73017 Private John Henry Ellerker, 15th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 28 March 1918 and he is buried at Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, France.[1]  He was 25 years old and is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

 Family Details

 The most likely person to be this soldier with the name John H. Ellerker was born in West Hartlepool c.1893.[2] In 1901, he lived at 43 Sarah Street, West Hartlepool with his widowed mother and older sister, Ada (bc.1882 at Witton Park).  The Christian name of his mother is not recorded but she was born at Toft Hill [3] just a few miles to the north east of Evenwood.

John Ellerker’s Attestation Forms indicate that he lived at 70 Oaks Bank, Evenwood with his sister Meggie Ellerker. [4]  Other information indicates that Lily Wright (aged 35) and Ada Judge (aged 38) living at 26 Ladysmith Street, West Hartlepool were his (half-blood) sisters.[5]  CWGC details record John Henry Ellerker’s age of death being 25 (born 1893) with a next of kin as Mrs. A. Judge.  SDGW records that he was born at West Hartlepool.  Thus it seems conclusive that the Hartlepool man is the one who was killed.  There was another Ellerker family living in Evenwood with a son named John but he is older and was born at Leeming, North Yorkshire.  He had a sister called Maggie.[6]

Perhaps an explanation is that the Hartlepool John H. Ellerker came to Evenwood for work and lived with relatives after 1911.  He lived with Meggie at 70 the Oaks. In 1917, Meggie married Harry Anderson.  But were there 2 ladies with the name Margaret Ellerker living at the Oaks, Evenwood one known as “Meggie” and one “Maggie”?

Military Details

 John Ellerker attested 4 January 1916 aged 22 years 10 months and joined the Durham Light Infantry, being given the regimental number 73017 and joined the Army Reserve.  He was unmarried, a coal miner and his religion was Church of England.[7]  6 June 1917, he underwent a medical examination, was 5’ 1½” tall and considered fit for military service.[8] He was mobilized 17 July 1917 and went to France 28 November 1917 being posted to 22/DLI then 2 December 1917, posted to 10/DLI.[9]  At some time later, he must have been transferred to 15/DLI “A” Company.[10]  Private J. Ellerker served a total of 2 years 64 days as follows:[11]

Home: 24.1.16 – 27.11.17…………………1year 308 days

France: 28.11.17 – 27.3.1918…………………….121 days

2 years 64 days


Te 15th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry formed as part of Kitchener’s New Army, K3.  It came under the orders of 64th Brigade, 21st Division.  The following units comprised 64th Brigade:

  • 1st Battalion, the East Yorkshires
  • 2nd Battalion, the South Yorkshires
  • 9th (Service) Battalion, the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI)
  • 10th (Service) Battalion, the KOYLI
  • 14th (Service) Durham Light Infantry
  • 64th Brigade Machine Gun Corps
  • 64th Trench Mortar Battery

The Division served on the Western Front throughout the war. It was assembled around Tring during September 1914 and crossed into France 13 September 1915.  The first action was the Battle of Loos, 25 September 1915.  The 21st Division then saw action throughout 1916 on the Somme and during 1917 at Arras, Passchendaele and Cambrai.

73017 Private John Ellerker did not enter France until 28 November 1917 when the battalion was on the Somme and anticipating the great German Offensive.

 The German Offensive, spring 1918 – an overview [12]

 On the 3rd of March, Soviet Russia made peace with Germany and her allies in a separate treaty, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  This meant that Germany could now transfer divisions from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.  More importantly, these Divisions included the original elite of the German Army – the Guards, Jagers, Prussians, Swabians and the best of the Bavarians. In all 192 Divisions could be deployed in the West so that the Germans held superiority in numbers.  The Allies could field 178 Divisions. A single division numbered about 19,000 men so the German Chief of High Command General Ludendorff could call upon about 3,650,000 men as opposed to the Allies 3,380,000.

It was essential that final victory was gained before the American Forces arrived in Europe in huge numbers.  America had entered the war 6 April 1917 and the first of her troops arrived in France 26 June 1917.  In July 1917 Pershing, General of the Armies of the United States asked for 3 million men.  The build-up of troops took time but eventually by June 1918, the Americans were receiving about 250,000 men a month in France.  This amounted to 25 divisions in or behind the battle zone and another 55 in the United States.

The French were able to draw on a new annual class of conscripts after a year of effective inactivity.  However, the British were worn down by continuous fighting following the major offensives at Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai during the summer of 1917.  The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918.

The German Spring Offensive was launched 21 March 1918 and took 5 phases:

  • 21 March – 5 April: Operation Michael, the Battle of Picardy (otherwise known as the First Battle of the Somme 1918) against the British
  • 9 – 11 April: Operation Georgette, the Battle of Lys against the British sector near Armentieres
  • 27 April: Operation Blucher-Yorck, the Third Battle of Aisne against the French sector along Chemin des Dames
  • 9 June: Operation Gneisenau, the Battle of the Matz against the French sector between Noyan and Montdider
  • 15 – 17 July: Operation Marne-Rheims, the final phase known as the Second Battle of the Marne.

The Germans enjoyed spectacular territorial gains particularly during the initial phases of the offensive.  23 March 1918 the Kaiser declared a “victory holiday” for German schoolchildren.  The cost in manpower was enormous:

  • Between 21  March and 10 April the 3 main assaulting armies had lost 1/5th of their original strength – 303,450 men
  • The April offensive against the British in Flanders was eventually estimated to have cost 120,000 men out of a total of 800,000

The German High Command calculated that it required 200,000 replacements each month but even by drawing the next annual class of 18-year olds, only 300,000 recruits stood available.  Also 70,000 convalescents from hospitals were available each month but even counting them, the strength of the German Army had fallen from 5.1 million to 4.2 million men in the 6 months of the offensive.  It could not be increased on the estimated scale required.

To add to this dilemma, in June 1918, the first outbreak of “Spanish Flu” laid low nearly 500,000 German soldiers.  This epidemic was to reoccur in the autumn and wreak havoc throughout Europe and the wider world.

Added to this, the poor diet of the German troops, battle fatigue, discontentment with the military leadership, social unrest at home and a general realisation that their great effort was beginning to wane, the Allies counter attack in mid July began to seize the initiative.  Sweeping victories over demoralised German forces eventually led to the resignation of Ludendorff 27 October, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II 9 November and the signing of the Armistice 11 November 1918.

 The First Battle of the Somme: The Battle of St. Quentin

Together with other engagements, the Battle of St. Quentin is otherwise known as one of the First Battles of the Somme, 1918, part of the German offensive in Picardy.  The engagements are classified as follows:

  • 21 – 23 March: Battle of St. Quentin
  • 24 – 25 March: Actions of the Somme crossings
  • 24 – 25 March: First Battle of Bapaume
  • 26 – 27 March: Battle of Rosieres
  • 28 March: First Battle of Arras
  • 4 April: Battle of Avre
  • 5 April: Battle of the Ancre
  • 24 – 25 April: Action of Villers Bretonneux
  • 4 July: Capture of Hammel

The 21st Division served in the VII Corps as part of the Fifth Army and saw action at St. Quentin and Bapaume. Returning to the first phase of the Spring Offensive, the Germans enjoyed overwhelming superiority of forces – 58 Division against 16.

21 March – 30 March 1918: 15/DLI: in action [13]

21 March: early morning – fog – the Germans attacked the whole front held by the British Third and Fifth Armies.  No Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry actually held the line but the 21st Division occupied the sector around Epehy and 15/DLI was in reserve at Lieramont.

5.25am: 15/DLI moved forward to a position south of Heudicourt

Noon:  occupied the “brown line” to the south of Heudicourt.  Shelled fiercely.  Gas.  During the afternoon the Germans broke through on the left of the Division.  15/DLI ordered to counter attack.

7.15pm: assembled at Railton crossroads about half a mile east of Heudicourt.

7.45pm: counter attack commenced in the face of heavy machine gun and rifle fire.  Considerable losses.  However, 1 German officer and 60 prisoners were taken.  15/DLI linked up with 2/Lincolns but the enemy still held the trench to the left.  Heavy shelling.

22 March 3.00am:  attempt to bomb their way northwards but it was impossible to make headway due to fire from machine gun dug outs.

8.00am: German bombardment increased followed by an infantry attack.  The line held firm.

Noon: 15/DLI ordered to withdraw and marched to Lieramount.  This area then became the target for German gunners.  The battalion moved to the Nurlu road.

6.30pm: 15/DLI withdrew to a new line on high ground to the north west of Templeux-la-Fosse.  German infantry advanced from the south and south east turning the right flank of the Division.  The other battalions of the 64th Brigade struggled desperately.

23 March 8.00am: Fog – the 64th Brigade ordered to retreat as the enemy’s infantry advanced upon the whole front.  15/DLI withdrew fighting all the way.

Noon: 15/DLI at Aizecourt-le-Haut.  Germans still pressing their attack.  Retired through Haut Allaines and across the little Tortille river to Feuillacourt.  A line was formed with survivors of the 64th Brigade, barely 1,200 left.  German batteries were now established at Aizecourt-le-Haut bombarding British positions.  Two British field guns replied but they were soon silenced

2.00pm: Mont St. Quentin occupied by the enemy.  Further retirement under enfilade fire then the survivors assembled at Clery near the river Somme.  Here a great deal of transport fell into enemy hands.  Fighting continued in the moonlight.  The Durhams drew back to east of Clery.

24 March 8.00am:  furious bombardment followed by an infantry attack.  Germans captured Clery.  The line fell back to a position north east of Ham.

Afternoon: The 35th Division arrived and a counter attack carried the line forward again.

5.00pm: Another German thrust and the recently gained ground was lost.  15/DLI rested at Curlu on the Somme.  Here the 35th Division took over the line and as darkness fell, the 15/DLI survivors withdrew to billets at Suzanne.

25 March: moved back to Bray where the remnants of the 64th Brigade made a Composite Battalion and 15/DLI made one weak company under Capt. C.S. Herbert MC.  In this way the Division got a brigade about 1,500 strong which was available as a Reserve.  That evening they were in trenches north east of Bray.

26 March:  Another composite company was formed by 15/DLI at Chipilly and this detachment, numbering about 70 men, joined a second composite battalion.  Other stragglers were collected at the transport lines at Beaucourt and Bonnay.

30 March: 15/DLI was at Allonville (about 8km north east of Amiens).

In the fighting of the 4 days commencing 21 March, 15/DLI lost 16 Officers and 486 Other Ranks wounded and missing.  Later research records that between 21 and 30 March 1918, 15 DLI lost xx officers and xx Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds.[14]  Private J.H. Ellerker was killed in action 28 March 1918.  He was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[15]

News of his Death

The Church Magazine reported as follows: [16]

“Our wounded include Adam Cree (2nd time), T. Braddick, 2nd Lieut. W. C. H. Hobson (in hospital in Newcastle), Rudge Howard (2nd time), Sergt. John Walton M.M. (3rd time), 2nd Lieut. T. Applegarth B.A. (and missing) and Jacob Hodgson (in hospital in Devonport).  I grieve deeply to announce that two more of our gallant lads have fallen in action viz.: John Ellerker and John Luther Simpson, both of whose people live in the Oaks.”


 Private John Ellerker is buried at grave reference II.A.1 Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension.  Ribemont is about 8 km south west of Albert approximately midway between Chipilly and Beaucourt.  The first burials took place in the communal cemetery at the end of March 1918 then the cemetery extension was used between May and August.  The cemetery was enlarged after the Armistice when graves were brought in from other cemeteries and from the battlefields east of Ribemont.  There are 462 identified casualties. [17]


Private J.H. Ellerker is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.187 Hartlepool 1882 Q1

[3] 1901 census

[4] Army Form

[5] Army Form W.5080, His possessions, scroll and bronze Memorial Plaque were issued to Ada Judge.  A separation allowance went to Meggie Anderson (nee Ellerker).

[6] 1901 and 1911 census: Note:  Another family called Ellerker lived at the Oaks, Evenwood – Robert and Elizabeth Ellerker and their children John bc.1886, William bc. 1890, James bc.1892 and Maggie bc.1896 (all children were born at Leeming).  In 1901, the children were recorded living at the Oaks but their parents are not recorded.  In 1891 this Ellerker family lived at Leeming.  The mother, Elizabeth was born at Shildon, Co. Durham just a few miles from Evenwood.

[7] Army Form

[8] Medical History

[9] Military History Sheet

[10] Army Form B.2029A Field Service

[11] Military History Sheet

[12] Various sources – “The Somme” P. Hart, http://www.cwgc.org/somme

[13] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” 1920 Capt. W. Miles

[14] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[15] Medal Roll

[16] Evenwood Church Magazine May 1918 Note:  Second Lieutenant T.W. Applegarth died of wounds 8 April 1918 and is buried at Caix.  Private J.L. Simpson was not killed.  His brother Serjeant T.W. Simpson was killed in action 27 March 1918 and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial.

[17] CWGC


ELLERKER J.H. Headstone