Samuel and Elizabeth had seven children, two of whom were killed in the First World War. Ralph was the youngest of the family. He was born in January 1897. He had three brothers and three sisters. Egbert was born in 1881, Eva/Ella in 1883, Grace in 1886, Sidney in 1888, Nora in 1889 and Reginald in 1892. The family originally came from the Great Yarmouth area where Samuel was a licensed victualler. Between 1889 and 1891 they moved to live near the Turnpike Cottages in Swardeston, near Norwich. Samuel had changed jobs and was working as a railway signalman. The two youngest sons were born in Swardeston and both baptised there.
When Ralph was two years old his mother Elizabeth died. Her death was registered in the Autumn of 1899. His elder sister Eva became her father’s housekeeper and looked after Sidney, Nora, Reginald and Ralph.
In 1901 Samuel was still working as a railway signalman. On the night of the Census he was in a signal box at Swainsthorpe and Eva was with the children at Town Cottages, The Common, Swardeston. Grace was living with her grandmother in Great Yarmouth. Egbert had enlisted with The Buffs in 1900 and was training to be a soldier in Sandgate. He went on to serve in South Africa and France before being discharged in 1916.
In 1903 Samuel remarried. His wife, Alice, was eighteen years younger than Samuel. About the time of the marriage, the family moved to live in Saxlingham Thorpe and Samuel began working as an agricultural farm labourer. In 1911 Ralph and Reginald were still living at home. Ralph was aged 14 years old and was working as a domestic gardener. There were eleven people living in house including Samuel’s step children, his grandchildren and children of his second marriage.
Ralph enlisted in the army in London at the beginning of the war. He joined “C” Company, 1st Battalion; Gloucestershire Regiment. His medal records show that he arrived in France on 2nd February 1915. He must have enlisted whilst being only 17 years old. Soldiers were not allowed to serve abroad before their 18th birthday. His birthday was in January and he arrived in France the next month.
The 1st Battalion was engaged in several battles with the Germans during the ensuing months. These took part the Battle of Aubers on 9th May 1915. As part of the 3rd Infantry they were involved with the Battle of Loos which began on 25th September and lasted until 19th October. This took place in a flat, coal mining area which was littered with slag heaps, pit heads, shafts and miners’ cottages. This made the fighting difficult.
On the first day of the battle, on 25th September the chlorine gas released by the British drifted back and hindered the advance. The next day the soldiers advanced in ten columns of a thousand men in each across open land. They kept on moving forward until they reached the uncut wire of the German defences. The Germans opened fire from their trenches and killed and injured thousands. The Germans stopped firing as the British retreated as they were appalled at the great loss of life and felt compassion for the survivors.
Hohenzollern Redoubt was a well fortified German position situated on a slope which gave an excellent view over No-Man’s land. It was linked by trenches to the German Front line and was also near a large slagheap known as the the Dump. The taking of this fortification was the aim of the attack which took place on 13th October 1915.
Wednesday, 13th October was a bright sunny day and the attack took place in the afternoon starting at 2 p.m. The 1st Battalion’s role as part of the 1st Brigade was to throw smoke bombs at the German trenches an hour before the attack and then to attack with rifle and machine gun fire when the assault began. The smoke bombs caused the Germans to retaliate with heavy artillery fire which resulted in 5 officers being killed and 50 men killed or wounded. The assault was a failure and resulted in hundreds of casualties in the Brigade as a whole. Most of these happened within the first ten minutes of the attack.
Ralph White died during this battle and like so many others has no known grave. He is remembered on the Loos Memorial at the Dud Corner Cemetery, Lens France.
The memorial forms the side and back of Dud Corner Cemetery where over 1,700 officers and men are buried most of whom were killed in the Battle of Loos.
The Battle of Loos was a failure with the loss of thousands of lives without any gains being made. It suffered from bad planning and lack of thought. One of the casualties was Ralph White.
His brother Reginald White also enlisted and was killed in 1916.
Ralph and his brother Reginald are also remembered on the war memorial of Newton Flotman which is in the local church. Newton Flotman village adjoins Saxlingham Thorpe being separated only by the river Tas.
Census records: 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
UK soldiers who died in the Great War 1914-18
Papers from Saxlingham Nethergate Church Chest now deposited at Norfolk Record Office
British Army WW1 Service Records
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920
Soldiers of Gloucestershire. www.glosters.org.uk
3rd Infantry Diary covering 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. www.1914-1918.net
The First World War John Keegan, 2001
Keegan, John (2001) The First World War. Hutchinson