Surprising Snippets 2: one of a series of brief items about the history of the Legion of Frontiersmen.
CAPTAIN JAMES FREDRICK ELLISON M.C., D.C.M, R.M.L.I.: a Royal Marine who served with the Frontiersmen.
Towards the end of their campaign in East Africa, many officers of the 25th (Service) battalion Royal Fusiliers (Legion of Frontiersmen) became unfit for active service due to wounds or serious illness due to the extreme climate and conditions in which they had to fight. Other officers had been seconded to other units as their skills were much in demand. Much to Lt. Colonel Driscoll’s disgust, a number of largely undistinguished officers with none of the Frontiersmen’s spirit were posted in. One great exception to this was Captain James Ellison, M.C., D.C.M., of the Royal Marines Light Infantry, who for a brief period became their acting second-in-command and who until now has not had the acknowledgment due to him.
In 1900 Colour Sgt. Ellison earned the D.C.M. in October of that year while serving in East Africa with the Uganda Rifles during punitive operations against Nandi raiders on the Nyando River. Due to sickness among the officers he was on several occasions in independent command of detached columns. In his book “The King’s African Rifles: Volume 1”, Lt.Col. H. Moyse-Bartlett wrote:
On the night of 12th October two columns left the camp. The first under Colour-Sergeant James Ellison, R.M.L.I., marched east over the Nyando River, attacked one of the bomas early on the following day, inflicted severe losses on the Nandi and returned to camp before nightfall. Owing to sickness among officers, this was not the first time Ellison had held independent command and conducted operations with ability and success.
When in 1914 there was a shortage of junior officers, this led to the direct commissioning of Ellison as Lieutenant, who was by that time a Sgt.-Major. He was aged 45. Ellison served with the Royal Marines Brigade at Dunkirk and Antwerp and subsequently at Gallipoli where he was wounded in May 1915. A gunshot wound gave him a compound fracture of the pelvis and he also suffered from frostbite.
In 1915, by then a Captain, he was back in East Africa on active service this time with the R.M.A. (Royal Marines Artillery). He took part in a number of bombardments with a battery of 4 inch guns and in December was in command of a troop of 12-pounder guns on clearance operations out of Dar-es Salaam,
In 1917 he was commanding a sub-section of a R.M.A. Heavy Battery where he suffered a number of bouts of malaria, was Mentioned in Despatches and in January 1918 was awarded the Military Cross. Captain Ellison was seconded for service to the army on 6 July 1917 and was granted the acting rank of Major whilst second in command of a battalion (25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) from 21 July 1917 to 23 September 1917.
Returning home, he became temporary Adjutant at Plymouth before joining the recruiting service and retiring with the rank of Major in 1922.
He died in 1943 aged 74. Sadly, although the position of this brave Royal Marine’s grave in a Portsmouth cemetery is known, it remains so far unmarked.
Research and article: Brian Tarpey M.B.E., Legion Mediterranean Historian
(additional information from “Turn of the Centuries 1700-1900”, Royal Marines Historical Society)