Ernest James Kelly


This biography was written by Victoria Doran.

Although not yet 24 when he died Ernest had more varied life experience than most of his contemporaries. He also aided his biographer by having sent many letters home which were published in the local press.

Ernest Kelly photo.JPG

Although this photograph is titled J E Kelly, in fact it should be E J Kelly, and Ernest James Kelly was normally known as Ernest. It is no surprise that his surname originated on the Isle of Man.

Ernest was born in Bank Road, Hoylake in the spring of 1892. This has since been renamed as Strand Road.

Bank Rd now Strand Road.jpg

From the collection of Heather Chapman

Ernest was the youngest of the 5 children of James Kelly (1847-1908) and Margaret Elizabeth Johns (1855-1926). His father was born on the farm of Ballakelly, Andreas on the Isle of Man to Philip Kelly (1807-1896) and Judith Vondy (1820-1887). Philip Kelly was a farmer of, at times, 90 acres, though he was later in life only an agricultural labourer. The family was large and James was in the middle, so he trained as a joiner, moving to Hoylake during the 1870s, where a building boom was in progress following the arrival of the railway line.

There he met Margaret Elizabeth Johns, marrying at St Bridget by licence on 2 February 1879. As there was no particular reason to marry by licence, and they were certainly not wealthy, they probably married by licence to enable James’ brother John Kelly to be a witness. It is very likely that John Kelly was a mariner, so his availability would never be known a month in advance to allow banns to be published.

James Kelly & Margaret Johns marriage.JPG

Margaret was the daughter of Thomas Johns (1824-1880) and Elizabeth (1831-1917). Thomas Johns, born in Pembrokeshire, was at one time a mariner, but by 1871 he was the Hoylake Lighthouse Keeper. He died in October 1880 and was buried at Holy Trinity, Hoylake. After his death his widow worked as a cook, and later kept letting apartments at 17 Westbourne Road, West Kirby. The whole Kelly family also lived at this address by 1901, so this was where Ernest spent the later part of his childhood.

About 1907 the family moved to 14 Albert Road, West Kirby, and after her husband’s death at the end of November 1908, Margaret kept a boarding house there. James Kelly was buried at Holy Trinity, Hoylake like his father in law. 

Ernest’s eldest brother Philip George (known as George) (1880-???) was a labourer and very little is known about him. He was still living with his mother in 1911. His eldest sister Margaret Elizabeth (1882-1894) died aged 11 when Ernest was a toddler. William Henry Kelly (1884-???) emigrated to North America before the war, settling in Rochester, New York where he remained and raised a family. Edith Winifred Kelly (1889-???) was a school teacher who married an ironmonger, John Paul Wright, and remained in West Kirby. At the 1911 census John Paul Wright was boarding in South Road, West Kirby with another WW1 hero WILLIAM HERBERT DAVIES. It seems that by the time Edith married in 1913 that the family were Presbyterian, though earlier religious ceremonies were Church of England.

Ernest probably took after his maternal grandfather as he went to sea at the age of 14. His first voyage was from Liverpool to Quebec and Montreal as Captain’s Boy on the SS Lake Erie sailing on 18 June 1906.

The Lake Erie was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and shuttled across the Atlantic transporting emigrants on a fixed timetable. a picture of the Lake Erie and its timetables can be found  here

Ernest served on Lake Erie at least until July 1911, by which time he was employed as a trimmer.

According to newspaper reports of his death he also worked for the Allan Line on the Empress of Ireland.

At the outbreak of war he was in Rochester, New York. At the time his brother William was living there with his wife and daughter and working, like his father, as a carpenter. It seems probable that Ernest was just visiting, rather than living there.

Scots Guards cap badge.jpg

Cap badge of the Scots Guards

After training, Ernest arrived in France on 23 April 1915, as a reinforcement to the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards. Quite early on a bar of soap possibly saved his life!

31 1915 Jul 3 Ernest Kelly shrapnel soap.jpg

From the collection of Heather Chapman

Life became very serious a few months later and the following article describes his experiences at the Battle of Loos in the autumn of that year, when his battalion was involved at Hill 70.

22 1915 Pte Ernest J Kelly letter.jpg

From the collection of Heather Chapman

Ernest was promoted to Lance Corporal in the field and then came home on leave for Christmas and afterwards entered Machine Gun School. He brought home a German soldier’s belt, studded with British regimental cap badges. This was displayed for a time in the window of his brother-in-law’s ironmongers, Wright & Hopkinson, at 9 Banks Road, West Kirby.

By March 1916 he was back at the front near Ypres. There was no particular battle in progress on the 17th when he was hit and died of his wounds.

65 1916 Apr 1 Ernest Kelly killed snip.JPG

From the collection of Heather Chapman

Ernest is buried at Potijze Burial Ground a short distance east of Ypres, Belgium, in an area that has since become rather built up.

EJK graveyard as Jpg.jpg

Potijze Burial Ground

He is also commemorated on Grange Hill War Memorial and the plaques in both St Bridget and St Andrew churches and at West Kirby United Reform Church.

When his brother in Rochester, New York had a second child in 1918, he was named Ernest after his late uncle.

Birth: Apr 1892 at Hoylake
Death: 17 Mar 1916 at Ypres, Belgium; died of wounds
Addresses: 17 Westbourne Road, West Kirby (01); 14 Albert Road, West Kirby (11); 9 Banks Road (15)
Occupation: mariner
Unit: 2nd Battalion Scots Guards
Number and Rank: 11744; Lance Corporal
Medals: 15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: Potijze Burial Ground Cemetery, Belgium
Sources: GH, WK, CWGC, MC, DA, Census: 01, BR, PR, Liverpool crew lists, US Federal census




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