About Bill Ellis who died 5th October 2012

A Eulogy given by Peter Hill at Bill's funeral on 6th November 2012

Bill Ellis who died in 2012
Photo: Peter Hill
Bill with his model of lower Wivenhoe as it was in 1959
Photo: Peter Hill
Sgt Cyril 'Bill' Ellis (1925 - 2012). Served in 224 'Highland' Field Company, 51st 'Highland' Infantry Division, Royal Engineers.

I have been asked to give a Eulogy about Bill Ellis. I am pleased to be able to do this, as I believe he made a significant contribution to Wivenhoe, in his own unique way, as a resident for well over 30 years.

I am sure that each of you present today will have your own memories and thoughts about him.

It is difficult to remember Bill without also remembering Georgina, or George as he would fondly call her in public. It is sad that she is not here today. Bill and George were always together.

I first met Bill and George in the early 1980s when he joined the Carnival Committee and I was Chairman. We had a large Committee at that time and we put on a range of events over a two week period each summer. One year Bill volunteered to run a barn dance but we couldn’t find a barn and so made do with the bit of grass alongside the Flag. Roy Leeder was the publican in those days. Bill and Georgina worked hard to make it a success I remember. They sold a great many tickets, made money for the Carnival Fund and it was one of those seemingly rare occasions when the weather was very kind.

For me, that was the start of a friendship which I enjoyed and will miss. Everyone always got a warm greeting from him. I don’t think he ever called me Peter, it was always “Hello Sir, how are you?”

Perhaps that was his banking background that caused that custom and later, in his business career as an Auditor at Nat West’s Access credit card offices in Southend, where I grew up.

Perhaps also it was this career which helped to shape his interest in facts and was the predominant reason behind his attention to small details, which we all have admired in his research, and for which he is well known.

When he took early retirement to live here in the 1970s, Bill and Georgina first lived in Alma Street until they could find something they could make a permanent home. I remember Bill was very excited when he had Cap Pilar Cottage built in West Street to their own design, and with the lounge upstairs. However it wasn’t long before Bill and George found themselves living opposite the ‘black alps’ as big heaps of coal started to be piled up against the big wall that surrounded the Port site in those days.

For me, one of Bill’s greatest legacies will be all the research he conducted. I say Bill conducted as I suspect Georgina was a willing volunteer in all this activity, following Bill wherever this research took him. He developed a real passion for this research. Indeed he had a passion for exploring, and he and Georgina would go off in their small car on adventures to far away places, including overseas.

I was pleased to publish lots of material from him on the Wivenhoe Encyclopedia, about many of the boats that had been built at the two ship yards here at Wivenhoe, and for which he had also demonstrated his craft skills by building perfect scale models.

I also published his detailed research on the upstream and downstream shipyards. All this research will remain a lasting legacy to Bill, and all the hundreds of hours of effort he put into this. We would all be the poorer without this knowledge that he collected and wrote down for us in his own, detailed style.

George, as he would call her, was always a very kind and gentle lady, with a huge amount of patience. Bill liked to talk, and I think that Georgina, fortunately, was a willing listener.

I don’t know who did all the typing in their house; his letters, or were they actually typed by Georgina, produced on an ageing, manual typewriter, in a slightly formal style. I had many of them from him over the years on different subjects.

He was interested in so much – the history of the shipyards, lorry movements from the Port, bombs that were supposed to have landed in the marshes opposite Rowhedge. He would enjoy an audience and was quick to take the opportunity to share his knowledge, without ever being superior or boastful in any way.

Latterly he used to help John Stewart with his Wivenhoe Memories exhibition in the William Loveless Hall which has become an annual event. As well as many of his models being on display, he was happy to talk to anybody and everybody. He was always so enthusiastic and interesting to listen to.

Some years ago, he donated his scale model of Wivenhoe to the Town Council that shows the lower end of the village as it was in 1959. I think it was really too big for Cap Pilar Cottage and it instead became a feature in the Town Council’s meeting room where it was always admired. I have a memory of Ken Green and John Worsp, two Wivenhoe ‘boys’ standing over it, reminiscing about growing up in those streets, and being full of wonder at the accuracy Bill had captured in that scale model, such that Ken and John were unable to find fault with it. Bill was a perfectionist. You can see that in all the very many models of ships of all types that he made.

For a long time, Bill was a key figure at the Nottage Institute on the Quay and contributed much to the material that is held by them and used today in the classes they run from there.

Bill accumulated a lot of research material at Cap Pilar Cottage. His niece Mary tells me that she found this material all in boxes labelled up, ready to go to places where they will be treasured. He had obviously planned ahead. Rather typical of him I think.

Bill, thank you for this legacy of extensive research and your scale models. We will miss seeing you walking around the village, with Georgina close by.

Those of us who knew Bill were privileged that he chose Wivenhoe as the place to which to retire, or at least retire from paid work. I am sure he enjoyed living here. Bill, we enjoyed you in your time here. You will be missed.

Peter Hill

6th November 2012

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An article about Bill Ellis was also published in Wivenhoe News which incorporates some additional information about Bill and his wife Georgina (‘George’) that was provided by Bill’s niece Mary Calvert.

Bill Ellis 6th August 1925 – 5th October, 2012

Bill’s niece, Mary Calvert, remembers Bill as “a lovely man; intelligent, principled, wickedly observant, utterly dependable and kind. A self-taught craftsman. An articulate storyteller – and with a stock of terrible jokes. Despite a rather conventional career path, Bill had a maverick streak and was great fun!”

I think those of us who knew him in Wivenhoe, where he lived for 37 years would agree.

Bill was born in 1925, one of three children; he grew up in Ilford. His full name was Cyril George Ellis but he was always known as Bill. He started work in London during the war, working for a firm of Accountants in the City. In his typical style Bill recorded:

“The firm seemed remarkably unlucky – they were bombed out of their offices on 4 occasions. I felt this was overdoing things somewhat, and so in retaliation I joined Ilford’s Home Guard. With a fine American rifle plus a long bayonet, I felt at the age of 16 more than a match for any Germans. I was definitely the Private Pike of the Unit”.

When he was 17 he joined the Army and saw service in France, Holland and Germany where he was badly wounded by shrapnel as the war in Europe drew to a close.

By the early 1950s, Bill was working for Westminster Bank which later became National Westminster Bank. He rose to become a senior manager. He had a hand in setting up Access, one of the early credit cards in the UK.

He met Georgina Cooper through his membership of the Ilford Motorcycle and Light Car Club and married ‘George’, as he used to call her, in 1956. There began a lifetime spent side-by-side.

Bill was proud that he had been retired for longer than he was an employee. He spotted a loophole in the Bank’s retirement rules and escaped with delight at age 50. They came to Wivenhoe in the 1970s, initially living in Alma Street until they could find something they could make a permanent home. They had an opportunity to buy a small piece of land in West Street that had once been a part of a very old burial ground and had Cap Pilar Cottage built to their own design, with the lounge upstairs. However it wasn’t long before Bill and George found themselves living opposite the ‘black alps’ as big heaps of coal started to be piled up against the big wall that surrounded the Port site in those days.

They enjoyed living simply and as self-sufficiently as possible, with a wood-burning stove, home-brewed hooch, a productive allotment and even a bit of rabbit-farming in the greenhouse!

They immersed themselves in the community – the local Coastguard, Lifeboats, Wivenhoe Sailing Club, Colchester Engineering Society, Wivenhoe Carnival Association, Wivenhoe Allotments and Gardens Association, the University and the Nottage Institute. Both Bill and George gained many friends.

Bill will be best known for his research into subjects as the history of the shipyards, lorry movements from the Port during the 1980s, bombs that were supposed to have landed in the marshes opposite Rowhedge and of course many of the ships which were built in the upstream and downstream shipyards. He also had an enormous talent and patience for building scale models of these boats as well as a wonderful model of lower Wivenhoe as it was in 1959. This model can be found in the Wivenhoe Chapel Museum together with some of his model boats.

A lot of his research and pictures of his models can be found in the Wivenhoe Encyclopedia, a web site about Wivenhoe. All this endeavour into historical research and model building will remain a lasting legacy to Bill.

Peter Hill, incorporating much material from Mary Calvert.

Note: In 56 years of married life, Georgina and Bill’s devotion to each other was clear, and was greatly in evidence in recent years as Georgina’s needs gradually changed. Bill cared for her at home for as long as he was capable of doing so. She spent the remaining years of her life in the The Haven residential care home in Colchester and passed away peacefully on 23rd July aged 91.

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In November 2012, Mary Calvert wrote the following message to former army comrades of Bill’s:

Bill Ellis’s family are very sorry to inform old comrades of the 11th Armoured Division of the Royal Engineers of the sudden passing of Cyril ‘Bill’ Ellis in Wivenhoe near Colchester on 5th October 2012 at age 87.

Bill was a special gentleman of boundless wit, intelligence, enthusiasm & generosity. He was a sailor, talented self-taught craftsman, historian and a friend to so many. He was an articulate storyteller & had an ever-ready stock of terrible jokes! Despite a rather conventional career path in Banking, Bill had a maverick streak and was great fun.

After operating Flying Boats in the Great War, Bill’s father worked at the London Docks and settled his family in Ilford. Times were hard and money was short. All three Ellis children grew up with a strong work ethic and did well at school. When the war brought Bill’s schooling to an end at age 15, he found work with a firm of Accountants in the City. In his typical style Bill wrote:

“The firm seemed remarkably unlucky – they were bombed out of their offices on 4 occasions. I felt this was overdoing things somewhat, and so in retaliation I joined Ilford’s Home Guard. With a fine American rifle plus a long bayonet, I felt at the age of 16 more than a match for any Germans. I was definitely the Private Pike (‘stupid boy’) of the Unit. On maturing at age 17 I decided the real Army had great need of my knowledge & expertise and I found myself landing on the Normandy beach of Courseulles, just five days after D-Day”.

Bill’s war was spent in France, Belgium, Holland & Germany, including Operation Goodwood near Caen & Operation Varsity at Wesel on the Rhine. On 4th Sept 1944 Bill was with the 11th Armoured Division when they captured the city of Antwerp plus the garrison commander Major General von Stolberg-Stolberg and 6000 of his men, all of whom had to be lodged at the local Zoo for lack of more suitable accommodation!

Bill was badly wounded by shrapnel as the war in Europe drew to a close. Although not fully fit, Bill was sent to try to demolish the U Boat pens near Kiel with the 51st Highland Infantry Division. His last military months (in 1947, just before he was 22) were ‘quite enjoyably’ spent in the German forests near the Russian border on Operation Woodpecker, providing timber to rebuild Britain.

A civilian once more, in the early 1950s Bill was working for Westminster Bank & met his wife Georgina through the Ilford Motorcycle and Light Car Club. Both were keen motorcycle & side-car trials riders. Their motorbike and sidecar also took them travelling far and wide around Europe.

Bill lived for his leisure time, but still rose to senior level in NatWest & was key in setting up Access, one of the earliest UK credit cards. Clearly they did not know that this was the man who once dismantled a bus stop just for fun!

Bill was proud that he had been retired for longer than he was an employee. He & Georgina both retired early & moved from London to start a new life beside the River Colne in Wivenhoe, Essex.

They immersed themselves in many aspects of the Wivenhoe community, enjoying local history, charitable work, fund-raising & gained friends all over the world. Bill became a renowned local expert on maritime history.

From childhood Bill was a model-maker – not the Airfix sort – far too easy! He made them from scratch, with meticulous accuracy, to museum quality. Whilst in the Ilford Home Guard he had made models to aid his colleagues in aircraft recognition. Wivenhoe’s Nottage Institute and the Rowhedge Heritage Trust now display many of Bill’s models and wartime memorabilia.

Bill had an immense library of facts & anecdotes in his head and was always happy to impart them, usually with a witty twist & linguistic flair. The internet would have been a marvellous tool for such a lively mind, but he stuck to his vintage typewriter which was in constant use, researching & disseminating local, wartime and maritime history.

In 56 years of married life Georgina & Bill’s devotion to each other was clear, and was greatly in evidence in recent years as Georgina’s health gradually changed. Bill cared for her at home for as long as he was capable of doing so.

After a fond send-off & well-attended wake, Bill’s ashes were scattered by his family on his beloved River Colne at a pretty place near Wivenhoe, from the local ferry boat which was proudly flying the pennant from Bill’s Normandy landing craft.

Bill’s 1947 Army Release Certificate signed in Germany says that his military conduct was exemplary, and it sums up Bill very well:
“Sgt Ellis has been extremely enthusiastic, conscientious & hardworking. He has inspired the personnel with the same enthusiasm that he himself has shown. This unit can give Sgt Ellis only the highest recommendation. His demobilisation will be a great loss and it will be very difficult to adequately replace him. “

How true that is of Bill’s life!

By: Mary Ellis Calvert on 18 November 2012

 

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