Monday, January 15, 2007

Spts/5368 Pte John Ellis, 11th Royal Fusiliers

I am delighted to have been sent a photograph of 5368 Private John Ellis of the 11th Royal Fusiliers who was killed in action on 10th August 1917 in one of the many actions that would later be classified as "3rd Ypres".

John Ellis was born at Fletching, Sussex and this is his story.

Soldiers Died in the Great War gives his place of birth as "Chelwood Gate" and his birth was registered at Lewes in the September quarter of 1884.  He appears on the 1901 census of England and Wales as an 18 year old farm labourer living with his family at Fletching.  The household in 1901 comprised: Henry Ellis (head, aged 55, born at Nutley and working as a farm labourer), Mary A Ellis (wife, aged 44, born at Lindfield) and their children: Searles Ellis (a 22 year old soldier born at Maresfield), John Ellis and William Ellis aged 15 (born in Chailey and also working as a farm labourer).

The family appears to have lived at Chailey for some time and are noted on the 1891 census living at South Street in the village.  By the time the First World War was declared however, I think the family had moved away from Chailey.  John is not mentioned in the parish magazine (although his brother William is). 
In 1907, John married Florence Eveling Welch. Their union was registered in the Uckfield District in the third quarter of 1907. Their son Jack was born in 1908, followed by daughter Florrie was in 1911, and baby Eveling (date unknown).
John's number belongs to the series issued by the Sportsmen's Battalions (the 23rd and 24th Battalions, Royal Fusiliers, and the 30th (Reserve) Battalion which was a reserve battalion for the 23rd and 24th). It dates to June 1916 and so presumably he initially joined one of these battalions - probably the 30th - and was subsequently posted to the 11th Battalion.

John Ellis was killed in action on 10th August 1917 when the 18th Division attacked towards Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse during what would later be designated the Third Battle of Ypres or the Battle of Passchendaele.  The following passages are taken from the History of the 18th Division:

“One almost smiles now to recall the programme set the 18th Division on that 10th August.  Gains that needed weeks were expected to be gathered in a few hours.

“If we turn to Glencorse Wood and the 54th Brigade we see that the [7th] Bedfords were asked to take defences in front of the wood, and then to fight their way through it and up to the edge of Nonne Boschen Wood beyond.  That meant crossing a morass littered with derelict, semi-submerged tanks – in one of which a German sniper had been caught the previous day – and dealing with a row of pill-boxes, ten of them, standing up at the south west corner of the wood. The Bedfords, with the Fusiliers on their right, formed up near the Hooge-Menin Road.  The two battalions stretched across a front of about 750 yards.

“At 4.35am the assaulting companies went over the top unobserved by the enemy.  Never have the Bedfords shown finer dash… at 5.13am a message was received at 54th Brigade Headquarters that the Bedfords were on their final objective.”
The 11th Royal Fusiliers however, were “in difficulties”.

“Portions of the two attacking companies reached the objective, but a gap of 300 yards divided the battalion from the Bedfords further north.  The right reached Fitzclarence Farm but could not get in touch with the 55th Brigade.  By 6am all the Fusiliers’ officers had fallen.

“Preceded by parties bombing up Jargon Trench and other trenches between the two woods, the Germans launched a counter attack from Inverness Copse.  Their machine-guns forced the Fusiliers back, and, under orders from the 54th Brigade, the battalion took a line on the ridge in front of Clapham Junction.  The idea was that they should join up with the 55th Brigade then consolidating Green Jacket Ride.  Reinforced by a company of the 12th Middlesex Regiment, the Fusiliers held this line until relieved.”

Five DCMs were awarded to 11th Royal Fusiliers’ NCOs that day for their skill in “shepherding officerless companies and rallying waverers to new and amazing resistance to the weight of the outnumbering Germans.”

Between 31st July and 10th August, the 18th Division lost 244 men killed, 1,106 wounded and 176 missing.  Soldiers Died in The Great War (SDGW) records that 103 Other Ranks from the 11th Royal Fusiliers died this day, to say nothing of those who would die of wounds later.  Officers Died in The Great War records that ten officers from the battalion also fell that day. John's entry on the British war and Victory Medal roll notes "D P 10-8-17" or "Death Presumed" so he was obviously posted as missing initially.

John Ellis is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres.  SDGW states that he enlisted at Uckfield and was living at Piltdown, while The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives the additional information that he was the son of the late Henry Ellis and the husband of Florence Eveling Ellis, of 2, Stone Croft Cottages, Piltdown, Uckfield, Sussex.
The photos on this page are courtesy of John Ellis's granddaughter Sonia and show John in uniform; also his wife Florence Eveling Ellis and their three children, from left, Florrie, Eveling and Jack.
As well as being commemorated in Belgium, John's name also appears on the war memorial at Fletching.

1 comment:

William Bremner said...

SPTS/5364, Walter Chinnery, enlisted with the 30th (Reserve) Royal Fusiliers on Dec 8th 1915, but was not "mobilized" (or "posted") until June 7th 1916. He went over to France on September 26th 1916 and, like Ellis, served with the 11th Royal Fusiliers.