WWI: Fifty two months, fifty two posts – 49 – Unknown Soldier

This is not a post about the unidentified soldier buried in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920. Instead it is about a man who survived the war and whose words were lost for almost a century only to be found in an attic in Hertfordshire in 2017.

Allick Ellis – who was born in Norfolk in 1886 – enlisted in February 1915 as a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He joined the 3rd London Field Ambulance when he arrived in Le Havre, France, in February 1916 and acted as stretcher bearer for the rest of the war, rescuing the dying and wounded from battles during Somme, Paschendale and Cambrai amongst others. Writing in a small black book he had titled “Field Dressings by Stretcher Bearer” and dated “France 16-17-18-19” he documented his experiences in the form of poems.

Although those who have studied all the poems say that “Victory” (written after the Battle of Cambrai in 1917) is the most striking, it is one he wrote after he’d found the freshly dug grave of an unidentified British Solider that I want to share with you today.

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An Unknown British Soldier
by Private Allick Ellis

“An unknown British soldier”
I read on a rough cross of wood
By the side of shell-marked roadway
Stained with a nation’s blood.
No monument of marble
Gave a name to that human clay
But the golden rats of a setting sun
Kissed that rough cross of wood on its way.

II
An unknown British soldier
In that grave all alone & forlorn
Put down on the lists as “missing”
(For such is the Government form)
But a Mother, Wife, Sweetheart is waiting
A letter of knock at the door
Praying, though tears may be falling
O “God” bring him safe back once more

III
An unknown British soldier
For unknown to his fellows on earth
But where darkness is banished for ever
There an angel records a new birth
So mother & wife bear your sorrow
And Sweetheart smile through you tears
For you loved one is known over yonder
Where time is not measured in years
He is there in that City Eternal
No longer in pain or unknown
Where hardship & death are forgotten
And hatred & bloodshed have flown

IV
Hope on & have faith, for the darkness
Shall give place to the heavenly day
When the mists of the earth shall vanish
In the light of Eternal ray
Then the Angels & Archangels
Will point him out with pride
Some unknown British soldier
Who for Right & Freedom died.

It is a curious mix of a poem; the hatred of what war is combined with elements of propaganda plus its mention of “God” rather than God set alongside detailed descriptions of a Christian afterlife. I wonder if Allick was as much of a contradiction in person.

The book of poems has, thanks to the work of the historians at the “Herts at War” project, been reunited with Private Ellis’ descendants and added one more voice to the understanding of what the men who served were feeling as they did so.

All the information above was found in these three articles:

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