A century after one of the most infamous battles of the Great War, a village church is fundraising to restore a memorial to one of the 325,000 Allied casualties.
Private George Edward Ellis – who died on August 15, 1917, aged 23 during the series of battles known as Passchendaele – is remembered in the churchyard at St James Church in Ince.
Private Ellis was born in Ince in 1894, the second of four sons of Edward and Sarah Ann Ellis and worked as a labourer.
He almost certainly enlisted voluntarily in 1915 to serve in the First World War initially with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry with whom he underwent basic military training.
In 1916 he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and was posted to France in June that year with No 168 Company in the 56th (London) Division.
A matter of weeks later his unit saw action in the field during the latter phases of the Battle of the Somme at Ginchy, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, the Capture of Combles, Transloy Ridge and the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line.
The following April the unit took part in the Arras offensive and in August 1917 was to take part in the series of battles now known as Passchendaele.
Churchwarden Simon Eardley explains: “On 15 August 1917 the company was warned for a move forward from positions near Zillebeke church (Ypres sector) into front-line positions for the forthcoming Battle of Langemarck.
“From the unit war diary we understand it was during this move that they came under heavy shell fire and George Ellis was severely wounded. George was removed to No 55 Field Ambulance and died from shrapnel wounds to his shoulder and side.
“It is likely he was buried in a temporary graveyard adjacent to the Field Ambulance station and is now commemorated on a Special Memorial (No 12) at Menin Road South Military Cemetery.
“The exact site of his grave is unknown and he is commemorated on a gravestone stating ‘believed to be buried in this cemetery.’
“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 has become severely weathered and a number of the lead letters have disappeared.
“With the centenary of the death of Private Ellis approaching, our Parish of Thornton-le-Moors with Ince and Elton would like to undertake a sensitive restoration of the memorial in preparation for a short service of remembrance on the first Sunday (August 20) after his death. Although the funding has been agreed to undertake this work we would like to offer the opportunity to members of the local community to contribute to this restoration project.”
The cost is said to be £500 with JustGiving donations having reached £165. Online donations can be made by clicking here and donations of cash or by cheque can be left at the vicarage on Ince Lane, Elton.
The church says it is grateful to historical researcher Graham Sacker from the Machine Gun Corps Database for helping with information on the life of Private Ellis, his military service and the circumstances of his death in action.