Elson, Ernest Thomas. Died 9th Apr 1917

E Elson – or indeed the various possible E Elsons – have provided a considerable problem for this study. There are several possible candidates born in the Rugby area.

Henry Ernest Elson’s birth was registered in Rugby in Q1 1888 – but has no record of service.

Edward John Elson’s birth was registered in Rugby in Q3 1881 – but has no record of service.

Ernest Percy Elson’s birth was registered in Rugby in Q1 1897 – and served in WWI.

Ellson E C is on the BTH war memorial with Elson A W, but E C Ellson[1] can perhaps be discounted as not only does he have a different spelling, but was from Lutterworth and is included on the war memorial there. Elson A W is also on the Rugby Gate – he was Ernest Percy Elson’s brother.

Ernest Thomas ELSON was born in Birmingham in 1885, and served in WWI.

The CWGC site shows four E Elsons and two E Ellsons – none show any sensible connection to Rugby.

Of the Rugby men, only Ernest Percy Elson appears to have served in WWI. He has a surviving Service Record, was wounded, but survived the war. It is suggested that if it is him on the Memorial, then he was added in error.

Another possible candidate may be Ernest Thomas Elson whose family lived in Birmingham, he was killed on 9 April 1917, but has no apparent connection with Rugby.   However, many people came to work in Rugby in the years leading up to the war but did not appear in Directories or impact on any records. He is perhaps the more likely candidate.

To provide due respect to both, their respective service stories are given below.

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Ernest Percy ELSON was born on 24 January 1897, and his birth was registered in Q1 1897 in Rugby.   He was baptised at St Andrew’s church on 14 March 1897 and his parents were John and Elizabeth Elson of 56 Cambridge Street, Rugby.

In 1911 he was 14 years old and he was living at 39 Pinfold Street, Rugby, with his widowed mother who was now 50 and had been married for 30 years and had seven children, with six still living. He was an ‘Errand Boy’ for an ‘engineer’s firm’. He later worked in the cycle trade, for Sam Robbins also at 39 Pinfold Street, New Bilton.

His Service Record survives and shows that he was enlisted aged 17yrs 8 months on 7 August 1914, although an on-line transcription gave 1904, the 190­­.. being amended by writing a 1 over the 0 and adding the 4!! He was found fit on 5 August 1914, as was then 5ft 6ins tall. He had several numbers: 235, 922, and 840609 as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery 4th South Midlands Heavy Brigade RFA.

He was posted as a Gunner on Home Service from 7 August 1914 until 27 March 1915. He then elected to serve outside the United Kingdom on 11 January 1916 and seems to have become a Driver and posted variously (the locations are lost) in UK, until he went to France on 9 June 1916.

From 9 June 1916 until 31 May 1917 he was in France, with various postings on 27 July 1916, and also on 8 and 13 November 1916, 9 and 19 April 1917.

He appears to have been wounded, possibly more than once as he was discharged to base on 9 April 1917, and it seems he later suffered a Gun Shot Wound to his left thigh on 27 May 1917, and was ‘invalided to England’ on 31 May 1917.   He was thus back ‘Home’ on 1 June 1917 and was not discharged until 28 December 1917, and remained on Home Service until 13 April 1918. His various postings or attachments to other units – possibly whilst still hospitalised – were on 10 August 1917, and then later on 1 June 1917.

He seems to have been transferred to the 4th Reserve Brigade on 10 August 1917, still enumerated as a Driver and then mustered as a Gunner on 24 February 1918.   There are various other postings and transfers as a Gunner on 14 April, when he returned to France, and on 20 May 1918. He was in France until 9 April 1919 and was apparently finally discharged on 8 May 1919.

He was awarded the Victory and British medals – but as noted above, survived the war and lived until 19??.   If he was included on the Memorial Gate, it was in error, probably because his family thought the memorial was to all who had served in WWI.

Ernest’s married older brother, Alfred William Elson (1890–1918), who joined the 1st Bn. the Hampshire Regiment is assumed to have died of wounds on 6 April 1918 in France or Flanders and is buried at Etaples. He is also on the Rugby Memorial Gate.

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Ernest Thomas ELSON was born in Birmingham in 1885. He was the son of Thomas Joseph Elson, an Accountant’s Clerk, and his first wife, Helen. In 1901 aged 16 Ernest had been a Solicitor’s Clerk, but by 1911 aged 26, he had become a ‘French Polisher’, perhaps a more practical skill suited him. He was still living at home at 79 Beach Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham with two of his elder sisters, one who had been blind since the age of 12, and his two much younger half-brothers from his father’s second marriage with Minnie in about 1901.

He had apparently spent six years in Australia, and had tried to join up there, but been rejected twice, so returned to his parents home in Sparkhill, Birmingham. Thus he did not join-up in the first ‘rush to arms’ – although some of his records give an apparently earlier number 4857, which appears to be for a soldier whose records show to have been attested in 1913!   Ernest Thomas Elson’s Service Record also survives and shows that he was attested at Warwick on 8 March 1916 and enlisted on 9 March for the ‘Period of War’. He was 30 years and 11 months old, 5ft 4½in tall and an upholsterer.

He joined up as Private, No.266804 in the 2nd/7th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

The 2/7th Battalion of the ‘Warwicks’ had been formed in Coventry in October 1914 as a second line battalion, and with the 2/6th Battalion became part of 2nd Warwickshire Brigade, 2nd South Midland Division. In August 1915 they were redesignated as the 182nd Brigade, 61st (2nd South Midland) Division and landed in France on 21 May 1916.

Ernest was on home service from 10 February 1916 and on 7 March 1916 was posted to his battalion on ‘home service’ until 12 August 1916. He then went to France to join the rest of the Battalion, no doubt as part of the reinforcements on 13 August 1916 and was ‘in action’ for just under a year until 9 April 1917.

He must have been a ‘good soldier’ as he was promoted to Lance Corporal.

The Battalion Diary showed that there was an attack on Fresnoy-le-Petit on the night of 8/9 April 1917, … and after strong opposition reached their objective taking one Prisoner.   Total casualties – 14 killed, 2 missing, 2 died of wounds, 37 wounded’.

The next day the Diary noted, ‘Troops consolidating as far as possible during the day the captured position … 11 bodies were buried under cover of the afternoon before the Battn withdrew’.

The report of the attack written later than the war diary daily entry gave the casualties as 11 other ranks killed, one officer and 41 other ranks wounded. The report noted that “All ranks behaved with great gallantry and determination, holding on to positions under extremely adverse conditions and, by their tenacity and pluck, eventually forced the enemy to withdraw”. CWGC, however, records 21 deaths in the attack on Fresnoy and wrongly attributes all deaths to 9 April, Easter Sunday, although the attack was on the evening of 8 April.[2]

Ernest Elson is recorded as ‘dying from wounds’ and it seems he was first evacuated to an aid post, but did not survive, dying on 9 April 1917. He was then buried at Map Ref: 62C. X. 6. a. 3.4., which was probably adjacent to the aid post and was located about a mile behind the lines on the edge of the St. Quentin wood.

No men from the Royal Warwicks are recorded as dying in France on 8 April, so it seems that all the casualties from the night attack were recorded as dying on 9 April. The CWGC records suggest that 17 soldiers from the 2/7th Warwicks died on the 9 April 1917, which would more that account for the ‘14 killed. 2 missing and 2 died of wounds’. All but five are now remembered on the Theipval Memorial, which suggests that their bodies were either not recovered or not identified – and that at least seven of those buried on 9 April were not found or identified when the others were ‘concentrated’.

The bodies of three of the others were found at Map Ref: 62B M.27. b.8.4. which was in a field on the north-west edge of the ruined village of Fresnoy-le-Petit; the other one at Map Ref: 62B M.27. b.2.5. near the road through the village. These four were, like Ernest, concentrated, i.e. their bodies were found and recovered and removed to their present burial place.

The five soldiers whose bodies were recovered could be identified, because of the named crosses erected when they were first buried by the 2/7th Warwicks after they handed over to the 2/5th Warwicks, and before they went back into dug outs at Marteville that evening.

L/Cpl Elson and his four colleagues were exhumed and reburied in various sections of the Chapelle British Cemetery, Holnon.

Holnon is a village west of St Quentin and south of the main road to Vermand and Amiens.   The British Cemetery is 5 miles W.N.W. of St. Quentin and is named from a wayside shrine. It was made after the Armistice, by the concentration of graves of 1917-18 from the battlefields West of St. Quentin and from Honlon Communal and French Military Cemeteries. There are now over 600, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, over 250 are unidentified and special memorials are erected to 17 soldiers, known or believed to be buried here. Other special memorials record the names of four United Kingdom soldiers, buried in Holnon Communal Cemetery, whose graves were destroyed by shell fire.

Ernest was awarded the Victory and British medals.

 

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Whoever is the ‘correct’ E Elson, he is now remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate.

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

 

 

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This article on the two E Elsons was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, January 2017.

[1]     Sergeant Ernest Charles Ellison, Service No:   1659, 12th Bn. Middlesex Regiment, Died: 30 November 1916, aged 24 . Remembered at Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery on Screen Wall. F.B.18. 9. He was the son of John Ellson, of 6 Baker Street, Lutterworth, Rugby.

 

[2]     http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/topic/183602-royal-warwickshire-regiment-kia/; see also, Birmingham Weekly Post, 5 May 1917.

 

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