What do a disqualified high jump record, photographs of birds, and painting the railway headquarters in York have in common? They all feature in the school life of Oliver Bernard Ellis, who attended Bootham School between 1912 and 1916. After leaving school he joined the Royal Naval Air Service, and was killed in 1917. As part of the national Explore Your Archive week (10th to 16th November), Jenny Orwin, Bootham School Archivist, is exploring the story of this individual through the records in the archive.
She explained why Ellis was such a fascinating study – and a bit of a schoolboy rogue! “Oliver was an excellent athlete; he famously broke the school high jump record using the unorthodox technique of diving over the bar head first, only to have the technique disallowed when the rulebook was checked. One night, while at School, he used his agility to climb the roof of the York railway headquarters, where he painted his initials. The next day he reported himself to the Headmaster, Arthur Rowntree, as by then his epic climb was common knowledge. He was taken to the railway offices to explain and apologise, but surprisingly, they refused his offer to repeat the climb in broad daylight to prove that it was possible!”
After leaving school he joined the Royal Naval Air Service. His family sent the School copies of his letters home, the most poignant of which is dated May 3rd 1917, where he writes: “The chances are one in a hundred in our favour, and there we must leave it, having reduced it to that, and thank God that I’ve got the safest job in this war. Don’t worry about me, I’m having the time of my life and am enjoying myself hugely, and the war can’t last for ever.” Less than a fortnight later, on May 20th 1917 he was reported missing. Then news came that his plane had been shot down on May 19th and he had been killed.
Oliver was a keen ornithologist and photographer, and the Bootham School archive still holds a fascinating collection of photographs taken by him as well as copies of his letters home from the War.
Explore Your Archive week is highlighting the rich and diverse records that archives collect, keep safe, and make accessible. For more information about Bootham School’s archive, please email Jenny.firstname.lastname@example.org