John Ellacott was born in 1892, the son of Thomas Ellacott, a butcher in Winkleigh and his wife Elizabeth, who in the early years of the century is described as a laundress. The 1901 census records the family as living at Denis’ Cottage, with four children - Emily aged 17 (helping her mother in the laundry business), Ernest aged 15 and working as a labourer, John aged 9, Florence aged 7 and Winifred aged 3. Ten years later the family had moved into the Exeter Road. Elizabeth was now assisting in the butcher’s shop, and other children listed in the 1911 census were William aged 39 who with his daughter Elsie aged 6, had returned to live with his parents, and was a cattleman, Florence aged 17, assisting at home, and Winifred now aged 13 and still at school. John had left home and was working as a waggoner on Thomas Heywood’s farm, East Chapple. In 1914, now aged 22 he married Fanny Berry of Hollacombe. She was the daughter of Benjamin Berry, the thatcher, and sister of William and Benjamin. William died in the war, and his story is written on this site, his name inscribed on the Memorial Cross. Benjamin Berry, whose war record is also part of this memorial, served in the navy and survived. All were friends in Hollocombe with the brothers Herbert and Percy Beardon, Herbert in the navy and Percy who served in the Royal Artillery and was tragically drowned at sea in the last days of the war. After school, Fanny Berry was in domestic service, as recorded in 1911, until her marriage.
John Ellacott’s elder bother Ernest had served in the Devon Territorials from long before the war. He was 28 when the war began: his military documents have survived and his military history can be read on this site. If John had to serve, it would be in the Devons. John was obviously a great friend of Samuel Clements and they decided to enlist together, their army numbers thus being consecutive. Their timing is important to understand. An item of news in the ‘Western Times’ for 3rd December 1915 tells us: Two more recruits for the army proceeded from this parish last week, viz. Samuel Clements and John Ellacott.
By the May of 1915 the shortage of volunteer recruits coming forward had become severe. The volunteer age limit was raised from 38 to 40 but it did little good. In July 1915 a National Registration Act required all men, married or unmarried, aged 15 to 65 to register. In October 1915 Lord Derby became Director General of Recruiting, and he immediately launched the ‘Derby Scheme’ ordering all men 18-40 to either enlist at once or attest. Voluntary enlistment (giving recruits their choice of unit) ceased on 15th December 1915. Henceforth men were enlisted and posted by direction to a ‘suitable’ location, the majority of course into the infantry.
With a brother in the Devons, it is easy to understand why John was anxious to follow, though he probably waited as long as possible before being enlisted. We can now know that he enlisted voluntarily at the very end of the Derby Scheme, in order to be able to choose to serve with the Devons. The medal number reveals that he did not enlist in the territorials, but was classed as a regular. Of course this does not help us to know in which battalion he served or more of his war service, and sadly his military records were destroyed in the London blitz. The outline history of all the Devon battalions is attached on the right of this page, together with John’s medal card.
Happily settled in Winkleigh after the war, a daughter was born to John and Fanny in January 1920.
16 July 2011