Henry Rees Ellis was born in Rhyl in the latter part of 1897, the third child of Thomas and Emily Ellis. According to the 1901 census they were living in an Edwardian terrace on the sea front in number 65 West Parade. His father, fifty seven year old Thomas, was a plasterer who had his own firm. His wife was thirteen years younger than him and mother to Percival (6), Elsie (5) and Henry (3). They employed a young woman, Anne Davies, as a domestic servant. The family spoke both English and Welsh.
By 1911 they had moved to Glan Aber, Dyserth – a substantial detached stone property next to the parish church. Percy, now 16, was an apprentice learning his father’s trade. Elsie was also an apprentice – in a draper’s shop. At thirteen Henry was a scholar although he too took up plastering after leaving school. It would seem from the census return that the parents had already lost one child.
Henry enlisted in Flint in June 1915. He was 17 years old – although his enlistment papers give his age as 19 years and 156 days! He, like many other young lads of his generation, was probably keen to serve his country and may have been caught up in the promise of adventure. He signed up to 4 years service in the Territorial Force and became a member of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. What a slight figure he must have been at just five foot three and a half and weighing 98 pounds – less than 7 stone.
Henry served with the 2nd/5th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The Battalion remained in the UK until December 1916. In May of that year Henry spent a week in a military hospital in Oswestry as he was suffering from scabies.
From his army papers we can follow Henry’s journey into battle. On the 11th of December 1916 -as a member of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force – he embarked from Southampton sailing via Marseilles and arriving in Alexandria on the 26th of the month. On New Year’s Eve 1916 he joined his battalion for duty in the field. However, on the 17th of January he was admitted to No 2 Australian Stationary Hospital, once again suffering from scabies. By the 13th of February he was discharged to duty in Romani and on the 3rd of March he re-joined the battalion for duty in the field.
Henry was reported “wounded in action” in Gaza, – later amended to “wounded and missing” – on 26th of March 1917. His papers show that the actual date on which he died was undetermined.
The acknowledged date of his death coincides with that of the First Battle of Gaza in which Welsh soldiers played a prominent part. At the outbreak of the First World War, Palestine (now Israel), was part of the Turkish Empire. By 1917 Britain’s three main war objectives were to maintain maritime supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea while preserving the balance of power in Europe and the security of Egypt, India and the Persian Gulf. The latter could be secured by an advance into Palestine and the capture of Jerusalem. In theory a further advance would ultimately cut off the Ottoman forces in Mesopotamia from those on the Arabian Peninsula and secure the region. (information from Wikipedia)
On the 26th of March 1917 the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) made its first attempt to invade the south of Palestine. Fighting took place in and around the town of Gaza on the Mediterranean coast when infantry and mounted infantry from the Desert Column attacked the town. Late in the afternoon, on the verge of capturing Gaza, the Desert Column was withdrawn due to concerns about the approaching darkness and large Ottoman reinforcements. The outcome was disputed – both sides claiming victory. (Seen largely as a British defeat, a second battle in April 1917 also resulted in defeat.)
British casualties from the first battle amounted to 4,000; 523 killed, 2932 wounded and over 512 missing….. one of whom was Henry Rees Ellis.
The Jerusalem Memorial on which Henry is commemorated stands within the Jerusalem War Cemetery. It commemorates 3,300 Commonwealth servicemen who died during the First World War in operations in Egypt or Palestine and who have no known grave.
Henry had served for 1 year and 285 days in all. Like all the other bereaved families – fathers, mothers and other relatives received letters from the authorities in the aftermath of their loss. In Henry’s case his father signed for his medals and for the only possessions of Henry’s that were returned – two identity discs.
His mother signed the Flintshire Roll of Honour card which is now held in the county archive.
Henry’s brother Percy survived the War. He completed and signed his own card having written on it; “ Period of Service: 4 years, six months. Served in Egypt, Palestine and France. 18 months at home. 3 years abroad. Signed: P C Ellis”