Private John Ellis, 15/1945, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), 15th Battalion ("Leeds Pals")
John Ellis was born in Ossett in 1893, the son of James Ellis and Martha (nee Westwood) who had married in 1891 in Ossett. In 1891 Martha and James Ellis are living on Dale Street, Ossett where James is a cabinet and house furniture maker.
In 1901, John Ellis, now aged 8, is living with his grandparents, Henry and Sarah Westwood at Barrowcliffe House, Headlands, Ossett. Henry is a colliery owner (Westwood's Colliery) and his father, Thomas, aged 83, a retired colliery manager, is living with family. Henry’s married daughter, Martha Ellis, and two unmarried daughters, Florence and Ada are also living with their parents. In all there are four generations of the Westwood family living at Barrowcliffe House. For some reason, John’s father, James Ellis, was not living with the Westwood family in 1901.
John’s grandmother, Sarah Westwood died in 1907 and in 1911 John Ellis, by now a colliery worker above ground, was living with his widowed grandfather, Henry Westwood at the ten-roomed Barrowcliffe House. Henry’s married daughters, Ada Lucas, and Martha Ellis, John’s mother, are also living there, together with Ada’s husband, Eli Lucas and their two young children.
John’s father, James Ellis, is not living with the Westwood family, but his mother is described as 'married' rather than widowed, suggesting that James Ellis was alive, but living elsewhere. John’s grandfather, Henry Westwood died in 1920, aged 77. Probate was granted at Wakefield to Henry's sons: colliery manager Harvey Westwood and colliery cashier Thomas Westwood. Henry left £15,562 4s 4d.
The 15th (Service) Battalion (1st Leeds), West Yorkshire Regiment was formed in Leeds in September 1914 by the Lord Mayor and City and in June 1915 came under the orders of 93rd Brigade, 31st Division. After initial training at Skipton and Ripon (North Yorkshire), the Regiment was sent to Egypt on the 6th December 1915 to take part in the Defence of Suez. They first arrived at Alexandria, but later sailed to Port Said and finally to Kantara, which was on the east bank of the Suez Canal. They were encamped in an area known as 'Point 70'.
The Regiment stayed in Egypt from 21st December 1915 until the 1st March 1916, finally arriving in Marseilles France on the 6th March 1916. From Marseilles they entrained for the journey to Pont Remy, finally marching to Mereleaasart.
On the 7th December 1917, the (1st Leeds) 15th Battalion amalgamated with (2nd Leeds) 17th Battalion to form 15th/17th Battalion after both "Pals" battalions suffered heavy losses. John Ellis' service number 15/1945 shows that he probably wasn't one of the original "Leeds Pals", but possibly joined after the losses suffered on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
It was to be Lord Kitchener's "Call to Arms" that would help bring together many new army regiments, such as the 1st Leeds, 15th (Service) Battalion, Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment), more famously known as the "Leeds Pals". The general idea of a Pals battalions was that the volunteers would join and serve with friends, relatives, workmates and colleagues, giving a feeling of comradeship that had never been seen before. Most major towns and cities along with Leeds raised pals battalions.
However, to be accepted to these elite units the recruits were to pass certain requirements. Education and intelligence were considered paramount to being accepted in the majority of cases. It was not only businessmen, and local dignitaries however, that were recruited and by the 8th of September 1914, the battalion had enlisted some 1,275 men after rejecting many on medical grounds. This number at the time was considered to be complete although the final number of "Leeds Pals" eventually rose to approximately 2,000. It would appear that each man chosen to be a pal had something to offer be it previous military experience, leadership qualities, or physical prowess. A certain high standard had been set, and each individual reached this, although the average age was 20-21 years old.
Training was to be rigorous and took place at Colsterdale on the Yorkshire Dales. Between September 1914 and May 1915. Colonel J. Walter Stead was the commanding officer of the battalion and he was later replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart Campbell Taylor. France was expected to be the Pals first destination, but this was not so. Early December 1915 saw the first group of Pals set sail for Suez. Inevitably, France was to be for many of the Pals their final destination. On March 1st 1916 the Pals set sail for Marseilles as the Battle of the Somme became imminent. The battle was to prove tragic for the "Leeds Pals". On that fateful day, 1st July 1916, approximately 750 out of 900 "Leeds Pals" involved in the Battle of the Somme died.
In a relatively small-scale Somme offensive, on the Thursday, 3rd of May 1917, at Oppy Wood, near the French village of Gavrelle, this date would also become synonymous with the 1st of July 1916, as once again many Pals battalions were thrown into the fray, with heavy casualties being inflicted on the recently rebuilt groups of men. Early on the morning of the 3rd of May the 15/West Yorkshires ("Leeds Pals") launched an attack on Windmill trench. Of the 547 men who started the attack, some 157 were fatalities, cut down by machine guns, 120 were missing and 120 were wounded, nearly half the total battalion strength being taken out in a single day. Many of the bodies of those killed were never recovered, including Private John Ellis.
The "Ossett Observer" 1 reported John Ellis missing with two other Ossett soldiers, Harold Brown and Israel Burnett Westerman, who had all joined the Leeds Pals and were all killed in action during the same battle, at Oppy Wood, near Gavrelle:
"Three Ossett soldiers missing - Lance-Corporal Harold Brown (20), son of Mr and Mrs. R.M. Brown of Dale-street, Ossett; Private I. Burnett Westerman (21), son of Mr. L. Westerman, of Ryecroft-street, Ossett and Private John Ellis, grandson of Mr. Henry Westwood, Barrowcliffe House, Ossett of the West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds 'Pals'), have been officially reported as missing from their regiment.
In reply to a letter of inquiry, respecting Private Ellis, who was an Ossett Grammar School 'old boy', and well-known locally as a promising baritone vocalist, the soldier's commanding officer states that he took part in an attack on the German positions on May 3rd, going gallantly forward with his platoon, but when the battalion was mustered after the fight, he was numbered among the missing. In tendering sympathy with the relatives in their anxiety, the officer states that they all grieved to have lost a good comrade and brave soldier, and promised to forward any further news received."
Private John Ellis, aged 24 years was killed in action on the 3rd of May 1917 in the action around Oppy Wood near Gavrelle. His service record has not survived, but he is shown as having enlisted at Ripon. His MIC only records the Victory and British medals and the words "Pres. Dead 3/5/17".
Above: The "Leeds Pals" recruiting tram that was used in 1914 to encourage local men to volunteer.
Private John Ellis is remembered on Bay 4 of the Arras Memorial 2, Pas de Calais, France. The Arras Memorial is in the Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery, which is in the Boulevard du General de Gaulle in the western part of the town of Arras.
The French handed over Arras to Commonwealth forces in the spring of 1916 and the system of tunnels upon which the town is built were used and developed in preparation for the major offensive planned for April 1917.
The adjacent Arras Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and have no known grave. The most conspicuous events of this period were the Arras offensive of April-May 1917, and the German attack in the spring of 1918. Canadian and Australian servicemen killed in these operations are commemorated by memorials at Vimy and Villers-Bretonneux. A separate memorial remembers those killed in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917.
Above: The Westwood grave at St. John's Methodist Chapel showing the memorial to John Ellis, the grandson of Henry Westwood. Picture courtesy of Lisa Jennings.
1. "Ossett Observer", 19th May 1917