2016