Sedgefield veteran and Pears' Soap baby dies aged 91

The Northern Echo: Sedgefield Village Veteran Johnny Hill Sedgefield Village Veteran Johnny Hill

A NORTH-EAST veteran who shot to fame in the 1920s as the face of a well-known soap brand has died at the age of 91.

Second World War veteran Johnny Hill from Sedgefield, County Durham, was a popular character in his home town, having worked as a painter and decorator for Sedgefield District Council for many years.

He was also a founding member of Sedgefield Village Veterans and regularly attended repatriation ceremonies on the Green in honour of British war dead.

However, as a child, Mr Hill’s face was known much further afield than Sedgefield.

Mr Hill and his older brother Ron were the stars of a 1924 Pears' soap advert that was displayed in pharmacies all over the country.

“The family had gone on holiday to Blackpool and my dad and Ron were told to change into togas for the photograph,” explained his son Geoff Hill.

“They absolutely hated it! But it is a lovely picture and my dad has used Pears' soap ever since.”

Born in Nuneaton in Warwickshire in 1921, Mr Hill senior was one of nine children.

After school he worked in a factory making cardboard boxes, before taking up an apprenticeship as a Capstan lathe operator at a tool manufacturing factory.

The factory was heavily bombed at the beginning of the Second World War and Mr Hill lost many friends, causing him to suffer a nervous breakdown.

Despite this, in 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corp and enjoyed a distinguished military career.

He carried out his training in various camps but it was at Sedgefield Camp that he was most happy, as it was where he met his future wife Rachel Stubbs.

The couple married at St Edmund’s Church in Sedgefield in 1943.

Mr Hill remained in the Army and took part in the D-Day landings in 1944. He then played a part in the liberation of France and Belgium and was among the first allied troops to reach Belsen Concentration Camp.

After the war, Mr and Mrs Hill settled in Sedgefield and brought up their two children Geoff and Joyce.

A widower, Mr Hill, who died in hospital on March 18, leaves behind his children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

His military funeral takes place at St Edmund’s Church at 1pm on Wednesday, April 3.

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