Private William Ernest Ellis

Regiment:  2nd Battalion Royal Sussex
Service No:   L/10092
Date and place of birth:  3rd qtr 1895 in Midhurst, Sussex
Date and place of death:  11 September 1914

The two brothers John Charles and William Ernest Ellis were both killed during the war. It was reported in the West Sussex Gazette that a third brother (Frederick) died, aged twelve, only a few months prior to John’s death, ‘by falling out of a tree’.

Family history

William Ernest Ellis, baptised at Midhurst Parish Church on 1 September 1895, was the third son of John and Emily Frances Ellis who had married in Midhurst in 1886.  Emily’s parents, Thomas and Jane Prodgers came from Brighton and at the time of the 1891 census he was a fishmonger in Wool Lane, Midhurst.  John Ellis was born in 1861 and had been a locomotive engine cleaner before becoming a post office letter carrier by 1891 when he was living in Wool Lane with his in-laws.  With him was his wife, born in 1866, and their first three children: Emily (3) John (1) and Florence (4 months).

By 1901 John Ellis (39) had taken over as fishmonger in Wool Lane on his own account but was also working as a rural postman. His wife Emily was now 34 and there were three more children: Thomas (8), William (5) and Katherine (3).

At the time of the 1911 census, John Ellis (50) was a patient at Merchant Taylors Convalescent Home at Bognor, Sussex. His son John (21) was listed as a Private in the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment in barracks. Emily Ellis (44) was running the fishmonger’s in Wool Lane on her own account and living there with her were Emily (23), Thomas (17), William (15) was helping at home, Katherine (13) Frederick (8) and Bernard (4).

Military service

William Ernest Ellis enlisted in Chichester and entered the war on 12 August 1914.

At the outbreak of war the 2nd  Battalion Royal Sussex was stationed in Woking as part of the 2nd  Brigade of the 1st  Division. On 19 August 1914, they were mobilised for war. Having landed in France they went directly to the frontline, the first English confrontation on European soil since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

They were involved in the Battle of Mons (21 to 23 August 1914) where four divisions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) faced the 1st  German Army across the Mons Canal and the Battle of the Marne (5 to 12 September). The French and English forces were  exhausted as they endeavoured to hold back the relentless onslaught from the German Army and prevent them from taking Paris. On 6 September the BEF exploited a break in the German line and within three days the enemy was in retreat. Strategically, the gains were immense but the casualties were high: the French had lost 250,000 men and the British 127,333. It is thought that German losses were equal in number.

William Ellis was awarded Victory, British and 1914 Star medals.

Death and commemoration

He died of wounds on 11 September 1914 and is buried in Priez Communal Cemetry, which is situated just south of Soissons. William Ellis’s headstone is one of eleven memorials set together in a group, of which six are from the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex.

He is commemorated on Midhurst War Memorial, Memorial Panels in Midhurst Parish Church, Graffham War Memorial and on a headstone in Midhurst Cemetery.

Memorial headstone in Midhurst Cemetery
Memorial headstone in Midhurst Cemetery
Grave of William Ellis in Priez Communal Cemetery
Grave of William Ellis in Priez Communal Cemetery
Grave of William Ellis second from left
Grave of William Ellis second from left © pierre vandervelden

Subsequent family history

His parents, John and Emily Ellis moved from Midhurst to Perrott’s Cottage, Graffham, Sussex

His brother, Sergeant John Charles Ellis was killed in action on 23 October 1916, serving with the Hampshire Regiment

His father, John Ellis, died in 1931, aged 70 and his mother, Emily, died in 1942, aged 77, both in the Midhurst district.


Around the start of the twentieth century there were two other Ellis families living in Midhurst.

Living at 3 Bennetts Terrace in 1901 were Thomas E Ellis (1847-1903) born in Goudhurst, Kent and his wife Caroline (1857-1907) born in Horstead Keynes, Sussex.  He was a corn merchant’s foreman and there were six children: Robert W (14), a house boy, Emma (11), Charles R (8), Ada M (6), Benjamin A V (4) and Arthur (1).  With both parents dead by  1911, the census records show the two youngest boys as inmates at the Workhouse, Easebourne, Sussex; Robert William Ellis (25) was an Able Seaman serving with the Royal Navy in China; Charles Ellis (20) was a kitchen porter boarding with the Church Army, 1 Upper Street, James Street, Brighton, Sussex.  The names of Charles Ellis and Robert Ellis appear on Memorial Panels in Midhurst Parish Church.

Living at Petersfield Road in 1901 were Thomas Ellis (1860-1903) born in Chichester, Sussex and his wife Alice (1860-1943) born in Easebourne. He was a monumental stone mason and there were two sons: George Ellis (12) and Charles (9).  In 1911 Alice (52) was widowed and living at the same address with George Edwin Ellis (22), a carpenter, and Charles (19), a grocer’s shop assistant.  The names of George Ellis and Charles Ellis appear on Memorial Panels in Midhurst Parish Church.



Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project