Photograph of Herbert in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/17/355
(L to R) 1939-45 Star; Africa Star with clasp '8th Army'; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; Efficiency Medal; Dunkirk Medal
Herbert was born on the 17th September in either 1916 or 1918 in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. His father was called James and his mother was Martha. He had 2 older sisters called Lizzie and Ada, as well as a brother with the initial W. In later life he named Louie Norton as a brother. In 1911 the Ellison family had lived with a Norton family. Herbert was raised a Roman Catholic.
We don't know anything about Herbert's early life, but by 1939 he was working as an external grinder. He decided to join the Territorial Army and on the 19th February he enlisted in the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment based in Ashton-under-Lyne. As a Territorial Herbert would keep his civilian job and train to be a soldier in the evening and at weekends. He was given the service number 3527855. We believe James had died by the time Herbert enlisted.
Herbert seems to have been undecided about continuing his Army service, as he re-enlisted in the 9th Battalion on the 12th April, suggesting he had left at some point. When he enlisted Herbert was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 160 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, blue eyes and dark brown hair.
The Second World War broke out in September 1939 and the Territorial Army was called into service. After training in the UK Herbert and the 9th Battalion were sent to France in April 1940 to defend against an expected German invasion. This period was known as the 'Phoney War' due to the large armies, and the lack of fighting.
The Germans invaded France and Belgium on the 10th May 1940. Despite the best efforts of British and French forces they were quickly overwhelmed and forced back to the Channel coast. Between the 27th May and the 4th June most of the British forces were evacuated from the town of Dunkirk.
After Dunkirk the British Army quickly reorganised itself. The 9th Battalion reformed in Lancaster then took part in the defence of the UK against an expected invasion. On the 5th November 1940 Herbert was promoted to Unpaid Lance Corporal. He began to be paid in this rank on the 8th June 1941.
Herbert saw a dentist in Barnstaple, Devon on the 3rd April 1941. He needed his lower teeth replaced with dentures. Later that month he was sent to Iceland with the rest of the 9th Battalion. They garrisoned the country until November. Herbert was able to take a period of disembarkation leave after his return to the UK, beginning on the 6th November. He was promoted to Corporal a month later, on the 8th December.
In March 1942 Herbert qualified as a Vickers Machine Gunner. He was granted a military driving licence on the 1st June. We don't know much about what he did during the rest of the year.
Herbert was sent on embarkation leave on the 10th November 1942 for 14 days. The 9th Battalion did not leave the UK at this time, so it would seem that Herbert was assigned to another unit. He was sent to the Middle East theatre of war and had arrived there by February. We know this because his dentures were repaired or replaced at Number 4 Dental Laboratory on the 5th.
We don't know where in the Middle East Herbert served. He was a member of the 8th Army, as we know from his medals. The 8th Army were involved in the advance west across Libya towards Tunisia during early 1943.
Herbert was sent on a Non Commissioned officer's Course at the Middle East School of Physical and Recreational Training. This lasted from the 15th March to the 3rd April 1943. Herbert was described as 'a very keen student indeed who made very good progress and should develop into a good instructor'. We don't know where this school was located.
At some point Herbert was sent to Italy, which was invaded on the 3rd September 1943. We don't know which unit he was assigned to until the 2nd March 1944 when he transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. They were in Italy and had taken heavy casualties at the second Battle of Monte Cassino during February. They took part in the third attack on the German positions in the Abbey in mid March. It is likely that Herbert took part in this battle.
We believe Herbert was in Rome on the 20th June 1944 and that he attended the Eighth Army Mass of Thanksgiving on that day. We don't know where he served for the rest of the war, but after the end of the fighting in 1945 he was stationed in or around Grado in north east Italy. In July 1945 Herbert took part in a boxing competition: The British 2nd Armoured Brigade against the American 91st Division. He was in the red corner for the first fight of the evening, against Private Duffy of the 2nd Battalion of the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire). Herbert won.
By the end of 1945 Herbert was serving as a technical storeman with the 1st Battalion. He left the unit around the end of November and had returned to the UK by the 10th December. Herbert's conduct was regarded as 'excellent'. He had been 'cheerful and industrious. Keenly interested in unit sports and welfare'.
On his return to the UK Herbert was demobilised at Number 10 Military Dispersal Unit at Aldershot in Hampshire. He went on leave until he transferred to the Class Z Reserve on the 19th March 1946.
We don't know what Herbert did as a civilian. He kept a keen interest in boxing. In later life he joined several Second World War Veterans organisations. He became a life member of the Dunkirk Veterans Association after joining it in August 1990 and was a Life Member of the Tameside Branch of the 8th Army Veterans Association by 1993. At this time Herbert lived on Higher Bents Lane in Bredbury, Stockport.
Herbert died on the 15th October 2010. According to his Army papers this would have made him 94, but in his death notice he was said to be 92 years old. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment that December.