Family legend has it that long-serving SSAFA volunteer Nora Kathleen Hill taught the Prince of Wales – later Edward VIII - to dance.
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Nora’s grandson Kim Hill said: “My father used to say that my grandmother taught the Prince of Wales to dance. She was a dance instructor and I believe Queen Mary spent most of the war at Badminton with the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort so it’s definitely possible. I do know Queen Mary visited my grandfather’s clothing factory Wathen Gardiner and Co (now Bristol Uniforms Ltd) but I suspect my grandmother could have been introduced to the Prince via the Duchess of Beaufort who was Chair of SSAFA Bristol at the time.”
Whether or not she did teach the future king, what is certain is that Nora was not one to duck a challenge. Already a SSAFA volunteer, Nora took on the role of Honorary Secretary to the Bristol City and County Branch in 1937 shortly before the outbreak of World War II. However she could not have anticipated the scale of the task at hand.
By the end of the war the branch had five paid staff, 100 volunteers and was managing in excess of 8,000 cases. Aided by her husband William John Hill, who was the Honorary Branch Treasurer, Mrs Hill had raised in excess of £10,000 – around £400,000 today - to continue SSAFA’s work, opened a twice weekly clothing depot and the first hostel for servicemen’s children in the country. The branch had also distributed toys to children at Christmas.
Mr Hill said: “Sadly I don’t know very much about my grandmother. She died in 1950 before I was born. I’m told she was a very vivacious woman who was full of life and loved to dance. I know my grandfather was in the Gloucestershire Yeomanry before WW1 and his clothing manufacturing company was producing uniforms for the troops during WW1 and WW2. I’m very proud of both of them.”
Nora Kathleen Hill was awarded an OBE for her charity work in the 1944 New Year Honours list and made Vice President of the Bristol City and County Branch in 1945, a position she held until her death in 1950. A letter to the Western Daily Press from SSAFA Joint Honorary Secretaries Mrs MW Dight and Lt Col EV Argles said of Mrs Hill:
“She kept the flag of SSAFA flying during the war and many families of servicemen have cause to be grateful for her kindly help and advice, in which she was assisted in many quiet ways by her husband. She was a woman of very great charm and with a personality which endeared itself to everyone with whom she came into contact. We feel we have lost a true friend and a most loveable character.”
Mrs Hill’s family has now loaned her OBE to SSAFA. Dawn Civill-Williams, Chairman of the Bristol & South Gloucestershire Branch, said: “We are very grateful to Mrs Hill’s family for their kind gesture in allowing SSAFA to be the custodian of this important piece of our history. 8,039 cases is a staggering amount for any branch to manage and it is important to celebrate Mrs Hill’s amazing achievement.”