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Henry Reuben Ellis

 

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Died : 2 August 1917
 
 

The second of our men destined to die and forever lie at the scene of some far-flung conflict was Henry Ellis. Way across the hostile desert, a lonely cemetery near the capital of Iraq is his final resting place. He shares the ground of Baghdad (North Gate) Cemetery with his pal Allan Parsons. Henry’s early life at present remains a mystery but he is believed to have lived at Church Hill, Ringmer. It is known that he married May Honeysett on 3rd June 1911 and at that time his father William was already dead. He was a labourer and also a member of the Ringmer Mutual Benefit Society.

 

Henry enlisted early in the War into the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Gunner with the number 56556 in Brighton. He transferred into the 9th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a private soldier with the new number 12546. He was sent as part of a replacement draft on 25th September 1915 to the Gallipoli Peninsula and landed there on 5th October. The campaign against the Turks was faltering and Allied casualties were mounting up at a prodigious rate. The 13th (Western) Division, of which the 9th Warwicks was part, saw considerable action both at Helles and then on the ANZAC front. Bad weather conditions were already playing a part in the health of Ellis and his fellow soldiers for, on 26th November owing to a severe storm, all kit was drenched and any shelter was flooded. Several men died of exposure later as a result of the storms and frost. They were then transferred to the Suvla front and remained there until evacuated during the night of 19/20th December 1915. They formed part of the rearguard here helping to cover the evacuation of 83,000 men and their equipment from the beaches at Suvla Bay and around Anzac Cove. They returned to Helles and were involved in more bitter fighting until a further final withdrawal was ordered for the night of 8/9th January 1916. This time they sailed to Egypt via Mudros, by which time the effective strength of the Battalion was down to 481 men [from 811 on 31st October].

 

A short period of guarding the Suez Canal followed before the Division was once again on the move; this time for Mesopotamia. They disembarked at Basra on 27th February and began to travel by boat up the River Tigris. On 2nd April they were involved in the third unsuccessful attempt to relieve Kut-al-Amara [and so try to rescue Allan Parsons of Ringmer]. After the capitulation of Townshend’s force, the 13th Division with the 9th Warwicks continued to skirmish with the Turks and Arabs (whose allegiance varied), for the rest of 1916 and into 1917. By 25th February Kut-al-Amara fell once more to the British and we pursued the enemy, by then in retreat, northwards. The Turkish losses increased  as we pressed on towards the goal of Baghdad which was entered on 11th March after three days bitter fighting.

 

With the British, ANZAC and Russian forces compressing the Turkish Armies on all quarters the enemy losses mounted. It was not all one sided however. The Allies still sustained considerable casualties not least from the ever present virulent diseases and hostile environment. For example on 20th July the temperature in the shade at Baghdad was 123 degrees Fahrenheit [50.5 degrees Celsius]. Whilst in the desert, many days were spent in sheer survival trying to find sufficient water to stay alive. Many soldiers succumbed to these conditions and died from heat-stroke, dysentery, beri-beri and other unpleasant ailments. Some even drowned whilst bathing in the Tigris in their enthusiasm to get cool. This was either on water collecting duties or when the Battalion moved up to the river bank for a while late in June 1917.

 

In the midst of this hotbed of bugs, bullets, and burning heat Henry died on 2nd August 1917. His precise cause of death is not recorded in the War Diary of the 9th Royal Warwickshire Regiment but it was not the result of any major military offensive. Private Ellis, who was entitled to the 1914/15 Star, British War & Victory Medals, was transferred one last time - to his lonely grave at Baghdad.

 

Baghdad Cross North Gate

 

The Cross of Sacrifice in Baghdad

(North Gate) War Cemetery

 

 
Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993