ELLIS, David (1894-1969)

Modified on Fri, 12 Aug 2016 18:51 by Con — Categorized as: Biography - All, Biography - Students, Geelong College, Biography of War - World War I

ELLIS, David (1894-1969)

David Ellis was born on the 3 March 1894, the son of James Lewis Ellis and Annie nee Caffin. He was enrolled at Geelong College in 1908 and is recorded in Pegasus of April 1909 as leaving. He re-entered College in 1910, finally leaving in September 1914. His entry address was Bannockburn near Geelong.

He enlisted (No 617) in the AIF on 12 September 1914, embarked on HMAT Barunga on 22 December 1914 for Egypt and Gallipoli as a Trooper with the 4th Australian Light Horse. He served there throughout the campaign up to the time of the Evacuation, then went to France, where he transferred to the Australian Flying Corps, and was promoted Second Lieutenant.

A description of his first flight over enemy territory was quoted in Pegasus:
'Today was my first flight over Hun territory. I was not so excited as one would expect after all the tales told by old flyers to new ones. Still I did not leave the ground without a thrill of - - -, or was it exultation at being included in that renowned band of Service Flyers of the RFC. Some may boldly declare the former, but I stoutly maintain the latter. It was pride - real pride that I felt, when I gave my Lewis gun a final inspection and test, and the old RAF engine showed its test revolutions, and away we went.

We circled round the drome a few times until our formation of two was correct, and away we sailed down the old Bapaume road. My Lewis gun was loaded and the cocking handle drawn back, and woe betide any foolish adventurous Hun that spun down from the clouds and tried to sit on our tails. At Arras we swung round to our left and struck that place where our Canadian cousins won such renown. Yes, there was Vimy torn and seared and battered. The trenches were as they were left after the battle, and No Man’s Land could still be distinctly traced. I was lost in reverie, and at that moment a British Scout passed close to my tail and brought me back to reality with a bump. I hurriedly scanned the clouds above and below me, and peered into the sun, but could see no suspicious machine. Still, after that, never did my eye leave the sky for longer than a few seconds. Mr Fritz is an excellent shot, I am told, and later that same flight we experienced it, and can fully endorse the statement from personal knowledge. We flew on another few thousand yards and came to the sector over which we had been detailed to put in two hours’ work.

Our front was only a few thousand yards long, and our orders were to patrol it and watch it without crossing the strip known as No Man’s Land. The actual time necessary to fly the frontal length was a minute and a few seconds. After doing this a few times we became greatly bored, so away we went to have a look at that hot bed of Archies (anti-aircraft guns) and slaughter, known in the official circles as _, but in the society of the ranks and of the Flying Corps, as 'Hell'. What happened remains to be told. First there was a Hun strafing one of our perfectly good heavy howitzers. We went to find him, but he was too fly for us. Never mind, we’ll get him again some time or other when he is not watching. We drifted around the place for a time, and on turning round we saw one of his sausages about 200 yards to our left, Fritz in turn saw us. Whough! whough! low, harsh and tearing. What was that? They were two widening, black puffs of smoke directly below us. Next appeared four more closer, much closer, in a straight line from our engine to our tail, still we kept gaily on. Another six directly in front - a barrage. The wily Hun, expecting us to turn and side slip down to our side of the lines, immediately put a barrage on that side. Instead of doing this, as the book says, my pilot side-slipped on his left wing further down into Hun land. This upset Fritz and his calculations, but he soon picked us up again, and he did give it to us until we got out of range. After we landed we found he got two hits - one forward and one aft without doing any great serious damage. We turned again to the job at hand, still with one and a half hours to fill in, but I can assure you we did not trespass again, nor will we do so again in the future unless it is necessary. Orders are orders, but fools are fools and always will be so.

I had been continually scanning the sky and peering into the sun, and at last my vigilance was rewarded. There was a Roland (a type of Hun plane) just below us, perhaps waiting for someone unwary enough to approach, or else he was a decoy. Our job was to gain information, not to fight save if necessary. So we did not bother him, nor he us. No sooner had we passed the Roland than we saw the Scouts, which were protecting their decoy, hovering about 2,000 feet above us in the clouds. Yes, five perfectly fine Albatross Scouts of the latest pattern were up, and my gun was ready if necessity arose. Five is a big proposition for one machine of our type, and my pilot gave them no chance of coming to grips had they desired to do so, and I must confess I entirely approved of his actions in getting away. 'He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.' The rest of the time was filled in somehow without further excitement. Anyway we found where the Archies were, and that they could shoot straight. We also learnt that it is best to let sleeping dogs lie. After submitting our reports to the proper channels, we retired to the mess to again fight the Hun Archies, but this time from a place of vantage where we could with tranquility defy all the Hun Archies in creation. So ended my first flight, but not David Ellis.

Some of his varied actions in France are reported by F M Cutlack in the Official History of World War I:
'That so many of the combats fought by No 3 Squadron were indecisive was due to the want of speed for effective chasing on the part of the RE8’s and to the reluctance of enemy two-seaters, as a rule, to stay and fight. During the enemy’s retreat to the Hindenburg Line his reconnaissance two-seaters were numerous in the sky, but most of the engagements with them were short and distant affairs. On 5 September, however, Lieutenants A R Macdonald (Angus Roy Macdonald, of New Farm, Brisbane, No 3 Sqn AFC, previously AASC) and D Ellis (observer) fought a long duel with an obstinate Halberstadt over Tincourt, and after the Australian observer had fired 500 rounds the German was forced down to a landing near Roisel. . . . Again on 21 September Macdonald and Ellis flew over the rear slopes of the ridge, taking oblique photographs.'

David Holloway wrote further of Ellis’s service in Hooves, Wheels and Tracks:
'At least two other members of the 4th Light Horse found their way to the Western Front with the Australian Flying Corps. During the advance on the Hindenburg Line the RE8’s manned by the Australians frequently took on their German counterparts. During one such encounter Lt David Ellis fired some 500 rounds to down an enemy Halberstadt. Early in 1915 he had been amongst the first batch of reinforcements to the 4th in Egypt.'

Other letters are also in the 'Letters from the Front section' from Pegasus.

David Ellis returned to Australia on 21 November 1918.

He died on 20 May 1969.

Sources: Based on an edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck; pp185-7 (citing F M Cutlack, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918: Vol. VIII The Australian Flying Corps; David Holloway, Hooves, Wheels and Tracks: A History of the 4/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment and its predecessors; Pegasus; National Archives).