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Ohio cousins to head to France to mark end of grandfather’s World War I service

Details of a model of the proposed National World War I Memorial.

COURTESY OF SABIN HOWARD

By JON BAKER | The (New Philadelphia, Ohio) Times-Reporter | Published: November 4, 2018

UHRICHSVILLE, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — On the morning of Nov. 11, 1918, Edgar Hillyer, a young artillery officer from Uhrichsville, was waiting with his men near the tiny French village of Vittarville for the official end of World War I, the war to end all wars.

“They all knew the war was ending, they just don’t know exactly when, but they know it’s ending,” said his grandson, Brad Hillyer of Uhrichsville. “They’re told not to fire, but his battery gets shelled by the Germans. In disobedience of the order that the U.S. soldiers had been given, he fired back at 10:07 at the Germans.”

The German shelling killed five horses and wounded six men, some of them seriously, so Hillyer’s unit, Battery C, 322nd Field Artillery, fired eight rounds in retaliation.

World War I officially ended less than an hour later at 11 a.m.

Next Sunday, Brad Hillyer and his cousin, Kurt Shelley of New Philadelphia, will be in Vittarville to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I. They will lay a wreath and visit the spot where their grandfather fired one of the last artillery shells fired in anger at the Germans during the conflict. Vittarville, a village of 80 people, is located between the French city of Verdun and the Belgian border.

They are leaving on Wednesday for France.

Hillyer and Shelley still have many items belonging to their grandfather from his military service, including his helmet, his maps and map case, his binoculars and a three-sided trench knife.

The most intriguing artifact is a casing from one of the shells Edgar Hillyer fired on the last day of the war. Engraved on the casing are all the details of the incident, including the names of members of Hillyer’s unit, the time it was fired and the exact location it was fired from.

Edgar Hillyer was born in Uhrichsville in 1894. His father, J. Leslie Hillyer, died in 1914 while serving as mayor of Uhrichsville.

Edgar Hillyer enlisted in the Army after the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Following basic training, he arrived in France in June 1918.

He kept a diary while in France, and his daughter, Marjorie Hillyer Shelley, has transcribed it.

Edgar Hillyer wrote on Nov. 11, “It is now a half hour until 11 o’clock of this date, when this war is to be over. Nevertheless, during the last two hours boche (a nickname for the Germans) shells have been coming over thickly in this town. I would like to concentrate a brigade on those batteries and teach them that the war is about over. I am now sitting by a small fire in an old building waiting for the final act. We were unlucky this morning, five horses killed and six men wounded. With only 11 minutes to go, we should get free with no more than that.”

He continued, “My but there was some celebration after dark. The men set off all kinds of fireworks consisting of flares, rockets, etc. left behind by the boche. The sky was kept like day with the assistance of the moon.”

The next day, he noted that he had a real night’s sleep and took off his trousers, the third time he had slept with them off in six weeks.

Hillyer returned to the U.S. in June 1919. In later years, he ran the Clay City Pipe Co. in Uhrichsville. He died in 1956, the same year that his grandsons Brad Hillyer and Kurt Shelley were born.

Hillyer’s grandsons have been planning their trip for several months. Brad Hillyer said he has been relying on a former Claymont exchange student from Brazil who speaks French as an intermediary to contact the mayor of Vittarville, who doesn’t speak English.

On Nov. 11, Hillyer and Shelley will travel to the village with an interpreter and tour guide and will participate in Vittarville’s ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the war.

Ceremonies are planned all over Europe that day. Between 15 million and 19 million soldiers and civilians died in the conflict .

Hillyer and Shelley will be returning to the U.S. on Nov. 17.

©2018 The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio
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