Sergeant Ellis, Battle of Britain Pilot killed in action on 1 September 1940, body found and buried with military honours in 1993

Sergeant John ‘Hugh’ Ellis with Peggy Owen (Colour by DB original source unknown)

Sergeant John Hugh Ellis (known in his squadron as Hugh or the cockney sparrow) was a 21-year-old Hurricane pilot with No. 85 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. On 29 August Ellis was engaged in aerial combat over the channel during which his Hurricane was hit by enemy fire and flames were seen coming from the engine compartment.  Ellis managed to fly his crippled aircraft over land before bailing out and his aircraft crashed on farmland in Ashburnham in Sussex with his lucky mascot, a small boomerang his aunt had sent him from Australia.

‘High Ellis (DB Colour original source unknown)

On 1 September 1940 his parents and fiancé were informed John Ellis was missing presumed dead but due to the confusion during the Battle of Britain it was thought he was shot down over the English Channel.

After lengthy research conducted by historian Andy Sanders; Martin Gibb, a Coroner’s Officer with the Metropolitan Police and Peter Mortimer the cousin of John Hugh Ellis, in 1992 they discovered the crash site and also pieced together the chain of events.

Based on eye witness accounts a group of Hurricanes were engaging enemy aircraft over Court Road, Orpington when a Hurricane suddenly started diving towards the ground at high speed with its pilot slumped over his controls before crashing in a field located in Chesterfield south of Orpington in Kent.

A few days later a foot inside a flying boot was found and was buried in a grave marked as an ‘Unknown Airman’ at Star Road Cemetery, St Mary’s Cray. Several weeks later people looking for scrap metal found small body parts which they handed to the police and were later buried in another grave marked as an “Unknown Airman”.  Consequently, for over 50-years ‘Hugh’ Ellis had two different unknown graves in the same cemetery.

During an archaeological dig in 1992 the cowling of a Hurricane was found, and larger pieces of human remains were discovered inside the aircraft which were later identified as John Hugh Ellis. Among the personal effects which survived the crash and being buried for 52-years were two photographs: his fiancé Peggy Owen and his aunt who sent him the boomerang.

Sergeant John Hugh Ellis was later buried with full military honours at Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Additional reading

French Resistance during the Battle of Vercors

A good video documentary on the Battle of Vercors from an American presenter. My only criticism is there was no mention of SOE who had been operating in the area for sometime and the OSS units he mentioned were not always required by the Maquis.

George Begue: SOE’s first Agent/Wireless operator in France

George Bague whilst serving in the French Army prior to Dunkirk and joining SOE

On the night of 5/6 May 1941 George Begue (aka George Noble) was listed as the first SOE agent and wireless operator to arrive in wartime France after parachuting ‘blind’, that is, with no friendly contacts on the ground and several days later he transmitted the first wireless messages to SOE in London.

 Suitcase Morse transceiver of the type popularly used by SOE in France.

As increasing numbers of non-wireless trained agents arrived in France his wireless traffic also increased, and he used several safe-houses scattered over a wide area to avoid his signal being detected and his position located. He was aware the full resources of the German wireless detection section were attempting to find him but due to a backlog of messages waiting to be sent to London he decided to regularly transmit longer than the recommended twenty-minutes and was aware this made it easier for the Germans to track him down.  

George Begue. Thought to have been taking whilst convalescing with his wife and children in England after Dunkirk.

It was George Beque who arranged the first weapons, explosives and finance to be dropped to the resistance by parachute, he also arranged the first agent pickup by Lysander Aircraft from No. 161 Special Duties Squadron RAF which landed on remote farmland, and to maintain regular contact with London Begue frequently took calculated risks.  It was also George Beque who developed wireless security procedures through a dangerous process of trial and error.

Although wireless detection teams failed to find him, on the 24 October 1942 Begue was arrested at a safe house in Marseilles by the Milice; it is believed the property had been blown and was under surveillance and this is supported by the fact several agents and local French resisters were also arrested after visiting the same property.   

On the night of 16 July 1942 George Begue along with other agents and members of the resistance escaped from a prison camp in Mauzac. For several days they lived off the land deep inside a forest before travelling separately to meet guides working for an escape line and all eventually crossed the Pyrenees into neutral Spain. 

After returning to London Beque became the Signals Officer for the French Section based at their headquarters at Norgeby House in Baker Street London where he was widely known as George Noble and he held this position until the end of the war.  The majority of agents who escaped Mauzac later returned to France but most did not survive.