2nd Lieutenant Ralph Oscar Gladstone

2nd Lieutenant Ralph Oscar Gladstone
West Lancashire Field Company, Royal Engineers.

Ralph Oscar Gladstone. Image from the 'Keighlian' Magazine.

Early Life:
Ralph Oscar Gladstone, 2nd Lieutenant of the Royal Engineers, was born in Cardiff, 1890 and was the son of Ralph Atchison Gladstone of Newport, Wales and Martha Gladstone of Crosshills, Keighley.
In the 1891 census, Ralph’s father is listed as aged 27 and working as a potato merchant manager. Ralph’s mother was a milliner aged 30.  This is where Ralph Oscar first appears in our research, aged 1. The family also have a servant living with them, a young lady of 15 named Kate C Thomas.
By the time the 1911 census occurred, the family were living at 20 Ashville Terrace in Crosshills and were much expanded. Martha is listed as a widower aged 50, with children Ralph Oscar aged 21, Margaret "Jinnie" aged 19 and twins William Edward and Gertie aged 17. Ralph's occupation is listed as an electrician, and Jinnie is working as a school teacher. Martha continues to be a milliner, working from home with young Gertie as her assistant, whilst William appears as a “Clark for a company”. It is interesting to note that the family no longer had a servant living with them at this point, however  Martha’s sister is listed as a visitor; a Miss Jane Issitt; whose occupation is recorded as a dressmaker.

Scouting Contribution:
As a youngster, Ralph Oscar was an active member in the Keighley Scouting Community and contributed in a ground-breaking way. In his obituary; which was published in the Keighlian Magazine; it stated that he “founded the Kildwick Boy Scouts” based at Kildwick Church. No doubt this involvement in the scouting movement allowed him to excel in practical aspects, which allowed him to become successful in his career as an electrical engineer. Furthermore, his many years spent in the local Territorial Army undoubtedly led to his decision to enlist when war broke out.

Ralph Oscar attended Keighley Boys’ Grammar School from 1902 – 1905. He was exceptionally good at mechanics and passed through the Keighley Technical College (Keighley Trade School) studying mechanical and electrical engineering. He served a successful apprenticeship with the Keighley Electrical Company and became employed by The British Thompson Houston Company, which saw him travelling the continent erecting new plant. At the outbreak of war he was in Seville, Spain, laying electrical plant in a sulphur mine.

War Contribution:
Ralph may have led a very short life, however it was extremely interesting, his personal contribution and the events that occurred during his service is one that could appear in a blockbuster film. The Keighlian Magazine described Gladstone’s turbulent war efforts in the following article after his tragic death in 1917, “ At the outbreak of War he joined the Army as a Sapper in the Royal Monmouth Royal Engineers, and crossed to France in November, 1914. He spent Christmas, 1914, in the trenches before Ypres, and when the Canadians made their brilliant stand at that place, Ralph Gladstone was engaged in helping to keep a bridge intact across the Ypres Canal. A body of Germans broke through the lines and managed to reach the bridge, where they were met by the Engineers armed with spades and any tools they could find. During the unequal hand-to-hand combat Ralph Gladstone, armed only with an entrenching tool received a bayonet thrust in the chest which put him out of action for some time. Shortly after his return to the firing line he suffered from concussion caused by the bursting of a shell at the door of his dug-out and was afterwards wounded whilst mending barbed-wire entanglements. After spending some months in hospital he returned to Monmouth as Sergeant and Instructor in bayonet practice. He returned to France and was promoted to the position of acting Sergeant-Major. In January, 1917, he returned to England to take up a Commission in the Royal Engineers and went back as an Officer to Ypres, where, on November 3rd, 1917, he was killed by a shell within half a mile of the place where he had fought so bravely in the great battle of Ypres in 1914”.

It seems that Ralph was not only brave but truly committed to the war efforts, returning to service several times in order to train others as well as fight on the front lines after surviving horrific injuries. It is surprising and shocking to discover that he was only awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal and the 1914-1915 Star, seemingly very eligible and deserving of far higher military awards.


Obituary from the Keighlian magazine, Keighley Boys Grammar School:
RALPH OSCAR GLADSTONE. 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Engineers.
Ralph O. Gladstone attended School from September, 1902, to December, 1905. He also passed through the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Departments of the Technical School. He served his apprenticeship with the Keighley Electrical Company, and afterwards obtained a post as Erector for the British Thomson Houston Co., Ltd., Rugby. In this capacity he had charge of the erection of new plant not only in the United Kingdom but also on the Continent. In 1913 he was engaged in putting electrical power into some sulphur mines at Huelva, near Seville, in Spain. Huelva was the port from which Columbus sailed to discover the New World, and Ralph Gladstone’s stay at this place was full of interest to him.
At the outbreak of War he joined the Army as a Sapper in the Royal Monmouth Royal Engineers, and crossed to France in November, 1914. He spent Christmas, 1914, in the trenches before Ypres, and when the Canadians made their brilliant stand at that place, Ralph Gladstone was engaged in helping to keep a bridge intact across the Ypres Canal. A body of Germans broke through the lines and managed to reach the bridge, where they were met by the Engineers armed with spades and any tools they could find. During the unequal hand-to-hand combat Ralph Gladstone, armed only with a trenching tool received a bayonet thrust in the chest which put him out of action for some time. Shortly after his return to the firing line he suffered from concussion caused by the bursting of a shell at the door of his dug-out and was afterwards wounded whilst mending barbed-wire entanglements. After spending some months in hospital he returned to Monmouth as Sergeant and Instructor in bayonet practice.
He returned to France and was promoted to the position of acting Sergeant-Major. In January, 1917, he returned to England to take up a Commission in the Royal Engineers and went back as an Officer to Ypres, where, on November 3rd, 1917, he was killed by a shell within half a mile of the place where he had fought so bravely in the great battle of Ypres in 1914.


Keighley News report dated 10th November 1917, page 3:
LIEUTENANT R. O. GLADSTONE KILLED
Miss Gladstone, of Cross hills, on Wednesday received a telegram from the War Office stating that her brother, Second Lieutenant Ralph Oscar Gladstone, of the Royal Engineers, had been killed in action in France. He joined the Royal Engineers at the outbreak of war, went to France in the winter of 1914, and was severely wounded in the chest in the first battle of Ypres. The Royal Engineers were keeping a bridge going over the canal when the Germans broke through the lines, and the Engineers had a stand-up fight with the enemy, using their tools, picks, spades &c. It was at this time that Private Gladstone received a bayonet thrust. He was wounded a second time about two years ago by shrapnel in the thigh and leg, and after being in the Glasgow War Hospital for some time he went to Monmouthshire as an Army gymnastic instructor.
Subsequently he was made sergeant, and later took up a commission, and returned to France in August last.
He was chosen for special work in the Engineers because of his knowledge of bridge building. He was an old Keighley Trade School boy and an active worker in connection with the Boy Scout movement, founding the Kildwick Church troop of Boy Scouts. He was also in the local Territorials for many years. About the time of the outbreak of war he was out in Spain for the British Thomson Houston Company, at Rugby. Previous to accepting a commission in the Royal Engineers he had been twice offered commissions in the infantry. He was 27 years of age, and leaves a widow. His sister (Miss G. Gladstone) is being trained as a nurse in a hospital at Accrington.
Such is the brief account of the career in this War of one of our bravest Old Boys. Although repeatedly wounded Ralph Gladstone’s spirit was unconquerable and the memory of his gallant services should always remain as a cherished tradition in the School of which he was always proud to call himself a member. We all extend our respectful sympathy to his mother, Mrs. Gladstone, and to his brother and sisters, who have suffered so great a loss.


Ralph's body was laid to rest in the Bard Cottage Cemetery, which is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission burial ground near Ypres in Belgium (plot 6, row B). He left behind a wife, Mrs Ruby Mabel Symonds of Didsbury, Manchester. Research suggest they were separated at the time of his death,  War Pension records seem to reveal they had an illegitimate child, potentially named Miss Mabel Fieldhouse. The address on the pension cards show the child as living at 6 Sunnybank Villas, Glusburn. This area is still being researched by the group to enable clarification.

References:
England and Wales birth records
1891 Census
1901 Census
1911 Census
British Army Service Records
British Army Medal Index Card and Medal Rolls
Soldiers Effects Records
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Records
West Yorkshire Electoral Rolls
England and Wales Death Records
British Army World War One Pension Records (W0364)
The Keighlian Magazine
The Keighley News archives at Keighley Library
Imperial War Museum

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