Tragedy sealed an unwanted place in the history books

Another tragic scene on this tragic day. Messrs. Clare & Hunt's corner shop in South Street on the South Cliff, where two men were killed, Harry Firth, a driver in the employ of Messrs. Land & Co; and Leonard Ellis, a porter in the service of Messrs. Clare & Hunt
Another tragic scene on this tragic day. Messrs. Clare & Hunt's corner shop in South Street on the South Cliff, where two men were killed, Harry Firth, a driver in the employ of Messrs. Land & Co; and Leonard Ellis, a porter in the service of Messrs. Clare & Hunt

The 1914 bombardment of Scarborough claimed 17 lives, including a 14-month-old boy – and the first victim was 
Leonard Ellis.

The chemist’s porter was also the first civilian of World War One to be killed on Brtish soil.

Leonard Ellis

Leonard Ellis

He was a distant relative of head of history at the King Alfred School in Highbridge, Somerset, Martyn Ellis.

“Leonard worked at the Clare and Hunt shop on the corner of South Street. Today the building still stands as it did 100 years ago. The site is today occupied by a car parts shop,” said Mr Ellis.

Leonard came from a large but poor Scarborough family who had moved during the mid-19th century away from the agricultural villages to the town in the hope of a better life.

“However, his father, John Ellis died in Scarborough Workhouse in 1909.

“At the time of his death in 1914, I believe that Leonard had worked for Clare and Hunt for more than 20 years,” said Mr Ellis.

Leonard was married with three children. His third child, Maggie, was born in 1901. Sadly, she only survived for a few months.

“This, and complications during the birth, led to the death of Leonard’s wife, also in 1901. This left Leonard a widower with two small children, who were only in their teens at the time of their father’s death in 1914.

“Leonard was a member of the Salvation Army. He played the drum on their marches. This was obviously a very important part of his life. The only photograph of Leonard which I know to exist shows him in his Salvation Army uniform,” said Mr Ellis.

On the morning of December 16 1914 Leonard must have arrived at the Clare and Hunt shop at his usual time.

It must have been just as he turned the key in the door when the bomb fell. All witnesses to this event reported that his body lay on the road outside the shop.

Hit at the same time was the shop of antique dealer Charles Smith

Leonard’s funeral was a huge affair because of his association with the Salvation Army.

A description of the funeral was reported in the New York Times. Leonard’s death certificate reveals an interesting attitude of the time. For cause of death, it reads: ‘Killed in a bombardment of Scarborough by enemy ships’. The propaganda machine was already in full swing, even on death certificates.

Leonard was buried in Dean Road Cemetery in the same grave as his wife and child. The grave is unmarked but is just to the right of the chapel if you go in from the main entrance.

“When I visit Scarborough, I often leave flowers or a poppy to mark the grave,” said Mr Ellis.

“A few months ago, I was able to get hold of a medicine/tonic bottle. The bottle must be 100 years old; its contents and cork stopper have long since perished.

“The bottle has embossed on the glass the words ‘Clare & Hunt, Scarborough’. I like to think that the bottle could have been a survivor of the 1914 bombardment and that Leonard could have stacked 
it on a shelf days or weeks before the disaster of December 16.

“It is important that Leonard and the other tragic victims of December 16 1914 are not forgotten,” added Mr Ellis.