WARDLE R.

RALPH WARDLE 1895-1917

14526 Bugler Ralph Wardle, 14th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry died of wounds 24 April 1917 and is buried at Bethune Town Cemetery, France.[1]   He was 22 years old and commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

Family Details

 Ralph was born c.1885[2] at Evenwood to Ralph and Elizabeth Wardle.  There were 4 children, all born at Evenwood:[3]

  • Elias bc.1892
  • Ralph born 1885
  • Jane bc.1901
  • Elizabeth bc.1903

In 1901 the family lived at 8 Clyde Terrace, Evenwood Gate where 32 year old Ralph worked as a coal miner (hewer). [4] By 1911, Ralph was a deputy overman and his 2 sons 19 year old Elias and 16 year old Ralph were both miners, shifter and driver respectively.[5]

 Service Details

William Gray the Hon. Secretary of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Fund, provided Rev. G. J. Collis, vicar of St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood with a complete list of those who had enlisted in His Majesty’s Forces and the list was published in the Church Magazine.  The following entry is given:[6]

Wardle Ralph, Evenwood Gate – 14th Batt. DLI

Ralph’s older brother Elias Wardle served as a bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery.

Ralph attested 8 September 1914 when 19 years 9 months old at Bishop Auckland and joined the Durham Light Infantry.  He was given the regimental number 14526.  He stood 5”6’ tall and weighed 145lbs.[7]

 11 August 1914:  Lord Kitchener’s “Your King and Country need you.  A call to arms” called for 100,000 men to enlist.  This figure was achieved within 2 weeks and these volunteers formed 6 new Divisions of Kitchener’s Army. Within 2 months of the beginning of the war, 6 battalions of Durham men had contributed to Kitchener’s New Army including, 21 September, the 710 men and 24 September a further contingent of 400 men who left the depot at Newcastle-upon-Tyne for billets at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire to form the 14th (Service) Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry.  The 14/DLI and 15/DLI came under the orders of the 64th Brigade, 21st Division.  25 November 1915 it was transferred to the 18th Brigade, 6th Division as part of the XIV Corps, Fourth Army.  Battalions in the 18th Brigade were:[8]

  • 1st Bn., the West Yorkshire Regiment
  • 11th (Service) Bn., the Essex Regiment
  • 2nd Bn., DLI
  • 14th Bn., DLI
  • 18th Brigade Machine Gun Company
  • 18th Trench Mortar Battery

11 September 1915:  the 21st Division crossed the English Channel from Folkestone to Boulogne, France.  The battalion was sent to prepare for service in the line at Nielles-lez-Ardres. Private Ralph Wardle entered France with his battalion at this time.

A week later the 21st Division commenced its march into its first experience of warfare – it was to be truly appalling.  Having been in France for only a few days, lengthy forced marches brought the Division into the Reserve for the British assault at Loos.  The Division was sent into action 25 September 1915, whereupon it suffered appalling casualties for little gain.  The 14/DLI lost Lieut.-Col. A.S. Hamilton who died of wounds received near Bois Hugo and 2 other officers were killed, losses in the ranks amounted to 277 in this action which became to be known as the Battle of Loos.

Private Ralph Wardle survived but his fellow volunteer from Evenwood, Sergeant Edgar Towers, 15/DLI was listed as missing.  After some months, he was presumed to be dead.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

14/DLI served on the Western Front with distinction throughout the war being involved in the trench warfare in the Ypres Salient suffering 260 casualties in the ranks during their 6 months in the sector. [9]

Action in 1916, at the Battle of the Somme saw many casualties from the ranks of the 14/DLI, including Privates William Edwin Earl from Buckhead Farm and John Maughan from Evenwood Gate who lost their lives during the months of September and October 1916, respectively.[10]

The Church Magazine recorded Private Ralph Wardle as being wounded.[11] In fact, he was wounded three times:[12]

  • 19 February 1916 in the field.  This must have been relatively minor since there is no record of hospitalisation.
  • 27 April 1916, after receiving shrapnel wounds to the right thigh, he was admitted to the 15 Casualty Clearing Station and returned to his battalion 25 May 1916.
  • 18 September 1916 – a gun shot wound to the right arm – he was sent to 48 Casualty Clearing Station then admitted to the General Hospital in Rouen 21 September 1916.  He then went to Etaples before rejoining his battalion in the field 1 December 1916.

Bugler R. Wardle missed the October fighting when his neighbour from 4 Clyde Terrace, Private John Maughan from Evenwood Gate died of wounds received in action, 16 October 1916. [13]

During that month the battalion lost 7 officers and 182 men. Following this, the 14/DLI was involved in the pursuit of the retreating Germans to the formidable Hindenburg Line then the Battle of Arras. [14]

 The Battle of Arras – an overview [15]

The new French Commander in Chief, Robert Nivelle prepared his Master Plan for a new offensive against the German lines.  Nivelle’s plan was as follows:

“He would attack at the shoulders of the great German salient on either side of the Somme.  The French would take the southern Aisne sector, the Chemin des Dames, as their front of assault, while the British, by inter-Allied agreement would reopen an offensive on the northern shoulder of the Somme salient, at Arras and against Vimy Ridge.”

The objective of the British and Canadian Corps was to capture Vimy Ridge which would lead the way into the Douai Plain and (it was hoped) the un-entrenched German rear.  Then a rapid advance by the cavalry would link up with the French forces which would have broken through at Chemin des Dames, 80 miles to the south.

The British Army launched a large scale attack at Arras.  Although initially successful, it soon bogged down and became another costly affair.  The battle was composed of the following phases:

  • 9 – 14 April 1917:  The Battle of Vimy, The First Battle of the Scarpe
  • 23 – 24 April 1917:  The Second Battle of the Scarpe
  • 3 – 4 May 1917:  The Third Battle of the Scarpe
  • 11 April – 16 June 1917:  The Battle of Bullecourt

The infantry was able to shelter in the great subterranean quarries at Arras and they were brought to the front line through tunnels dug by the Army’s tunnelling companies.  Similar tunnels had been dug at Vimy Ridge for the Canadian troops.  Such preparation did not arouse suspicion amongst the Germans and von Falkenhausen, commander of the Sixth Army kept his Reserves 15 miles behind the front.

The German defences were bombarded by 2,879 guns, one for every 9 yards of the front, which delivered 2,687,000 shells – shorter in duration but double the weight of that delivered before the Battle of the Somme the previous July.

9 April 1917:  The first day of the battle was a triumph for the Allied forces.  In a few hours the German front had been penetrated to a depth of between 1 and 3 miles, 9,000 prisoners were taken, few casualties suffered and a way forward was (apparently) cleared.  The success of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge was sensational!  But the usual inflexibility in the plan prevented further progress – a pause of 2 hours after objectives had been gained, the day was shortening and the impetus ran out allowing the Germans to bring up their reserves on the 10th and 11th of April.

The April weather was atrocious – rain, sleet, snow, relentlessly low temperatures and the shelling had turned the chalky surface into gluey mud.  The attacking troops were exhausted, a halt was called to allow casualties to be replaced and the troops to recover – losses totalled nearly 20,000 (1/3rd of casualties suffered at the first day of the Somme).

23 April:  hostilities recommenced, the Germans had reorganised and were reinforced so could counter-attack and as a result, a month of attrition set in bringing a further 130,000 casualties for no additional gain of ground.

On the southern front, whist the Germans were caught by surprise on the Vimy-Arras sector, they were not on the French sector, Chemin-des-Dames.  Security failures had alerted the Germans to the proposed attack so their forces were prepared.  After 5 days of intensive fighting when the French suffered 130,000 casualties including 29,000 killed, the offensive was effectively abandoned.  There had been a penetration of 4 miles over the 16 mile front but German defences remained intact.  There had been no breakthrough.

The aftermath of the Nivelle’s offensive had major repercussions on the French army.  The offensive was judged to be a failure and 29 April 1917, Nivelle was replaced by Petain.  In addition, the failure punctured the French fighting spirit and precipitated what historians called “the mutinies of 1917.”

14/DLI: an account of it action [16]

9 April 1917: 14/DLI was not involved in the opening days of the offensive.

18 April: 14/DLI was called upon to come under the orders of the 16th Brigade.

20 April: went into the line south east of Loos on the extreme left of the battle line at the northern limit of the Canadian advance of the opening day, occupying Netley Trench.

21 April: ordered to complete the capture of Novel Alley and take Nero Trench and the concrete strong point where previously 3 attacks had failed.  Afternoon – British heavy artillery pounded the German positions.  B and C Companies detailed to attack.  The objective was captured and 2 counter attacks repulsed.  14/DLI suffered heavily from enemy shell fire both before and after the fighting to capture these trenches.

22 April 8am: Following an artillery barrage, A and D Companies advanced to take Nash Alley and the redoubt called the Dynamite Magazine.  A squad of bombers from B Company bombed up the trench and the objectives were taken.  A counter attack was repulsed about 9am.  14/DLI proceeded with the task of consolidating the captured positions.  There was little cover from sniper and machine gun fire from houses at Cite St. Laurent.  During the afternoon, 2 counter attacks were driven back.  The Germans put down a heavy artillery barrage then attacked on the left of the 14th.  The troops in this part of Nash Alley were driven back as the German infantry assailed the left and bombed the barricades on the right.

“The 14th though very weak in numbers maintained the struggle for some time but had to give ground at last.  Fighting hard they fell back slowly to Novel Alley leaving only 3 badly wounded men in the hands of the enemy.”

 23 April early morning: 14/DLI was relieved and withdrew to les Brebis.

 “Losses in the ranks amounted to 231 and among the killed was 2nd Lieut.             L.W. Mansell…Many honours fell to the battalion.”

 24 April:  Bugler Ralph Wardle died of wounds.  He had received multiple shrapnel wounds and was admitted to 33 Casualty Clearing Station where he died of his wounds.[17]

Later research records that 14/DLI lost 43 Other Ranks were killed in action or died of wounds between 21 and 24 April 1917 including Bugler E. Wardle and 43033 Private George Davis who died of wounds the same day, 24 April 1917.[18]

Bugler R. Wardle served a total of 2 years, 229 days:[19]

Home:  8 September 1914 to 10 September 1915………1 year 3 days

France: 11 September 1915 to 24 April 1917……………..1 year 276 days

Total……………………………………………….………2 years 229 days

Bugler Ralph Wardle’s will gave £5 to his friend Miss Elsie Porter, Highmoor Farm, Ingleton and his remaining property to his mother Mrs. Elizabeth Wardle, Clyde Terrace, Evenwood Gate.[20]  In January 1918, his mother received his possessions, silver coin, copper coin, photos, rel. book, pocket case, cap badge, linen bag.[21]

Bugler R. Wardle was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War and Victory medals.[22]

News of his Death

The Auckland Chronicle reported as follows:[23]

“The latest victims claimed by the war are Pte. Ralph Wardle, son of Mr. & Mrs. Ralph Wardle, Evenwood Gate killed and Pte. James Heseltine, son of Mrs. Heseltine and the late Frank Heseltine, Sloat, killed.  Both prior to their enlistment were workmen at Randolph Colliery.”

The Evenwood Church Magazine reported as follows:[24]

“Two more of our boys have fallen in action recently – Ralph Wardle of Evenwood Gate and James Heseltine, whose parents live at the Centre, Evenwood.  Both of them fell, I understand in France.  What message can one give to the relatives of these noble lads?  Our hearts are with those who sorrow for them in their sorrow but we are proud of the lads and while Evenwood remains, their names will always be an inspiration to high aims.”

Burial [25]

 Bugler Ralph Wardle is buried at plot grave reference VI.D.74, Bethune Town Cemetery.  Bethune is 22 miles north of Arras in the region of Pas-de-Calais, France.  The town was comparatively free from bombardment and remained an important railway and hospital centre, as well as corps and divisional headquarters.  The 33rd Casualty Clearing Station was in the town until December 1917.  The Bethune Town Cemetery contains 3,004 Commonwealth burials of the First World War.

References

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.241  Auckland 1895 Q1

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Evenwood Church Magazine April 1915

[7] Army Form B.2065

[8] www.1914-1918.net/dli.htm & www1914-1918.net/21div.htm

[9]  “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: the Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” 1920 Capt. W. Miles

[10] CWGC

[11] Evenwood Church Magazine November 1916

[12] Army Form B.103

[13] CWGC

[14] Miles

[15] “The First World War” J. Keegan & www.1914-1918.net/bat18.htm

[16] Miles

[17] Army Form B.103

[18] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[19] Statement of the Services

[20] Will dated 25 January 1917

[21] Army Form B.126

[22] Medal Roll

[23] Auckland and County Chronicle 17May 1917

[24] Evenwood Parish Magazine June 1917

[25] CWGC

Photographs

WARDLE R.  photo

WARDLE R.
photo

WARDLE R.  Medal Roll

WARDLE R.
Medal Roll

WARDLE R.  Headstone

WARDLE R.
Headstone