Captain David Heaton-Ellis MC
Died 27th May, 1918 aged 21
David Heaton-Ellis was born on 12th April, 1897 to Edward Henry Fitzhardinge and Gertrude Heaton-Ellis. He was christened on 15th May that year in the Garrison of Portsmouth, Parish of St Paul’s, with his parents’ address given as 3, Southsea Terrace, Southsea. In 1901, this was a boarding house, so it is highly likely that it been the same in 1897. David’s father was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy at this time but later rose to become Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Heaton-Ellis, K.B.E.
In 1901 David and his younger brother Michael (dob 4th January, 1899) are found to be still in Portsmouth, in the parish of St Simon. This time they are the only family in that house and David, aged three, is listed as head of the house. Along with him and his brother are a nurse, cook and parlour-maid. He later went to Cothill House, Abingdon (a boarding prep school in Oxfordshire) while his brother went to West Downs School in Hampshire. After Cothill, David was tutored for a year in Switzerland and entered Repton School in September 1909, aged 12. He left three
years later, in July 1912, aged 15. He and his brother seem to have been educated quite separately.
The next mention we have is when he is at Sandhurst in 1914. He is listed in the London Gazette as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, on 23rd December 1914. He is promoted to Lieutenant on 22nd November 2015 and Acting Captain on 26th July 2017. By the time of his death, he is listed as full Captain.
The 2nd Battalion landed at Le Havre as part of the 25th Brigade, in the 8th Division, in November 1914, for service on the Western Front. It is not known when David joined them. The battalion saw action in a number of battles on the Front before being involved in the Third Battle of the Aisne in May 1918. It was during this battle that David was killed, before his regiment went on to take part in the Battle of the Scarpe in August 1918 and then the Final Advance in Artois.
He is commemorated on the Soissons Memorial. His Military Cross citation, published in the London Gazette supplement on 16th September 1918, reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. This officer commanded a front line company which was repeatedly attacked by the enemy, and held its position when the company on its flank had given ground. By his coolness and skilful direction of fire on parties of the enemy who endeavoured to work round his flanks he successfully prevented the enemy from penetrating a gap in the line. He did fine work.”
It is frustrating that we can find no trace of David’s connection with Church Stretton although he is commemorated on its Roll of Honour. His brother, who died “as a result of the war” in January 1919, is not commemorated locally as one would have expected, had there been a family connection. It is thus difficult to bring him to life here and we must regress to his childhood in order to paint a picture of him when younger. For this, we are greatly indebted to Mr Paul Stevens, Librarian and Archivist at Repton School, for generously sharing his work which was based on many years of research into all 355 of the old boys from Repton who died in the Great War. Mr Stevens provides us with this insight from the Hall Housemaster’s book:
Son of Captain E. Heaton - Ellis, British Embassy, Paris. Formerly schooled at Cothill House, Abingdon - then in Switzerland with tutor for a year. Came Sept 1909.
1909 Dec: Inclined to be silly and idle, but he is very young.
1910 Feb : Doing very much better this term - bright and pleasant.
June: Continues to do well - very stupid but tries.
1911 Mar : I think he is improving steadily. Hard to realise that he is still only 13. Can run a bit.
June: Was asked to meet a bigger boy in the country - went, but resisted attempts. Apparently didn’t realise why he was asked to go. I believe he will make a good fellow. Personal interest in him absolutely necessary. Quite responsive.
Nov: He was tutored in the holidays by Harford. It appears from his report and from that of the Father that the boy is very lacking in moral sense and very selfish. He appears to me to be doing much better this term, he looks brighter and is working better.
1912 Jun: Row over so-called ‘revelations’ to an O.R. He subsequently declared to us and his Father that they were fabrications. Such evidence as was obtainable rather supported this - but it became clear that he’s a little swine. Leaves.
From the headmaster’s 'Black Book' (sic),which details all the punishments meted out by the headmaster during this period, the last two entries which mention David are: June 8th 1912: Heaton-Ellis, David: Immoral talk and false accusations Flogged July 27th 1912: Heaton-Ellis, David Cheating in examination Flogged. Leaves at end of term.
It appears that he was withdrawn from Repton by mutual consent with his parents. We do know that he attended neither Brockhurst nor Shrewsbury schools. In 1912, the only other likely educational establishment in Church Stretton itself was Ashlett House, a small High School and something of a crammer. Perhaps David was sent here to enable him to get away from his previous associates, be taught an appropriately moral framework (it was run by Rev. Charles J Bryant, B.A.), enable him to prepare for Sandhurst and create a smokescreen over why he left Repton. This is only a theory as there is no documentary evidence either to support or to disprove the theory. Although it may seem unlikely that the Heaton-Ellis family would have even heard of the school, in fact there was a full page article in the 1st October 1911 edition of The War Office Times and Naval Review promoting Ashlett House in the highest possible terms, stressing the physical and moral environment in addition to its educational excellence. It is quite likely that this article would have been seen by David’s father, the timing is contemporaneous with David’s difficult time at Repton and it would have seemed an ideal solution to the dilemma of where next to send David.
Whatever the connection with the town, David’s makes an interesting story and reminds us never to make assumptions about bravery: this unpromising boy was awarded a Military Cross.