Service Number: Unknown
RFC Trade: Pilot
Date of Enlistment: Unknown
Rank Achieved: Flight Lieutenant
Flying Hours: Unknown
Operational Sorties: Unknown
Date of Birth: 2nd of June 1889, at Waipu in Northland
Personal Details: Sir Samuel Howard Ellis, BA, LLB, was the son of Mr. Howard James Shoveller Ellis, who was a headmaster at New Lynn Public School.
Known as Sam or Sammy to friends, he seems to have preferred to be known officially by his middle name of Howard, and was often recorded in the newspapers as S. Howard Ellis.
Sam was educated at Auckland Grammar School where he won both the junior and senior scholarships. He then progressed to study at Auckland University College, where he graduated with both a Bachelor of Arts in June 1910 and a Bachelor of Law degrees in 1912. Sammy was called to the bar on the 1st of February 1912.
He was quite a sportsman, captaining the Auckland University cricket side and also playing first class cricket for Auckland in the 1911/1912 season, as wicket-keeper. He also played rugby in the University's senior football team. And he enjoyed lawn tennis and golf.
After leaving university Sam was employed in the legal offices of Mr McGregor, and Messrs Neumegean and Mowlem solicitors in Auckland. He moved to Fiji in late-1912 and took over the legal practice of Mr. Chalmers at Lautoka where he worked as a barrister and solicitor. Later his firm became Caldwell and Ellis. From 1925 his work extended to Tonga, too.
Sam married Miss Ellen Ada Brewster-Joske (known as Nell Brewster and Nell Joske) on the 18th of January 1926 at Darling Point, NSW, in Australia. They had two children, John and Susan.
Through the years Sam became Chairman of Directors for the following companies - Brown and Joske Ltd.; the Fiji Invstment And Agency Company; Fiji Investment Trust Ltd.; Suva Motors Ltd.; Cicia Plantations Ltd.; and the Kadavu Banana Company Ltd.
Sam held the position of Belgian Consul to Fiji, and also the Consular Agent for France during WWII. He was a member of the Fiji Club, and the Australian Club in Sydney.
He lived at Tamavua, Suva, in Fiji by the 1940's, but he also had a home in Leamington, Cambridge, in New Zealand. He and his family moved between both places. It seems they also had an Australian residence at one point too. By June 1947 Sammy and Nell were residing at 73 Carlton Gore Road, Newmarket, Auckland.
Service Details: At the outbreak of World War One Sam placed his two businesses into the hands of managers and sailed for England. Three weeks after arriving he joined the British Army, and was made a Second Lieutenant in the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers. After a time he realised New Zealand was sending its army to the war and he attempted to get transfered to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. However he found this was not possible and instead he was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps, where he was to begin training as a pilot.
Sam underwent his flying instruction at Hendon and then Netheravon, gaining is wings in February 1916, and then went to France in April to join the fight in the air. He returned to England soon afterwards and was flying fighters in the defence of Britain against Zeppelin raiders. Then in May he went back to Flanders, where on May the 6th he happened by chance to bump into his two brothers who were both in the NZEF, the elder of whom was Roy who had taken part in the landing on Gallipoli and remained there till within the last hour of the evacuation. The other brother, who's name is unknown, had joined the NZEF in a later draft.
On the 3rd of July 1916 during the third day of the great offensive on the Somme, Sam was shot down by anti-aircraft fire, wounded and captured. He was reported missing by a fellow pilot who watched him make a successful landing behind the lines. His wounds included shrapnel to his left lag, breaking the leg, and to his right cheek. The Auckland Weekly News issue dated the
12th of October 1916 reported on this:
"ELLIS, Flight Lieutenant S Howard, son of of New Lynn, is in a German military hospital. He took part in a great aerial raid, which accompanied the opening of the Somme offensive. He writes: " "I was brought down by an 'archie' (or anti-aircraft gun) on July 3; I was hit in the left leg which was broken and put me out of action and in the right cheek. The leg is more serious and that is only a matter of a few weeks. I was a bit seedy for a day or so but am now mending rapidly. I have been treated with most wonderful kindness by all ranks throughout, from the man who lifted me out of the machine, which was crashed, to the very able surgeon who now attends me."
After a year and a half of captivity, in approximately January 1918 Sam was released by the Germans and he and Private V.S. Pace were reported to have reached Switzerland by the Poverty Bay Times on the 10th of January 1918. The report stated 19 other New Zealanders had already been released shortly before these too.
World War Two
By World War Two Ellis was a lawyer and successful businessman, and he lived between two homes, one in Suva, Fiji, and the other in Cambridge, New Zealand. His Cambridge home was "Summerleas" on Pope Terrace, (which years later passed into the hands of equally well known local business man, the late J.D. Wallace).
He spent a lot of time during the war in Fiji, and he and his wife, Lady Ellen Ellis, would often him trip backwards and forwards between the two places.
In 1940 Sir Howard and Lady Ellis donated £5000 to the Ministry of Aircraft Production in Britain, to fund a fighter plane. Sam Ellis had telegraphed Lord beaverbrook with the following message:
"My wife and I have cabled you £5000 to purchase a Hurricane. May the name be The Spirit of the Royal Flying Corps. That spirit lives on vital and ardent in to-day's airmen who accomplish so brilliantly their more arduous, hence more glorious, task. You may care to know that Fiji sent five airmen in 1914, of whom two are now again serving in the Empire air scheme. Twenty-two from Fiji have already joined the scheme and others hope to follow."
Lord Beaverbrook replied in September 1940 with the following message:
"From across the world you have sent a message of the highest encouragement to the Air Force, men and women of the aircraft industry, and all who to-day stand in Britain in the front line of battle. To you and your wife I send an expression of heartfelt gratitude for the gift you send me for the purchase of a Hurricane fighter. You strengthen the power of the Empire and stand forth among the Empire's foremost champions."
The aircraft that the money funded was Hawker Hurricane Mk. I (serial coded V7776). It was given the presentation name "Spirit of the RFC", in honour of Sir Howard's own previous service in the Royal Flying Corps, and the Hurricane was sent to the Middle East. At this stage no further information is known about the fighter's service, who flew it and with which squadron, but it's career was not terribly long because V7776 was struck off charge on the 7th of May 1941.
At around the same time as "Spirit of the RFC" was being struck off charge, the Ellis's kindly donated a second amount of around £5000 for another RAF aircraft. This money paid for Hawker Typhoon (serial coded R8200) which was christened "Islands Of Britain". This fighter served with No. 56 Squadron, and was eventually struck off charge on the 16th of November 1945
A third sum of £5,500 was later donated by Mr and Mrs Howard Ellis to purchase another fighter. The aircraft purchased was a Westland Whirlwind (coded P7102) and dubbed with the presentation name "Comrades in Arms." This fighter served with No. 137 Squadron and then No. 263 Squadron. Whilst with No. 137 Squadron it carried the squadron codes of PS-F and it was flown by Australian Eddie Musgrave. In June 1942 the aircraft was based at RAF Matlaske. The Whirlwind was struck off charge on the 30th of September 1944.
It is of interest to note that this article from the New Zealand Observer magazine dated the 22nd of April 1942 suggests the name chosen by the Ellis's was shortened by the Royal Air Force.
"AND YET AGAIN - Mr and Mrs Howard Ellis, of Suva - and Cambridge - have once again very generously donated the sum of £5,500 for the purchase of fighter aircraft for Britain to be named "Comrade in Arms - Fiji and New Zealand." This is the third fighter donated by them, and is a very fine gesture."
Modellers will find it interesting that this seems to be the most famous of all Whirlwinds, and has been depicted by the 1/72nd scale Airfix Westland Whirlwind, and the more recent 1/48th scale Classic Airframes kitset. You can see more on the Airfix kitset here and a great build article with some lovely photos of the 1/48th scale kit here
Henry Boot, who studies presentation aircraft of the RAF, and has an interesting website on the subject here has kindly assisted with information on this page. He explains why he believes the original reports of a Spitfire being purchased are incorrect:
"During WW2 there was an organisation known as the Fellowship of the Bellows, which began in South America - Argentine/Brazil somewhere, and it was for ex-Brit's to donate money towards the aircraft funds in secret. A small amount of money was donated by each member for every enemy aircraft shot down. A new member was a "puff", after donating so much they were promoted to a "breeze", and as they donated more money so the "wind" factor went up gale, hurricane, whirlwind, typhoon etc. You see now what I'm getting at? As Mr Ellis was not short of a bob or two, he may well have been a member of the Fellowship of Bellows - hence the reason he donated the Hurricane, Whirlwind and Typhoon - and not a Spitfire."
Sammy was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in the June 1943 King's Birthday Honours and from that time was known formerly as Sir Howard Ellis.
Date of Death: 19th of January 1949, in Auckland, aged 59
Buried at: Waikumete Cemetery, Auckland
Acknowledgements: Thanks to former Cambridge residents Howard and the late Shirley McLeod for originally telling me about Sir Howard Ellis and his donated fighter that set me on the course for researching his career and connection to Cambridge. Also thanks to the late Henry Boot for his exceptional help with the three donated aircraft. Thanks too to Mary Ellis, Sir Howard's granddaughter, who has emailed additional information. Credit also goes to the following newspaper and magazine reports (some of them through the excellent Papers Past website from the National Library of New Zealand:
The Grey River Argus article "Prisoner in Germany" dated 19th of July 1918
Auckland Weekly News dated 12th of October 1916
Poverty Bay Herald article "Prisoners of War" dated 10th of January 1918
Poverty Bay Herald dated 11th of January 1918
The New Zealand Observer dated the 12th of June 1941