Quorn WW1 Roll of Honour - Ernest Bancroft
Died Sunday 19th December 1915, aged 27
Ernest was born in Quorn in 1889, the youngest of six surviving children of Thomas Bancroft and his wife Emma. Thomas too had been born in the village and he worked at Mountsorrel Quarry in order to support his large family. The 1891 census finds Thomas, Emma and their children living in ‘New Quorn’; an area which is now Sarson Street, Castledine Street, Barrow Road and part of Loughborough Road. Thomas died just after Christmas in 1899, leaving Emma a widow.
The 1901 census shows that she had moved, possibly due to straitened circumstances, to Church Lane, with 11 year old Ernest, three of his sisters and his widowed elder brother George.
As a young man
When Ernest left school, he went to work as a weaver at Wright’s factory. However, when war broke out, he was one of the first to volunteer for ‘Kitchener’s Army’. He joined the Leicestershire Regiment, 1st Battalion, on 9th November 1914, with his friend Walter Daft (see Artefact 2321), who lived nearby and worked with him at Wright’s. Ernest and Walter would later die within three months of each other. When he enlisted, Ernest was unmarried and living on Church Lane with his mother Emma and siblings, John and Annie. Records also show that he was engaged to his sweetheart, Emily James from New Street, Barrow upon Soar, who was also a weaver at the same factory.
By the time Ernest joined up, Ernest’s mother had lost both her other sons; John had died in 1911 aged 34 and George had died in April 1913 aged 39. When Ernest went off to war, his mother must have been full of anguish as she waved goodbye to her youngest, and now only, son. Like so many of the lads he was slight in build at just 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing only 9 ½ stones.
Ernest is killed
Ernest was killed in action by an enemy gas attack on 19th December 1915, just before Christmas. Reports at the time talk about him being well-known and ‘most highly respected’ in the village. The Loughborough Echo on 14th January 1916 described him:
“Of cheerful disposition and manly in character, his removal is a distinct loss to the young life of the village. Much sympathy is felt for his widowed mother, whose declining years have been clouded by such a severe loss”.
Ernest was very involved in the life of the Church, being a Sunday school teacher, a member of the Church Committee and an active worker in the Church of England Men’s Society (CEMS). He had been home on leave only the week prior to his death. The Superintendent of the Sunday School reflects in the Quorn Parish magazine in his annual report in February 1916:
“I little thought when I said goodbye to him at my house after a nice talk with him, that by next Sunday he would have yielded up his life at the call of duty. He set a noble example by enlisting at a time when others were holding back, and though the taking of life inseparable from a soldier’s career was distasteful to him, he obeyed the call of his country”.
All soldiers were encouraged to make a will, which they wrote in the back of their pay book on a specially printed page. After Ernest’s body was recovered they found his will, in which he left all his possessions to his fiancée Emily James (see image below). The day after he made his will he wrote to his mother. In this letter he explains how he wants the money in his Post Office account to be split between Emily, his mother, and sisters; Kate, Alice and Annie. The two documents are somewhat contradictory, but it was the will that had legal standing.
Transcription of Ernest’s letter to his mother:
Just a line to tell you, I have made my will, yesterday Sunday, we went on Church Parade, & the Sergeant Major told us he wanted all of us to sign a will, I might say that they have a book for each person, & they fill in everything, but just who you are going to leave everything to so I have left everything to Emily. She will have 25 pounds, Mother 15 pounds, Kate & Annie 7 ½ pounds each & Alice to have 5 pounds & Edgar to have my bike, all the other money over Mother is to have it, of course you need not worry about me, for everybody as to make a will who goes, for fear they will never come back again, but I trust God will send me back again safe & sound.
Now by all means don’t let this letter put you about, for you know I am not the only one who is going away.
I am [sic] no idea when I am going away but you need not be surprised anytime now, but anyway as soon as I know myself I will send & let you all know.
You might tell Charlie Gamble [the local newsagent] I shall not want any more of the books I was taking before I came away from home, but by all means keep them together, for I shall have them made in a large book when I come home.
I think I told you in my last letter if anything did happen to me you would not be able to draw the money out of the Post Office till after the war, for I don’t think they will allow anyone to get as much as that out, but I hope you will not have this trouble.
Just tell Alice I liked Lily & Sid letters & I enjoyed the kisses very much.
You see I have sent my khaki suit which I bought & my w[inter?] overcoat. I thought it would be best to send them while I had time.
Hoping Bill and Kate & all of you are in the pink of health.
I remain your loving son Ernest
Keep smiling then I shall soon be home again.”
From letters written after the war, it is apparent that Ernest’s elderly mother was desperately upset that his fiancé Emily was to get Ernest’s medals, which were issued in 1921. They were deemed to belong to Ernest, so were therefore sent to Emily. Emma Bancroft enlisted the help of local official George White, who wrote to the Infantry Records Office at Litchfield on her behalf. They replied and explained that as formal next of kin, his mother received Ernest’s memorial plaque and King’s scroll, but that as the beneficiary of his will, Emily James was entitled to receive his medals. George White would have understood Mrs Bancroft’s distressing position only too well, having lost two sons himself.
Below is a transcription of George White’s letter to Captain Williams at the Infantry Records Office, where he makes Emma Bancroft’s case and indicates that Emily James has ‘moved on’.
Re the late 15911 Pte E Bancroft
Mrs Bancroft, High Street, Quorn has requested me to write you with reference to the 1914-15 Star for the above man. This decoration has been forwarded to Miss E James, New Street, Barrow on Soar. The latter although engaged to Pte Bancroft when he enlisted, has had nothing to do with his family since that time & in view of the fact that the bronze plaque and King’s Roll were sent to Mrs Bancroft, the Mother, the War Office authority is not understood.
I shall be glad if you let me know the reason that the Star was forwarded to Miss James.
Mrs Bancroft (the Mother) is an old woman & of course greatly prizes all her late Son’s possessions, so that if you can help her at all she will be very grateful,
In December 1922, Ernest’s fiancée, Emily James, married a farmer from Sileby. They had one child, but Emily died in 1927 aged 39.
Mrs Bancroft died in 1923, two years after her letter was sent.
1) 11 Church Lane (on the left of the picture) where the Bancroft family lived.
2) Ernest’s will from the back of his paybook. Click 'Enlarge' (below the image) to increase legibility.
3) The bronze memorial plaque, cast with Ernest’s name, sent to his mother by the war office after the war.