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The Years of Adventure, 1927-1992 (bulk 1932-1946): Finding Aid

Published in 1995

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 307
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: The Years of Adventure
  • Dates: 1927-1992
  • Bulk Dates: 1932-1946
  • Size: 0.21 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 5 folders
  • Creator: Ellis, William Henshaw, 1918-
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: William Henshaw Ellis was an officer in the Royal Navy. His memoir, The Years of Adventure details Ellis' service in the Royal Navy before and during World War II aboard the H.M.S. Basilisk, H.M.S. Douglas, H.M.S. Garth, H.M.S. Harrier, H.M.S. King George V, and other vessels.

Biography of William Henshaw Ellis

William Henshaw Ellis was born on August 7, 1918 in Toronto, Ontario to Alfred and Edna Ellis. In 1932, Ellis began attending the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, England, graduating in 1935.

Much of Ellis' career in the Royal Navy was spent as a navigator on destroyers and cruisers, and to a lesser extent, battleships. During World War II, Ellis served aboard H.M.S. Basilisk (Destroyer : Pennant number H11), H.M.S. Douglas (Destroyer), H.M.S. King George V (Battleship : Pennant number 41), H.M.S. Harrier (Minesweeper), and H.M.S. Garth (Destroyer), as well as serving as a navigation instructor at Southwick. Among his wartime duties, Ellis was involved in the escorting of convoys and minesweeping, and was a survivor of the sinking of H.M.S. Basilisk at Dunkirk in 1940.

After resigning from the Royal Navy with the rank of Lieutenant in September 1946, Ellis served as director at Starch Products, Ltd from 1947 to 1968, and as a cattle farmer/breeder in Devon thereafter. Ellis also worked as a writer, authoring The Knife Edge, Macmillan (London), 1972 and the novel No Will to Die.

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Description of Contents

The Years of Adventure is a photocopy of a two volume, 662 page autobiographical account of the naval career, and subsequent years of retirement, of William Henshaw Ellis, spanning from 1927 until 1992. The bulk of the memoirs detail Ellis' experiences from his 1932 admission as a naval cadet to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth to his 1946 retirement from the Royal Navy as a Lieutenant.

The memoirs focus especially on Ellis' service leading up to and during World War II, when he served primarily on minesweeping and convoy escort duties. As a part of these duties, Ellis was attached to H.M.S. Basilisk, Douglas, Frobisher, Garth, Imperial, Isis, Harrier, King George V, London, Resolute, Revenge, and Rodney.

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The The Years of Adventure is organized into the following five files:

  • File 1: Volume I: Pages 1-114, 1927-1937 November
  • File 2: Volume I: Pages 115-270, 1937 December-1940 June
  • File 3: Volume II: Pages 1-170, 1940 June-1942 June
  • File 4: Volume II: Pages 172-288, 1942 July-1943 October
  • File 5: Volume II: Pages 289-392, 1943 October-1992
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Access and Use


Access is unrestricted.

Copyright and Permission

The Years of Adventure is the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Provenance and Acquisition

Gift of Craig Symonds in September 1995. Accession No. 95-49.

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Related Materials

Location of Originals

The original manuscript of William Ellis' memoirs is held at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, England.

Related Archival Material

There are no other known collections of papers of William Henshaw Ellis.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection.

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Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

The Years of Adventure, MS 307

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

The following sources were consulted during preparation of the biographical note:

Contemporary Authors. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1975.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Mary R. Catalfamo in 1995. Finding aid written by Mary R. Catalfamo in 1995 and revised by David D'Onofrio in January 2014.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Aurora (Cruiser)
  • Basilisk (Destroyer)
  • Berwick (Cruiser)
  • Branlebas (Torpedo boat)
  • Douglas (Destroyer)
  • Dunkirk, Battle of, Dunkerque, France, 1940
  • Ellis, William Henshaw, 1918-
  • Frobisher (Cruiser)
  • Garth (Destroyer)
  • Harrier (Minesweeper)
  • King George V (Battleship)
  • London (Cruiser)
  • Minesweepers -- Great Britain
  • Naval convoys -- Great Britain -- History -- World War, 1939-1945
  • Rodney (Battleship)
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Naval operations, British
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, British

Genre Terms

  • Manuscripts
  • Memoirs
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Contents List

Volume I: Pages 1-114, 1927-1937 November

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 1

Prologue: The Embryo Naval Officer, 1927-1932

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 2

Chapter I: Royal Naval College - Dartmouth, 1932 May-1935 December

Covers Ellis' time attending the Royal Naval College as a Naval Cadet.

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 3

Chapter II: H.M.S. Frobisher - West Indies, 1936 Spring

Ellis serving as a Midshipman.

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 4

Chapter III: H.M.S. Frobisher - Scandinavia, 1936 Summer

Ellis serving as a Midshipman.

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 5

Chapter IV: H.M.S. Rodney - 2nd Battle Squadron, Home Fleet, 1936 September-1937 January

Visits to various Mediterranean ports.

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 6

Chapter V: S.S. Mashobra - London-Malta, 1937 April

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 7

Chapter VI: H.M.S. London - Flagship 1st Cruiser Squadron, Mediterranean Fleet, 1937 April-July

In April 1937, H.M.S. London uses show of force in Straits of Gibraltar to convince Spanish insurgent ship Dato to free its captive, British merchantman Greathope.

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 8

Chapter VII: H.M.S. Isis - 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean Fleet, 1937 August 20-October 1

Training cruise.

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 9

Chapter VIII: H.M.S. Imperial - 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, 1937 October-November

Additional training.

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Volume I: Pages 115-270, 1937 December-1940 June

Box 1 Folder 2 Item 1

Chapter IX: H.M.S. London - Malta-Gibraltar, 1937 December-1938 July

Witness to April 1938 air attack on port of Valencia during Spanish Civil War. April 1938, H.M.S. London evacuates Spanish refugees from Barcelona.

Box 1 Folder 2 Item 2

Chapter X: Sub-Lieutenant's Courses - Portsmouth, 1938 September-1939 June

Studies in torpedo training, electronics, gunnery, navigation, and signals.

Box 1 Folder 2 Item 3

Chapter XI: H.M.S. Basilisk - Devonport Emergency Flotilla, 1939 June-August

Flotilla operating in British waters to provide one ship on half an hour's notice for any emergency. August 1939, H.M.S. Basilisk begins readying for war.

Box 1 Folder 2 Item 4

Chapter XII: H.M.S. Basilisk - 19th Destroyer Flotilla "Dover Patrol", 1939 September-1940 March

H.M.S. Basilisk, member of Dover Patrol, provides cover during laying of Dover Barrage minefields. November 1939, H.M.S. Basilisk renders assistance after H.M.S. Adventure and H.M.S. Blanche blown up by mines. H.M.S. Basilisk serves as cross-Channel transport for VIPs, including Supreme War Cabinet.

Box 1 Folder 2 Item 5

Chapter XIII: H.M.S. Basilisk - Norwegian Campaign, 1940 April-May

Norwegian Campaign and antisubmarine patrol. May 1940, H.M.S. Basilisk target of aerial attack while bombarding targets at Narvik, attempts to wipe out enemy land forces at Rombaks Fjord, engages in sustained bombardment of Herjangs Fjord, and joins homeward bound convoy.

Box 1 Folder 2 Item 6

Chapter XIV: H.M.S. Basilisk - Dunkirk, 1940 May-June

May 1940, H.M.S. Basilisk participates in Operation Dynamo to evacuate troops from Channel ports of France. June 1, 1940, H.M.S. Basilisk comes under aerial attack at Dunkirk and abandoned. Ellis rescued from water by H.M.S. Olvina Whitehall and returned to England.

Box 1 Folder 2 Item 7

Appendix I: Report of sinking of H.M.S. Basilisk by Enemy Action, Dunkirk 1st June, 1940, 1940 June 2

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Volume II: Pages 1-170, 1940 June-1942 June

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 1

Chapter I: F.S. Branlebas - Portsmouth, 1940 June-July

Ellis readying F.S. Branlebas, a French torpedo ship, for sea.

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 2

Chapter II: H.M.S. Douglas - Home Fleet, 1940 August-1941 January

Ellis serving as navigator aboard destroyer H.M.S. Douglas. Douglas refits at Portsmouth, sails to Scapa, under operational control of Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet. October-November 1940, escorts fast troop convoy WSF-3, participates in Operation Kit Bag, provides covering forces for H.M.S. Isis as Isis lays mines in Norwegian waters, rescues survivors of torpedoed merchant ship Ferne Hill, patrols in search of German pocket battleship Scheer. December 1940-January 1941, in North Western Approaches, escort duties and protecting minelayers, escorts armed merchant cruisers to south of Iceland.

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 3

Chapter III: H.M.S. Douglas - 12th Escort Group, Londonderry, 1941 February-March

Ellis serving as First Lieutenant aboard H.M.S. Douglas, responsible for its internal organization, also becomes A/S Control Officer. February 1941, involved in salvage of S.S. Waziristan. H.M.S. Douglas also escorts Convoy OB-287 outward bound from Liverpool to North American ports. OB-287 attacked by U-Boats and loses four ships. Escorts Convoy HX-109.

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 4

Chapter IV: H.M.S. Newmarket - Western Approaches, 1941 March-May

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 5

Chapter V: H.M.S. Dryad - Portsmouth and Southwick, 1941 May-August

Takes the Long (N) course or "the Course for Officers Qualifying in the Performance of Navigating Duties."

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 6

Chapter VI: H.M.S. King George V - Staff of C-in-C Home Fleet, 1941 August-1942 May

Battleship H.M.S. King George V engaged in operations at Scapa, Icelandic and Northern waters. October 1941, H.M.S. King George V takes part in Operation EJ, an offensive aerial operation against Norwegian coast. Temporarily aboard heavy cruiser H.M.S. Berwick in Scandinavia, as navigator in November 1941. Returns to H.M.S. King George V. January-February 1942, King George V tests infrared signalling equipment, pursues German ships Scheer and Prince Eugen, is the target of an aerial torpedo attack. March 1942, King George V participates in pursuit of Tirpitz. March-May 1942, provides cover for Russian convoys PQ-12, QP-8, PQ-13, QP-9, PG-14, QP-10, PQ-15, and QP-11. QP-11 suffers attacks by Germans. May 1942, King George V collides with and sinks H.M.S. Punjabi while on convoy duty in heavy fog.

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 7

Chapter VII: H.M.S. Dryad - Southwick, 1942 May-June`

Serves as instructor at navigation school, Southwick.

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Volume II: Pages 172-288, 1942 July-1943 October

Box 1 Folder 4 Item 1

Chapter VIII: H.M.S. Harrier - 6th Minesweeping Flotilla (Senior Officer), North Russia, 1942 July-1943 February

Ellis serving as Senior Officer and navigator. Harrier refitted. In addition to minesweeping, Harrier serves at times as anti-submarine and anti-aircraft patrol vessel, rescue ship, navigational escort, and headquarters ship. September 1942, covers convoy PQ-18, traveling from Iceland to Russia. Approximately one third of PQ-18 lost to German attacks. Harrier shoots down some of attacking German planes. January 1943, escorts convoy JW-51B, which suffers heavy German attack. January-February 1943, escorts convoy RA-52 from North Russia to U.K. Convoy attacked by U-Boats.

Box 1 Folder 4 Item 2

Chapter IX: H.M.S. Harrier - Western Approaches, 1943 February-October

April-August 1943, Harrier involved in minesweeping, including major operation off Northern Ireland. September 1943, participates in Operation SF, an unproductive anti-submarine operation in Icelandic waters. In Operation SF, Ellis serves as Flotilla (N) and Staff Officer of Operations and as Flotilla Signals Officer. October 1943, Harrier's Captain allows Ellis to briefly experience command and serve informally as ship Captain. Later in October 1943, Ellis leaves Harrier.

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Volume II: Pages 289-392, 1942, 1943 October-1992

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 1

Chapter X: H.M.S. Dryad, Navigation School - Southwick, 1943 October-1944 August

Assigned as navigation instructor at navigation school, Southwick. Ellis' earlier assignment to Normandy Assault Group canceled due to health problems. February 1944, Ellis, at request of Admiralty/Minesweeping Division, produces minesweeping report which suggest various courses of action. Soon after, sections of Ellis' report published as amendment to official Minesweeping Manual and as the Higson-Ellis Station-Keeping Diagram for Use in Minesweepers. Ellis' work used in the invasion of Operation Neptune. In addition to instruction duties, prepares Southwick House and grounds for influx of the Allied Naval Commander Expeditionary Force.

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 2

Chapter XI: H.M.S. Revenge - H.M.S. Resolution, Gareloch-Plymouth, 1944 September-December

Temporarily assigned to the battleships H.M.S. Revenge - H.M.S. Resolution.

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 3

Chapter XII: H.M.S. Garth - 21st Destroyer Flotilla, Sheerness, 1944 December-1945 July

Ellis serving as Staff Officer Operations (SOO), planning all duties, making signals, issuing directives. During Ellis' tour aboard, H.M.S. Garth refitted, then engaged in patrol and convoy duties. February 21-22, 1945, while escorting cross-Channel Convoy TAM-80, Garth in night action with enemy E-Boats. April 13-14, 1945, sinks enemy two-man submarine. Following May surrender by Germany, H.M.S. Garth carries English ambassador to Holland. June 1945, Garth escorts merchant ships through minefields. In July, H.M.S. Garth to Hamburg for planned ceremony. Garth provides courtesy escort to U.S.S. Augusta carrying President Truman to Potsdam Conference.

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 4

Chapter XIII: H.M.S. Aurora - 15th Cruiser Squadron, Mediterranean, 1945 September 1-1946 April 27

Ellis serving as navigator. H.M.S. Aurora visits several Mediterranean ports.

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 5

Chapter XIV: H.M.S. Escapade - Senior Officer, Portland Flotilla, 1946 June 3-September 20

Ellis serving as navigator of H.M.S. Escapade and Senior Officer Operations (SOO) of Portland Flotilla. Escapade provides anti-submarine warfare training for officers and crews through training exercises.

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 6

Epilogue: The Family Years, 1946-1992

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 7

Appendix II: Narrative of Convoy P.Q. 18 - Iceland-Archangel, 1942 September 7-21

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 8

Appendix III: Report on Investigations into Cross Tide Minesweeping, 1944 February 29

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 9

Appendix IV: Report of Proceedings of Night Action - Anti "E" Boat Operations Night of 21st/22nd February, 1945 February 24

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