Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 5 (R.N.A.S.)

This post continues from Part 4, and is part of a series for Explore Your Archives week.

Oliver Bernard Ellis left Bootham in 1916. The bene decessit in the magazine (a paragraph about each leaver) reads:

“O. B. Ellis excelled in all forms of athletics. He was a brilliant and daring gymnast, weathering all hurts. He was an able goal-keeper, where he obtained his 1st Masters’ colours, and, later, played at outside right. At cricket he obtained his 1st eleven colours. Last year he obtained the Silver Medal of the Life-Saving Society and served on the Athletics and Football Committees. Last year he tied for the Senior Athletics Cup, and helped to command the Fire Brigade. He was a wonderful practical photographer, and was very patient over his ornithological excursions with the camera. He was a curator of ornithology and the N.H. rooms, and two years ago obtained the Old Scholars’ Prize. He leaves from the Upper Senior, and was reeve [prefect].”

Group photograph of 1916 Leavers.
1916 Leavers photograph – Ellis is second from right, front row

Oliver joined the Royal Naval Air Service in July 1916, and by March 1917 he was in Dunkirk. Some of his letters home were published in ‘Bootham’ magazine, here are some extracts:

April 21st 1917: “The F.A.U. dentist who I went to the other day said, ‘Let me see, you’re the man who tried to whitewash the roof of some railway buildings in York, aren’t you?’ He was an Australian, but his assistant was a man I was at school with at Sidcot!”

April 24th 1917: “I saw a little owl tonight, and heard lots of patridges calling. It was simply a ripping evening, and I almost expected to see an old curlew flying over.”

May 3rd 1917: “somehow the quiet freshness of Warwickshire seems far more fascinating than ever it did before, and the thought of perfectly white flannels and a perfectly flat cricket ground seem to be things only to be found in heaven. I think I’m going to live in white flannels when I get home. Does anyone play tennis this year?…The chances are one in a hundred in our favour, and there we must leave it, having reduced it to that, and thank God that I’ve got the safest job in this war. Don’t worry about me, I’m having the time of my life and am enjoying myself hugely, and the war can’t last for ever.”

On May 20th 1917 he was reported missing. Then the news came that his plane had been shot down on May 19th, and he had been killed.

Photograph of Oliver Bernard Ellis in uniform.
The photograph from the In Memoriam for Oliver Bernard Ellis in ‘Bootham’ magazine.
In Volume VIII of ‘Bootham’ magazine, there were only 150 pages between Oliver’s Bene Decessit (on leaving) and his In Memoriam.

Here is his entry on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

After his death, his parents presented the school with the Oliver Ellis medal for athletics, in memory of their son.

Photograph of Oliver Ellis Medal
Oliver Ellis Medal

Note: I hope that this week has helped to show how stories can be pieced together in an archive. There is still scope for far more research on this story, and many others in the archive.

There is an enormous range of archives nationally, with diverse collections, and they contribute in all sorts of ways, including education, business, identity and democracy. I hope that you will be encouraged to explore your archive.

Some of the items that I used to piece together the story

Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 4 (“A letter from Alexandria”)

This post continues from Part 3, and is part of a series for Explore Your Archive week.

Oliver Bernard Ellis wrote an essay for ‘The Observer’* called ‘A letter from Alexandria’. According to notes by his family, the essay was based on a letter sent by his uncle, Edward Dare Evans, to Edward’s daughter.

Image of first page of the essay.
First page of the essay.

The essay is written from the perspective of a serviceman who is wounded and in hospital in Alexandria. It gives an account of the events leading up to the injury.

The first sentence reads: “Looking back over the happenings of the last week, I realise the futility of attempting to give you any idea of the horrors of modern warfare.”

The last sentence reads: “When this letter reaches you I shall have left this broken shell, and shall be free to fly back over land and water to the old home, and there I shall stay for a few short years until we can meet again on the same footing ‘Death is not the sunset but the sunrise of our lives’.”

Image of last page of the essay.
Last page of the essay.

The series concludes tomorrow with his time in the R.N.A.S.

*The Observer was a collection of handwritten essays on a range of subjects by Bootham students and staff, that was regularly produced. This essay is taken from 2nd Series, Volume XXXII, p599.

Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 2 (Natural History)

This post continues from Part 1 and is a series for Explore Your Archives week.

Next I moved on to his photography and natural history interests. I found a collection of photographs by Oliver Bernard Ellis, which along with the natural history annual reports in the magazine, show the range of work he was doing.

Photograph from O. B. Ellis' Natural History Album.
No. II Whinchat.

The photograph above is from the collection of photographs (which is titled “O.B. Ellis Natural Science (Illustrations) Upper Senior 1914-15”) and is labelled “No. II Whinchat. Photographed half way to Skipwith in June 1914. It had a nest close by.”

Oliver was mentioned several times in the January 1915 Annual Report of Bootham School Natural History, Literary & Polytechnic Society. He won the Old Scholars’ Exhibition “with his interesting observations on the protective colouring of eggs and young.” He gave a talk on the subject, with lantern slides, at the Christmas Show. Later on the report mentioned that he showed “a number of bones collected from owl pellets, with the object of ascertaining the nature of the food of the owls of a particular district and of discovering whether they were responsible for an unusually high death rate, which had been observed among the young birds of the district.”

The Ellis family produced volumes of copies of letters and diaries by Oliver Bernard Ellis, and we have a copy of the two volumes in the archive. There is an enormous amount of material contained in the letters, more than I have yet had time to study properly. I did however notice a reference to bird photography in the diary entry of June 20th 1914. He got up when it was just light and cycled to Skipwith (just over 10 miles) to photograph a young cuckoo. He got back to school by 5.30am, and had an hour of sleep before getting up time.

The series continues tomorrow with the station buildings.

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.