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 https://sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=16417.0

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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