Better known as Howard, Ellis attended Auckland Grammar School and then threw himself into student life at Auckland University College (AUC) from 1907-1911. In 1908 alone, he played varsity cricket and tennis and was on the committees for the Magazine, Debating Society, Men's Common Room and on the Students' Association executive. He graduated BA 1910 and LLB 1912.2 A younger brother, Roy Finlayson Ellis, also attended AUC for a year.3
Ellis began his legal career in Auckland before taking over a legal practice in Lautoka, Fiji in 1912 and entering into another practice in Suva.4
Following the outbreak of war, Ellis went to England in early 1915 to volunteer for military service. He obtained a commission as a second Lieutenant in 15th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).5 He gained his pilot’s licence at the Grahame-White Flying School at Hendon, North London in October 1915.6
`I have received parcel of provisions and cigarettes… Thank you very much. Thanks, too, for playing cards. Jolly glad to have them, I have also received parcel Xmas fare, marked Weinachtspaket, some pudding; thanks awfully much.’
War and imprisonment
By May 1916, Ellis was serving with 6th Squadron, RFC in France. That month, two of his brothers, Roy and Charlie, both signallers in the NZ Expeditionary Force, were by chance near Ellis’ base. Roy recounted how Charlie `… rang up from the horse lines to say that Howard was with a R.F.C Squadron at Estaires, a few miles away. So we rode over on bicycles, and had a great day. We saw Howard’s plane, a very crude affair, which he flew solo.’7
Less than a month later, Ellis flew in the aerial raid on the first day of the Somme offensive on 1 July 1916.8 Two days later while flying near Arras, France, he was struck by anti-aircraft fire which fractured his jaw and left leg and briefly knocked him out. Ellis regained consciousness and control of the plane but had to land in German-held territory and was taken prisoner.9 He was one of six Collegians who were military prisoners of war (POWs).
During the next 17 months, Ellis was held in nine POW camps and hospitals, an experience he described in an official post-repatriation statement in January 1918.10
In his statement, Ellis noted some rare instances where prisoners were treated well and he took care to praise particular individuals, including the `excellent surgeon’ at Crefeld [Krefeld] Town Hospital who operated twice on his leg, nine months after capture.11
Mostly, however, his account detailed the harsh conditions prisoners faced in camps and hospitals. His severest criticisms were levelled at the newly-built Holzminden Offizier Gefangenenlager, a camp in Lower Saxony where he spent three months from September 1917. Ellis recited some of the 89 official complaints previously laid with a Dutch envoy who inspected Holzminden under the Hague conventions governing the treatment of prisoners: German rations were `insufficient to support life’ and food parcels were sometimes held back or stolen by guards who, like most Germans, also suffered food shortages. Wood fuel for heating was rarely available and beds were `wooden boards, with filthy mattresses of seaweed, paper or wood shavings’, covered with a sheet and two thin blankets. Prisoners were put into cold, damp cells as punishment for `trivial offences’, including looking out windows and having string, which could be bought in the canteen.12
Ellis said: `The whole effect of Holzminden is most harrowing to the nerves. One saw after three months there a noticeable deterioration in health and fitness in nearly every officer – in many cases verging towards insanity.’13
The official who took the statement noted that Ellis laid `… great stress on the shortcomings of this place [Holzminden] because it was one of his worst experiences and also because he learnt there that the Germans contemplate the formation of another camp in similar lines in Silesia.’14 He said Ellis emphasised that many POWs, particularly the wounded, found it hard to `keep their faculties or minds alert’ because they lacked ‘recreation and useful occupation.’ Ellis had noticed himself stammering and losing `the thread of a conversation.’15
When well enough, Ellis started learning German so that he could read local newspapers and books and talk with guards. That fluency proved useful when convincing a German doctor to repatriate a desperately ill British prisoner.16
Promoted to Lieutenant while captive, Ellis was repatriated as part of an exchange of wounded prisoners, and arrived in the English port of Boston, Lincolnshire on 7 January 1918.17
England and post-war life
After spending months recovering, Ellis married Ida Mary Mackenzie in June 1918 in London, where she was working as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse and ambulance driver. Her father was Sir Thomas Mackenzie, New Zealand's High Commissioner in London and head of New Zealand’s Prisoner of War Department.18
Ellis was unfit to fly but from July 1918 he resumed ground duties, including serving as Adjutant at Biggin Hill airbase in Kent.19 He was awarded an MBE (military division) in 1919 for his services.20
After the war, the couple returned to Fiji where sadly Mary died following the stillbirth of a child in February 1925.21
Ellis married Ellen (Nell) Joske in 1926 and the couple had two children.22 He continued as a barrister and solicitor, in Fiji and Tonga, and was a director of multiple companies.23 In later years, the family split their time between Fiji and Cambridge, New Zealand.24 During the Second World War, Ellis was Director of Man Power National Service in Fiji. The couple also donated money to Britain for the purchase of three fighter planes.25
Knighted in 1943, Sir Howard Ellis died in Auckland in January 1949.26
Jo Birks, Special Collections
- Births, deaths and marriages online, Department of Internal Affairs; Auckland Star, 11 July 1928, p.9, accessed via Papers Past.
- The Kiwi: Official organ of the Auckland University College, 4, 1, 1908, p.28; Calendar, Auckland University College, University of New Zealand, Auckland, 1913, p.119.
- Calendar, Auckland University College, University of New Zealand, Auckland, 1911, p.136.
- The Press, 13 July 1916, p.4, accessed via Papers Past.
- Auckland Star, 22 June 1915, p.7, accessed via Papers Past; Auckland Star, 22 June 1915, p.7; AIR 76/150/166, Ellis, Samuel Howard, The National Archives, Kew.
- Great Britain, Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates, 1910-1950, accessed via Ancestry.com.
- Roy F. Ellis, By wires to victory, Auckland, 1968, p.35.
- The Press, 13 July1916, p.4, accessed via Papers Past; WO 161/96/49, Ellis, Samuel Howard, Corps: Northumberland..., pp. 823-830, National Archives, Kew.
- WO 161/96/49, p.823.
- ibid., pp.823-830. Ellis was detained at Biache Field Hospital, Douai Hospital, Stuttgart Reserve Lazarette No. 3, Bischofswerda Camp hospital, C[K]refeld Camp and Town Hospital, Schwarmstedt Camp Hospital, Holzminden camp, Heidelberg and Aachen.
- ibid., p.825.
- ibid., pp.826-828.
- ibid., p.828.
- ibid., p.830.
- AIR 76/150/166; Auckland Grammar School Chronicle, 1918, p.55; `Ellis, Samuel Howard, R50992, List of repatriated British Prisoners of War, 21 January 1918', Prisoners of the First World War Archives, International Committee of the Red Cross, accessed via grandeguerre.icrc.org.
- AIR 76/150/166; The Press, 1 August 1918, p.2, accessed via Papers Past.
- AIR 76/150/166; Roy Ellis, p.63.
- The Press, 17 March 1919, p.6, accessed via Papers Past.
- New Zealand Herald, 26 February 1925, p.1; New Zealand Herald, 27 February 1925, p.10, both accessed via Papers Past.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 19 January 1926, p.7, accessed via Trove; Auckland Star, 2 June 1943, accessed via Papers Past.
- Auckland Star, 2 June 1943, accessed via Papers Past.
- Sir Samuel Howard Ellis, Wings over Cambridge website, accessed 14 August 2016.
- The London Gazette, Supplement, 2 June 1943, p.2418; New Zealand Herald, 1 October, 1940, p.8; New Zealand Observer, 22 April 1942, p.17, both accessed via Papers Past.
- Auckland Star, 2 June 1943, p.4; Auckland Star, 21 January 1949, p.8, both accessed via Papers Past.