National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

A Cheese Making Boer War Veteran

The medal group of Private William Ellis.

The medal group of Private William Ellis.

William Charles Ellis was born in New Plymouth on 3 May 1874 into a military family. His father was Colonel John Ellis, a well-known figure in the Taranaki area, through his service in the Volunteer force and as a foundation member of the New Plymouth Borough Council. John Ellis was also a senior member of the Masonic Lodge.

William decided to follow his father’s example and in 1901 enlisted with the 6th Contingent, New Zealand Mounted Rifles and headed to South Africa (Anglo-Boer War) seeing action in the Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

On his return from South Africa, he began work as a cheese-maker in Okaiawa and when World War One began, William once again enlisted, this time with the Wellington Infantry Battalion, embarking from Wellington on 13 June 1915 aboard the Maunganui bound for Suez, Egypt.

William Ellis landed at Gallipoli on 28 July 1915 and was soon involved in the Wellington’s attack on Chunuk Bair on 8 August. At dawn, the men headed up the hill and got to the top with little trouble, however once on the crest, the Turkish forces came in wave after wave of counter-attacks. The fighting was brutal and often hand-to-hand and at some stage during the battle, William Ellis received a nasty gun-shot wound to the right arm and shoulder.

He eventually made it down to the beach and was later transferred to a hospital ship that took him to Egypt where he received treatment at the No. 2 NZ Stationary Hospital at Pont-de-Koubbeh, Cairo.

From there, William left Egypt aboard the hospital ship Oxfordshire for treatment and rest in England. The injury to his arm and shoulder was very severe and his days in the war were over. William returned to New Zealand aboard the Maunganui on 5 May 1916 and was discharged on 22 November 1916 due to “wounds received in action”.

William Ellis never really recovered from his wounds and was a regular outpatient at the New Plymouth hospital. He was manager of the Soldier’s Club and was part of the New Plymouth Returned Soldiers’ Association but on 6 July 1921, William Ellis died following a severe attack of broncho-pneumonia. He was 47.

10/2128 Private William Ellis’s medals (and those of his father) are on display at the National Army Museum in Waiouru.