Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 1 (Athletics)

This week will see a series of posts about Oliver Bernard Ellis as part of Explore Your Archive week.

I noticed his name when going through the lists of diaries that we hold, and recognised it, both from the work I have recently been doing on the First World War, and also from the athletics medal that was given in his memory. I was looking for a story to investigate to create a virtual ‘story box’ for Explore Your Archives, so decided to see what else I could find about him.

The first port of call when finding out about individuals in the Bootham archive is generally the Bootham Registers. These are books which were printed in 1914, 1935, 1971 and 2011. They list all the students who had attended the school until that date, and include dates at school, names of their parents, spouse and children, as well as details of education, occupations and interests.

From the Registers I could find out that Oliver was born in Leicester in 1898, and his parents were Bernard and Isabel Ellis. Looking at the other people named Ellis in the Register, it turns out his father and brother (Colin Dare Bernard Ellis) also attended Bootham. The 1914 Register mentions that Oliver won the 3rd Prize for Natural History Diary in the Interschool Diary Competition in 1913. The 1935 Register includes the details that he joined the Flying Corps during the First World War, and was killed in action in 1917.

I checked the ‘Bootham’ magazine for 1912, and found that he was listed on the Summer Term 1912 List of Boys as entering that term (as number 86 in the school).

List of Boys, Summer 1912, from "Bootham" magazine.

The next place to check is the ‘Bene Decessit’ which is a paragraph written about each leaver in ‘Bootham’ magazine. Oliver’s (in the October 1916 edition) mentions that he was an excellent athlete and a “brilliant and daring gymnast, weathering all hurts”. He also helped to command the school fire brigade, and “was a wonderful practical photographer, and was very patient over his ornithological excursions with the camera.”

After noticing that he was noted for athletics, I looked at the catalogue for our sports records, and found the book of athletics results that started in 1916 (unfortunately we don’t have an equivalent book for pre-1916). (The work I’ve done recently to add detail to the catalogue entries for the sports records is now paying off!) Oliver’s name was listed in the top three in every senior race, and the open mile, and he was joint first for the senior cup.

Page from Athletics Records 1916.

There was also a photograph in the sports records of him doing a high dive in 1915, using an unconventional technique.

Photograph of O. B. Ellis's High Dive in Athletics competition, 1915.

Finding an article in the November 1976 ‘Bootham’ magazine that was written by Alexander Mowat, one of his contemporaries, helped to shed some light on the story behind the photograph. Checking the Athletics notes in the June 1915 ‘Bootham’ magazine, the notes about the sports day include: “O. B. Ellis came forward with a remarkable High Jump, consisting of a dive and somersault, which the judges regarded with considerable suspicion. Subsequent consulting of the rules of the A.A.A. has ruled it out, to the regret of many who thought it a very pretty and skilful feat. Our sympathies go out to Ellis, who is thus deprived of first prize.”

Part 2 continues tomorrow with natural history.

Explore Your Archive

This week (10th -16th November) is ‘Explore Your Archive’ week! It’s a week to talk about how interesting and brilliant archives are, and what you can do with them.

Throughout the week, I’ll be writing posts and tweeting (@BoothamJennyO) about my research into one Old Scholar, Oliver Bernard Ellis, who attended Bootham between 1912 and 1916. He joined the Flying Corps, and was killed in 1917.

Photograph of the 1916 Leavers. Ellis is second from right on the front row.
1916 Leavers photograph – Ellis is second from right on the front row

His life takes us through photography, the high jump, and climbing the railway buildings in York. A series of letters home paint a vivid picture of his experiences. Hopefully I’ll show how the variety of records that are held can be brought together to tell the story, and how there are almost endless avenues to find once you start exploring an archive.

There is lots going on around the country – check the main website for details, and look at the National Archives blog for a week of hashtags on Twitter.

An update from the Anglo-Belgian Ambulance Unit in Dunkirk

On the passage from Dover to Dunkirk the vessel Invicta assisted in rescuing- the survivors of the sunken cruiser Hermes. The members of the party rendered aid by manning the boats, by dressing one or two wounds, by artificial respiration for the partially drowned, and by stretcher work.

On arrival at Dunkirk the larger number of the party proceeded almost at once to the station sheds, where the wounded are laid out on straw. The work there, which is described by Dr. Nockolds, has continued, with the exception of half of Monday night, ever since. It is mostly carried on by relay parties of six to twelve persons, who work day and night in shifts of four hours. As the stream of wounded is almost continuous, and as it requires at the least six in a shift, and usually more, to cope with the need, it is clear that for a party of less than fifty the work has been heavy. This has been accentuated by the necessity of utilising a considerable number of the party in other ways. But the work has been well done, and the British Consul here has volunteered the opinion that our presence and efforts have done much towards improving the general organisation, order, and cleanliness of the clearing sheds.

In addition to this, men have been detailed to supervise and organise the loading of hospital ships which transport the wounded from Dunkirk to Cherbourg and other centres. On Sunday 750 cases were loaded on the British hospital ship Rewa between 6.30 a.m. and 11 o’clock; on the same day 600 were loaded on the Plassy; on Tuesday and Wednesday the same boats were filled with a complement of 900 and 690 respectively; on the Monday 1,200 were put on a French boat. Fleet-Surgeon Datton, of the Rewa, expressed great satisfaction with the way the work was carried out. Six hundred blankets were obtained, after much effort, from the French authorities for the use of the wounded on the Rewa. Some transport work with the motor ambulances has been accomplished, but up to the present no great necessity for it has arisen, as at Dunkirk there is a large fleet of military ambulances, and the ambulance trains are usually shunted right down to the quays; the cars have, however, been in constant use for taking the surgeons and dressers rapidly to and from the clearing sheds and the hospital ships.

There is more work to be done in Dunkirk than can be handled by the present party; that is to say, more men can be immediately and profitably employed. Further, we have hopes of establishing in a day or two a dressing station in a Belgian military hospital at Ypres, which will require a complement of twelve men or thereabouts. And, lastly, as part of a larger scheme, we hope to establish a small clearing hospital where operations necessary to save the lives of some of those who come into the station sheds can be safely carried out. It is hoped that the French military authorities will allocate to us an apartment which is admirably suited to the purpose, and which is only a few hundred yards from our present headquarters at Malo-les-bains, just outside Dunkirk.

At the moment of writing the party is provided with eight motor ambulances, one motor-lorry, and a motor bicycle. If the present plans mature, more motor ambulances and more unconverted “scouting” cars will be urgently needed. The morale of the party is very good.

PHILIP J. BAKER. Dunkirk, November 6th, 1914.

From ‘Bootham’ magazine, December 1914. Philip J. Baker was at Bootham between 1903 and 1906. He was later known as Philip Noel-Baker, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1959.