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Private George Ellis, 1894-1917

George Edward Ellis was born at Ince in 1894, the second of the four sons of Edward and Sarah Ann Ellis who lived (in 1901) at 13 Fish Row (now Marsh Lane or New Row back in the early 20th century). His siblings were: Frank, aged 33, Albert aged 21 and Percy aged 16 (ages correct in 1919) although he was ultimately one of eleven children. In the 1915 census George's occupation is noted as a 'manufacturer of electric cables'.

He almost certainly enlisted voluntarily under the Lord Derby Scheme, on 3rd December 1915.  After the initial flood of volunteers following the outbreak of the war, by the middle of 1915 these had slowed to a trickle and the Government realised that, with no end to the war in sight, they would be obliged to commence conscription.

Before this came into effect, the Minister for Recruitment, Lord Derby of Liverpool, introduced his special scheme.  Under its terms, anyone who came forward would merely be required to furnish their personal details, undergo a basic medical, and was then sent back home to await a call to serve. It was promised that married men with children and those in reserve occupations would go last, and all volunteers could choose the regiment that they preferred to serve in (within reason).  The volunteers swore an oath of allegiance to the King, were given a khaki armband bearing a red cloth crown to wear on the sleeve of a jacket to signify that they had volunteered, plus one shilling representing one day's pay.  George Ellis was shown to be aged 21, a labourer, 5'2" in height, with a chest measurement of 34". (These measurements were only slightly below average at that time, and he was considered physically fit to serve).

As a single man with no dependents, George did not have long to wait. He was called to the colours on 4th April 1916, becoming No 24178 in the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, with which unit he underwent basic military training.

Instead of being able to continue serving with the KSLI, on 26th April 1916 he was compulsorily transferred to the Machine Gun Corps ("for the good of the service") and was sent on a gunnery course at Belton Park, Near Grantham. Here he joined No 168 Company, in the 56th (London) Division and was posted overseas to France on 25th June 1916. The Company would have been about 140 strong - about 100 gunners to serve the 16 machine guns, and about 40 to form a horse and mule drawn transport section).

He joined his unit in the field on 5th July 1916 and saw much action at the Battle of Ginchy (9th September 1916), the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (15th to 22nd September 1916 - which was the battle in which tanks were used for the very first time), The Battle of Morval (25th to 27th September 1916), the Capture of Combles (26/9/1916), the Battle of the Transloy Ridges (1st to 9th October1916) and during the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line (14th March to 5th April 1917).  All of these were in the Somme Sector.

In late April 1917, the Division was moved north to take part in the Arras offensive.  168 Company saw action at the 1st Battle of the Scarpe (9th to 14th April 1917) and during the 3rd Battle of the Scarpe (3rd to 4th May 1917).

In August 1917, the Company was to take part in one of the first of the series of battles which would come to be identified with the name of Passchendaele.  On the 15th August 1917 (the date of George's death) the Company was warned for a move forward from positions then held near Zillebeke church (Ypres sector) into front-line positions for the forthcoming Battle of Langemarck.

From the unit war diary it is possible to deduce that it was during the move that the unit came under shellfire, having been observed going forward.  One soldier (10037 Pte James Isely) was killed instantly, George Ellis was severely wounded and two others in his section were also wounded by the same shell.  George was removed to No 55 Field Ambulance, where he died from shrapnel wounds to his shoulder and side.

It is likely that he was buried in a temporary graveyard adjacent to the Field Ambulance station.  He is now commemorated on a Special Memorial (No12) at Menin Road South Military Cemetery. This may well be the permanent cemetery constructed in the aftermath of the war, where he had been buried back in 1917. However, when the cemetery was put together by the (then) Imperial War Graves Commission, the exact site of his grave could not be traced and he is now commemorated on a gravestone stating "believed to be buried in this cemetery". His comrade James Isely would have been buried close to where he fell, but his grave has been totally lost and he is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Tyne Cot, Passchendaele.

Summer 2017 - successful fundraising campaign sees memorial in Ince churchyard restored

Within the grounds of his parish church at Ince, on the right hand side of the footpath leading to the main entrance is a small memorial, presumably erected by his family to commemorate his service and death amongst the community of which he was a member. Over the years this memorial had become severely weathered and a number of the lead letters had disappeared. 

Thanks to the generosity of many members of our congregation, residents of our Parish and people touched by George's story from further afield, we successfully proceeded with the restoration project, working with E F Mackie stonemasons in Birkenhead and at a special service on Sunday 20th August the memorial stone was re-dedicated. We were pleased to be joined by representatives of the Western Front Association, Merseyside Branch who, on a visited to Ypres as part of the Passchendaele100 commemorations, took the time to visit George's resting place and placed a memorial cross to him. On their return to the UK, members of the branch sold commemorative pins and very generously donated the proceeds to our fundraising campaign. We are incredibly grateful to them all and to all those who have taken the time to share their own family stories of this period and to contribute so generously.

Acknowledgement

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Graham Sacker, Historical Researcher for the Machine Gun Corps Database, for his assistance in helping provide information on the life of Private Ellis, his military service and the circumstances of his death in action.  

More information about the 'Machine Gun Corps' is available at:  http://www.machineguncorps.co.uk/