Bolton, Ralph James. Died 14th Apr 1918

Ralph James BOLTON was born in about 1896, in Warrington, Lancashire. His birth was registered in Q3, 1896, in Warrington.

He was the son of Ralph Townsend Bolton, born in about 1866 in Billinge, Lancashire, and Elizabeth, née Brown, Bolton who was born in about 1864 in Bewdley, Worcestershire. They were married on 7 February 1887 at St. George’s Church, in Wigan.

For the 1901 census, the family were living at 11 Miller Street, Warrington. Ralph junior was four. His father was a ‘Railway Inspector’.

In 1911, the family were living in a six room house at 52 St Mary Street, Latchford, Warrington, and Ralph’s father had progressed to become a London & North Western Railways Station-master. Ralph junior was 14 and an L&NW Porter, and had a younger brother and sister who were still at school. His parents had been married 24 years, had had six children and four of them were still living.

It seems that the family – or at least Ralph junior, later moved to Rugby – probably due to career progression on the railway. He was living at 31 King Edward Road, Rugby.

Ralph enlisted in Rugby, and he joined up under Lord Derby’s Scheme in later November 1915.

LORD DERBY’S RECRUITING SCHEME. LOCAL ENLISTMENTS UNDER THE GROUP SYSTEM. The following have enlisted at the Rugby Drill Hall under the Group system.

SINGLE MEN. … Bolton, Ralph James, 31 King Edward Road, Rugby.[1]

He joined up as a Private, No. 25269  in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. The Medal Roll notes that he was first in the 10th Battalion (Bn.) and then in the 14th Bn. of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (RWR).   When he moved from one to the other is uncertain but he retained the same number.

The activities of both Battalions have been examined, and no obvious reason for the transfer is noted, however, whilst the 10th Bn. RWR remained in France, the 14th RWR were sent from France to Italy in late November to early December 1917 to strengthen the Italian Resistance. The 14th Battalion returned to France in early April 1918. The 10th RWR was less active in April 1918, whilst the 14th RWR was in action by mid-April 1918, and it is more likely that Ralph had been transferred earlier and was killed soon after the 14th Bn. RWR returned to France.

If Ralph had joined the 10th (Service) Battalion at the end of 1915, he would have first undergone training and is unlikely to have gone to France until mid 1916, after the initial Battles of the Somme. It must be assumed that he was engaged in the later parts of that battle, either with the 10th Bn. or the 14th Bn.. The 14th Bn. RWR had been transferred to the 13th Brigade, 5th Division at the end of December 1915.

Both Battalions were involved in the attacks on High Wood from July 1916.   Similarly in 1917, both Battalions were fighting in the Battle of Polygon Wood, the Battle of Broodseinde, the Battle of Poelcapelle, and the Second Battle of Passchendaele, as well as separately in other actions.

Ralph’s experiences, though not known in detail, would have been similar to those of countless thousands of British and Empire soldiers.

Later, between 29 November and 6 December 1917, the 14th Bn. RWR was moved to Italy to strengthen the Italian resistance against the Germans.   It seems quite possible that Ralph was moved to the 14th Bn. at that time, to ensure the Battalion was fully manned for that more distant campaign.

On 1 April 1918, the 14th Battalion started to return to France. There does not appear to be a Battalion War Diary for April 1918, and it is quite likely that it was destroyed during the subsequent battle. The Brigade War Diary[2] gives a summary of the Battalion’s activities in the period, and the following information has been abstracted for the period before Ralph’s death.

On 1 April 1918, two halves of the 14th RWR entrained at Villafranch at 3.27am and 8.27am respectively. By 7 April, the 14th Bn. had reached Bonnierres, and after some confusion as to billets – another Division had to be moved out! – the 14th Bn. then occupied Beaudricourt on 10 April. On 11 April, the 14th Bn. started to entrain at Mondicourt for Thiennes and there they billeted near the station. In the morning of 12 April, the Division were tasked to attack and retake Merville – where the other Battalions of the RWR had incurred such heavy losses in the initial stages of Operation Michael

The 15th Bn. RWR was the advance guard on the route Tannay to Croix-Marraisse to Merville and up to the Lys Canal. Then on 12 April 1918, the 14th Bn. RWR joined them to hold the left of the line. During the mid-afternoon on 13 April, the enemy were reported advancing down the Merville-La Motte road and the Merville – La Sarte road. The 14th Bn. RWR was attacked in the late afternoon in front of Les Lauriers.

On 14 April 1918, the 14th Bn. RWR reported sniping and machine gun attacks from an occupied house, and a bombing attack was organised and the house was recaptured and ‘… many of the enemy killed, but our casualties rather heavy …’.

It seems that at some stage on 14 April 1918, during the German attacks, and the 14th Bn. RWR counter-attacks, Ralph Bolton was ‘killed in action’. His body was either not found, or not recovered, or not identified, and he and his colleagues are now remembered on Panels 2 and 3 of the Ploegsteert Memorial which stands in the Berks Cemetery Extension, and is located 12.5 kms south of Ieper [Ypres].

The Ploegsteert Memorial commemorates more than 11,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in this sector during the First World War and have no known grave. The memorial serves the area from the line Caestre-Dranoutre-Warneton to the north, to Haverskerque-Estaires-Fournes to the south, including the towns of Hazebrouck, Merville, Bailleul and Armentieres, the Forest of Nieppe, and Ploegsteert Wood. The original intention had been to erect the memorial in Lille. Most of those commemorated by the memorial did not die in major offensives, such as those which took place around Ypres to the north, or Loos to the south. Most were killed in the course of the day-to-day trench warfare which characterised this part of the line, or in small scale set engagements, usually carried out in support of the major attacks taking place elsewhere.

Ralph’s service with the 14th Bn. RWR, near Merville, is confirmed by his presence on the Ploegsteert Memorial. Had he still been with the 10th Bn. RWR, he would have been fighting further north, just south of Ypres, and had he been killed and missing in that sector in 1918, he would have been commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. 

Ralph James BOLTON is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates; and on the Memorial at St. Philip’s Church, Wood Street, Rugby.[3]

His Medal Card and the Medal Roll showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Ralph’s parents lived latterly at 77 King Edward Road, Rugby. His father, Ralph Townsend Bolton, died in Rugby in 1924; his mother, Elizabeth in 1953, aged 87.



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This article on Ralph James BOLTON was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, February 2018.

[1]; and Rugby Advertiser, 27 November 1915.

[2]       WWI War Diaries, 5th Division, Piece 1551/1-7: 13 Infantry Brigade: Headquarters (1918 Apr – 1919 May).

[3]       The Rugby Family History Group website – – notes: ‘It is not known if the Memorial in St. Philip’s Church still exists. Details of the board have been found in a report of the unveiling in the Rugby Advertiser of 12 November 1920. The memorial takes the form of a stone tablet framed in light oak, and bears the figures of our Lord, St John, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.   It is in the south chancel of the church, and by its side, as a part of the memorial, is another picture of the entombment of our Lord. The Tablet bears the following inscription:- “Like as Christ was raised from the dead even so should we also walk in the newness of life”.’

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