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Last WWI widow dies aged 96: Tributes are paid to Dorothy Ellis, whose husband's wartime memoirs inspired the novel War Horse, and who dedicated her final years to preserving the memory of Britain's Great War heroes

  • Dorothy Ellis, 96, passed away on Wednesday at a nursing home, her niece said
  • She was the widow of Wilfred Ellis, whose front line fight inspired War Horse
  • Mrs Ellis, who was born on Remembrance?Day, married her husband, 23 years her senior, in 1942 and served in the women's home guard auxiliary

Dorothy Ellis, the final First World War widow whose late husband inspired the novel War Horse, has died aged 96, her family said.

Mrs Ellis passed away on Wednesday in a nursing home, her niece Pauline Smith confirmed.?

She was the widow of veteran Wilfred Ellis, who was shot, gassed and left for dead on the front line in 1918.

Mrs Ellis lays a wreath at the Gallipoli Memorial in 2013. The final First World War widow passed away Wednesday

Mrs Ellis lays a wreath at the Gallipoli Memorial in 2013. The final First World War widow passed away Wednesday

Wildred Ellis, whose memoir inspired the film War Horse

Wildred Ellis, whose memoir inspired the film War Horse

Dorothy Ellis with members of the local British legion Dorothy Ellis, who was born on Armistice Day and is the widow of a soldier who inspired Michael Morpurgo's 'War Horse'

Dorothy Ellis with members of the local British legion Dorothy Ellis, who was born on Armistice Day and is the widow of a soldier who inspired Michael Morpurgo's 'War Horse'

His recount of the conflict inspired the novel, theatre production and movie War Horse, originally written?by Michael Morpurgo, whom he befriended in later life.

Paying tribute to her late aunt on Thursday, Ms Smith, 63, said: 'It feels very strange because we were brought up with her being our aunt up the road and then you find out all this history.

'It's quite surprising – but it makes you very proud as well.

'She took a great interest in all the family, she didn't have any children, but in her nieces and nephews and then later on in life her great nieces and nephews, of which she had quite a few.'

Mrs Ellis had been bound to the war since the start of her life – despite not witnessing it – as she was born on Armistice Day in 1921.

She married her husband in 1942 and served in the women's home guard auxiliary during the Second World War.

Mrs Ellis had been bound to the war since the start of her life ? despite not witnessing it ? as she was born on Armistice Day in 1921

Mrs Ellis had been bound to the war since the start of her life – despite not witnessing it – as she was born on Armistice Day in 1921

Grave of Wilfred Ellis: His wife Dorothy outlived him for almost 37 years

Grave of Wilfred Ellis: His wife Dorothy outlived him for almost 37 years

A 20-year age gap meant she outlived Mr Ellis, who died aged 82 in 1981, by almost four decades and remained in the home they shared together for more than 70 years.

The pair met after Wilfred moved from Wimbledon in south west London, to her home village in Iddesleigh, Devon.?

They fell in love and wed in 1942 when Dorothy was 21 and Wilfred was 44. Though he served with the Norfolk Regiment during the war Wilfred rarely spoke about his experiences.?

That is until he met author Michael Morpurgo, who lived in the same village. His wartime exploits became the inspiration for Morpurgo's 1982 book War Horse, which he dedicated to Wilfred and fellow villagers Albert Weeks and Captain Arthur Walter Morland Budgett.

Mrs Ellis' later years were defined by an indefatigable commitment to the memory of Britain's war dead, friend and Royal British Legion fundraiser Carole Arnold said.??

She added: 'Dorothy was a very special lady, she had this museum in her house about Wilfred, her husband, she kept everything because she was so proud of him.

Dorothy Ellis with a white Peace Rose:?her husband Wilfred Ellis served at the front and was shot and gassed but made it home to the village of Iddesleigh in Devon were later he married the young Dorothy

Dorothy Ellis with a white Peace Rose:?her husband Wilfred Ellis served at the front and was shot and gassed but made it home to the village of Iddesleigh in Devon were later he married the young Dorothy

Mrs Ellis was guest of honour at the Gallipoli Memorial in 2013

Mrs Ellis was guest of honour at the Gallipoli Memorial in 2013

'She was so knowledgeable, so aware of what was going on because it is so important to remember World War One, to remember these veterans – and she remembered them.

'She was such a supporter of the military, such a supporter of the legion, she was so, so proud of being part of the history.'

The Royal British Legion had helped organise travel for Mrs Ellis to visit the National Armed Forces Memorial in Staffordshire for Armistice Day in 2013, where she was guest of honour.

She considered it one of the best days of her later life, Mrs Arnold said.

Wilfred Ellis' recount of the First World War inspired the novel War Horse - which later became a play and movie

Wilfred Ellis' recount of the First World War inspired the novel War Horse - which later became a play and movie

Mrs Ellis said at the time: 'My husband felt very strongly about Armistice Day and it was a day that was set aside as a solemn remembrance day.

'I noticed, he was always usually a very jolly person but on Armistice Day he would just go very quiet and at first I couldn't understand it but then I got to realise why he was being so quiet and silent.

'He said to me, 'you've got to remember this is the day that thousands of poor chaps died for us to keep us alive'.'

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