Ellis RATCLIFFE
Rank: Private
Number: 81525
Unit: 18th Battalion DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY
Date of Death: 12 April 1918
Age: 18
Cemetery: Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Belgium

Ellis was named after his father and lived him and his mother, Mary Jane, at 52 Travis Street, Stockport. Nothing else is known of his private life except that he enlisted into the army in the town.

He joined up, underage for overseas service, probably in 1916, and was assigned to the Lancashire Fusiliers and given the service number 51023. However, it was much later in the War when he finally went on active service. At that time, no doubt when he became 18, he was transferred to the Durham Light Infantry and joined the Battalion as one of a group of new troops replacing casualties.

On 9 April 1918, the German opened the second phase of their spring offensive in what would become known to the British as the Battle of the Lys. As the month before, the assault was overwhelming in its force and ferocity. Ellis and his comrades were not in action that day and had spent the early part of the month in reserve. On the 7th, the Battalion received 50 new troops and, although it cannot be known, Ellis may even have joined this close to his death.

Overnight on the 10/11th, the Battalion moved towards the front line taking up its positions at Outtersteene, some 5 kilometres south-west of the French town of Bailleul. They received order to make an attack at 7pm. Zero hour was subsequently delayed for 30 minutes but the men then moved off. “C” Company led the way, with the other three companies a little way behind. The first objective was only lightly defended by the Germans and was quickly taken. The second objective, further on, was also captured and the Battalion began to consolidate their gains. “D” Company, on the left, had been the only one severely troubled as an enemy machine gun had opened on them from their flank.

At 7.30 the next morning, all companies were reporting that the enemy could be seen massing in front of them for an attack. The attack was first delivered on the battalion next to them – the 13th York and Lancaster and they were forced to retire. This left the Durhams in an exposed position and, after about 15 minutes, they were also forced back. They had accounted for many German casualties but the attacking force was simply too strong to hold off. The Battalion had suffered about 270 casualties – dead, wounded or missing.

The Commanding Officer now rallied the men into defensive positions and orders were issued that they were to hold on at all costs. At this point, the British artillery, not appreciating exactly where they were, accidentally shelled them and there were many casualties. “D” Company now had less than 20 men left (full strength it would have numbered nearly 250). “B” had a similar small number. A further retreat was now inevitable and all the troops remaining from the Durhams pulled back to a line astride a nearby railway, south of Outtersteene. This was still a dangerous position as it was in the view of the German machinegunners but the Durhams held it for an hour before being forced into another withdrawal. The new position now came under attack and it seemed inevitable that they would be surrounded. A further significant retreat was ordered for the whole Brigade to near Bailleul.

Sometime during the day, Ellis had been killed. His body will, no doubt, have been buried by the advancing Germans once the fighting quietened down but, inevitably, they had little interest in the individual identification of men and the location of Ellis’ grave is not known.

   
           
   
     
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