b. 17/12/1908 Hull, Yorkshire. d. 08/08/1982 Hull, Yorkshire.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 31/05 - 01/06/1935 Quetta, India.
Ernest Matthew Elston (1908-1982) was born on 17th December 1908 in Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, the son of John Lawton and Edith Elston (nee Gamble). His parents had married earlier that year, and began married life living with Edith’s mother Ellen and sister Alice. John was just 18 when Ernest was born and was working in the shipyards as a labourer. Sadly, Ernest’s mother died when he was young, and his father was away fighting in World War I, so he was brought up by his paternal grandmother. Ernest, later known as Matt, enlisted with the 1st Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales’s Own) as a Private, and was posted to India.
On the night of 31st May to 1st June 1935, a huge earthquake struck Quetta (now in Pakistan), and Private Elston was heavily involved in the rescue efforts. He was personally responsible for saving the lives of several Indians buried under debris and worked at great risk for over 4 hours to rescue an Indian child entombed under a collapsed two-storey building. He had heard the child crying, and in order to reach it he had to tunnel his way beneath some very unsafe debris. In doing so he came across the dead bodies of several other family members, but found the child alive and brought it out safely.
On 19th November 1935, it was announced in the London Gazette, that Matt Elston was amongst nine people awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal of the Military Division for his actions in Quetta. Matt then served in World War II, seeing action in North Africa as well as France and Germany. Following the creation of the George Cross in September 1940, he exchanged his EGM for the new award.
Little is known about Matt’s later life following his retirement from the Army, though he did return to his roots in Hull. It is believed he married twice, first to Florence Elsom in 1937, and then to Phyllis Francis in 1971. Matt Elston passed away, aged 73, on 8th August 1982, and he was buried in the Northern Cemetery, Hull in Grave 5, Compartment 367. His GC, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, 1953 QEII Coronation Medal and 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal were donated to the Imperial War Museum by the Elston family, and are displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: NORTHERN CEMETERY, KINGSTON UPON HULL.
COMPARTMENT 367 GRAVE 5.
Picture - Kevin Brazier
Ernest Elston's medals including his George Cross on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London