The Cowman3

Always with courage and loyalty37

It should have been a Summer filled with expectations for a bountiful harvest in the once “flourishing agricultural district”11 of Cockshutt.  Instead, as the “exceedingly unsettled” Summer weather of 189526 showed little prospect of easing, the mood of the villagers was one of increasing despondency, as they feared a poor harvest, during the difficult days of the late Victorian agricultural depression10.

It was during this miserable Summer that Ellis Humphreys was born20 to parents Sarah Humphreys and her husband Richard, an “agricultural labourer”2, who would have struggled to support his growing family; not only was the work sporadic8, but even during good times, his wage would have been less than £1 a week6

Circumstances were made more difficult during the “very severe winter of 1891-2”, when “great hardship was inflicted on the poor (in) the parish (which) was visited by the prevalent epidemic, influenza”11 and many wage-earners became too ill to work.  As incomes plummeted, anyone who was fit and able had to find employment.  For Ellis, it would have been a tough childhood; one of abject poverty, hardship and survival.

Eating in the Trenches (IWM)

After leaving school, Ellis found worked as a farm labourer, eventually finding work as a Cowman at Kenwick’s Park3, where his various duties would have included taking to “market many an untamed heifer which had never been haltered” and “doctor(ing) … sick cows.”6

By 1914, Britain’s agriculture was in serious decline18.  Despite a heavy reliance on wheat imports18, government didn’t give food production39 priority status19 during the early days of war.  Poorly paid6 and with little prospect of improvement, many labourers found the lure of enlistment with its prospect of 1/- a day47 difficult to resist; others such as Ellis continued working the land, upholding domestic responsibilities8.

But as the war progressed and became more deeply entrenched, Ellis enlisted with 6th Battalion, KSLI32.  At some point he was subsequently attached to 6th Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment)15.  Private E Humphreys 20494815 served for the duration of the war on the Western Front Theatre of War44.

In March 1918 the Germans launched their Spring Offensive52 against the allies across the old battlefields of the Somme5.  Having endured months of fierce and heavy fighting, Ellis Humphreys was “instantaneously killed by shell fragments”51 on Sunday 30th June 191815; although the War Diary entry for that date states “Fairly quiet day”50, records tell us that in total, twenty one men from the Battalion were killed15.

WW1, British War Medal & Victory Medal
Medal Index Card

Private E Humphreys was laid to rest in Bouzincourt Ridge Cemetery, Albert, France15, alongside the others who fell with him15; in the small cemetery which stands alongside a track, there are 709 burials; 313 remain unnamed15.

Private Ellis Humphreys, T/204948, 6th Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal9.

We Will Remember Him.




Private Ellis Humphreys, T/204948, 6th Bn. The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment).

Killed in action in France on 30th June 1918.

Buried at Bouzincourt Ridge Cemetery, Albert, France. Grave I. F. 6.



When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot
Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,
And flowers will shine in this now barren plot
And fame upon it through the years descend:
But many a heart upon each simple cross
Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss7.



Wellington Journal, casualty Report, 20th July 1918, Ref X8936/1918/7/3/357639, Shropshire Archives.

53WW1 A Layman’s Guide, Scott Addington, 2012, Amazon, ISBN: 9 781495 911569, pgs. 138-139
52World War One, Rupert Colley, 2012, William Collins, ISBN: 978 0 00 753911 6
50War Diary: 12th Division, 37th Infantry Brigade, 6th Battalion, Royal West Queens, June 1915-October 1919, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, National Archives

Victorian History, Income vs Expenditure in Working Class Victorian England, Dr Bruce Rosen, 19th June, 2014, http://vichist.blogspot.com/2014/05/income-vs-expenditure-in-working-class.html


Victorian Children in Victorian Times, Baxton Price, 11 December 2012, www.victorianchildren.org


Tommy 1418, https://www.tommy1418.com/wwi-facts--figures--myths.html

46Thomas Humphreys served in the Great War; having returned he is named on the 1914-1919 Roll of Honour, inside the Church

The Queen’s Royal Regiment Surrey Regiment, http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/index.shtml


The Queen’s Regiment 1914-18, http://battlefields1418.50megs.com/regiment008.htm

43The Great War Diaries (1914-1919) of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey). And the East Surrey Regiments, qrrarchive.webds.net

The Grass is Greener – The Plight of UK Dairy Cows, 22nd April 2016, https://www.ciwf.org.uk/news/2016/04/the-grass-is-greener-the-plight-of-uk-dairy-cows-f1


The German Spring Offensive of 1918, CN Trueman, 17th April 2015, The History Learning Site, https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-one/battles-of-world-war-one/the-german-spring-offensive-of-1918/


The First World War 1914-1918, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/1661to1966/ww1queens/ww1queens.html

39The Few That Fed the Many: Loss of Labour, A New Era, http://www.nfuonline.com/worldwarone
38The County Around Ellesmere is Full of Charm and Interest, H. Clayton Jones, Shropshire Magazine, March 1959, Shropshire Archives

The Collect of the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment, www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/collects/qrsr.shtml

36The Boy’s Summer Book, Descriptive of the Season, Scenery, Rural Life, and Country Amusements, Thomas Miller, 1846, London, Chapman & Hall, 186 Strand

The Battle of Cambrai, www.britishlegion.org.uk


Surrey in the Great War, A County Remembers, https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/

33Spring Offensive, Wilfred Owen, 1918, Poets of the Great War, Faber & Faber, ISBN: 978-0-571-31528-4
32Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919, Naval and Military Press Ltd 2010
31Shropshire’s Sacrifice in the Great War, Neil Evans & Phil Morris, 12th October 2014, Bluprint, ISBN 978 0 9931233 1 3
30Shropshire Pack 1, Shropshire Archives
29Roll of Honour, Lest We Forget, Shropshire, Cockshutt War Memorial, Martin Edwards 2017
28Roll of Honour, 4th August 1914 - 28th June 1919, The Church of SS Simon & Jude, Cockshutt, Shropshire, SY12 0JH

Photograph of the Final Resting Place of Ellis Humphreys, The War Graves Photographic Project, www.twgpp.org


Monthly Weather Report of the Meteorological Office, July 1895, August 1895, September 1895, June 1918, https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/library/archive-hidden-treasures/monthly-weather-report


Life on a Victorian Farm, http://www.aboutbritain.com/articles/life-on-a-victorian-farm.asp

24I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, 2 Timothy 4 v. 7, King James Version
23History of the Queen’s Royal Regiment, Compiled by Colonel HC Wylly CB, Naval & Military Press (13th February 2009), ISBN-10: 1843425394, ISBN:-13: 978-1843425397
22GRO Index England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007, Oswestry, Shropshire, Q2, 1942, Vol 6A, pg. 1126
21GRO Index England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007, Oswestry, Shropshire, Q3, 1940, Vol 6A, pg. 1643
20GRO Index England & Wales Births 1837-2006, Ellesmere, Shropshire, England, Vol 6A, pg. 694
19Feeding the war effort: agricultural experiences in First World War Devon 1914-17, Bonnie White, 2010. Agricultural History Review

Farming in the First World War, Julian Moore, 23rd March 2015, https://everydaylivesinwar.herts.ac.uk/2015/03/farming-in-the-first-world-war/


Farming Depression in Late Victorian Box, Alan Payne (& Shirley & Ainslie Goulstone), July 2015, http://www.boxpeopleandplaces.co.uk/victorian-farming.html

16England 1870-1914, RCK Ensor, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1936

Commonwealth War Graves, https://www.cwgc.org/find/


Combat and the Soldier’s Experience in the First World War, Vanda Wilcox, 29th January 2014, British Library, https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/combat-and-soldiers-experiences

13Cockshutt War Memorial, The Churchyard, SS Simon & Jude, Cockshutt, Shropshire, SY12 0JH

Cockshutt C of E School, www.cockshuttcofeprimary.co.uk

11Churchwardens’ Account Book for Cockshutt from 1794 to 1926, Milestones in the History of a North Shropshire Rural Parish, August 1956, Shropshire Magazine, Parish Pack 2, Shropshire Archives
10Causes of the Fall of Agricultural Prices between 1875 and 1895, HM Conacher, in PJ Perry (ed.), British Agriculture 1875-1914, London, Methuen, 1973, pp. 8-29
9British Army Medal Index Cards 1914-1920, WO 372/10/106907, Series WO3272, National Archives
8British Agriculture 1875-1914, PJ Perry, Editor’s Introduction, 1914 , London, Methuen, 1973, pp. xi-xliv
7A Soldier’s Cemetery, Sergeant John William Streets (killed and missing in action 1st July 1916, aged 31)
6A History of the English Agricultural Labourer, 1870-1920, FE Green, 1920, PS King & Son Ltd, Orchard House, Copyright-evidence-date 20070823134915, Openlibrary_edition OL7132216M, Openlibrary work OL7890258W, Possible Copyright Status: not in copyright

6th Battalion, West Surrey Regiment (Queen’s), https://wartimememoriesproject.com/greatwar/allied/alliedarmy-view.php?pid=7447

41939 Register, Ellesmere, R.D. Shropshire, Ref RG101/52081/010/6 Letter Code: OJKG, National Archives
31911 England, Wales & Scotland Census, Ellesmere, RG14PN16180 RG78PN1001 RD351 SD3 ED3 SN76
21901 England, Wales & Scotland Census, Ellesmere, RG13, Piece No 2550, Folio 8, pg. 7

1870 Education Act, https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/livinglearning/school/overview/1870educationact/

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