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Frederick Ralph Beckley

Signaller 198776 Frederick Ralph Beckley, 42 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.


Ralph Beckley

Ralph Beckley..

Ralph was born in Shaw in 1898, the second son of Frederick Beckley and his wife, Esther (née Eustace).  His father worked as a miller, quite possibly at Shaw Mills, moving the family to Shaw from their native Burford, Gloucestershire, in 1897. However, by 1911 he had changed his occupation to that of bricklayer and moved the family into Jack Street, off Northbrook Street in the centre of Newbury.


In 1911 Ralph was still at school, aged 13. This would have been his last year at school before he would have to enter the adult world of work.  His elder brother, William, only one year older was working as a porter for a local hosier.  The family was completed by his four younger sisters, Edith Phyllis (aged 10), Hilda May (7), Doris Harriet (3) and Agnes Ellen (4 months). In 1913 the family was completed by the birth of a fifth sister, Florence Ruth.


Ralph was too young to join the rush to volunteer following the declaration of war in 1914 (not that this prevented some youngsters from donning the khaki). He did not turn 18 until 1916, by which time conscription had been introduced, which would have resulted in call-up papers arriving very soon after his birthday. He would then have been sent to a Training Reserve unit for basic training, where he appears to have shown some talent for the role he was to take in the field, that of a signaller.


Royal Field Artillery badge

The regimental badge of the Royal Field Artillery..

When he was 19 he could be sent to the front, in his case this meant a posting to 42 Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery which was with the 3rd Division, one of the ‘Old Contemptible’ Divisions that arrived in France in August 1914.  By the time Ralph would have joined them there would have been few survivors from those early days.


As a Signaller his job would have involved communications between the artillery batteries, forward observers and the chain of command - this could be extremely hazardous, laying and maintaining wires as enemy shells were bursting around the men at work.


In August 1918 the Allies on the Western Front began the Battle of Amiens in an attempt to retake territory lost to the German offensives in the spring.  The result was success on an unprecedented scale, from this time on the front was constantly being pushed back towards Germany. The success of the Allies was not without consequences, casualties were always heavier when assaulting enemy positions, which was the case for throughout the final months of the war and, despite repeated setbacks the Germans continued to offer significant resistance. Ralph died on 12 September 1918, the opening day of the Battle for the Hindenburg Line, the initial phase of which is also known as the Battle of Havrincourt.   Described as ‘a minor attack fought in between the major Allied offensives of 1918’, the Battle of Havrincourt was successfully fought by three divisions of Sir Julian Byng's Third Army who captured the village of Havrincourt, which was defended by a numerically superior German force comprising four divisions.


The news reached home:


Newbury Weekly News,  17 October 1918 – Local War Notes
Mr and Mrs Beckley, Connaught-road, have received news that their son, Signaller Ralph Beckley, was killed in action on September 12th.  Letters of sympathy were sent by the Chaplain and his comrades saying how much he was respected by the whole battery.  He was buried with military honours, officers and men being present.  Another son has been on leave from Italy.


Ralph was buried in grave I.G.3 at Hermies Hill British Cemetery.


Frederick's name on Newbury War Memorial

Ralph's name on Newbury War Memorial (bottom left)

Locally he is remembered on Tablet 6 of the Newbury Town War Memorial, as well as the memorial board and roll of honour in St Nicolas’ Church, Newbury.


The newspaper report of Ralph’s demise mentions a brother on leave from Italy. This was William Bernard Beckley, born in 1896. He served in the Berkshire Yeomanry, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, Royal Warwickshire Regiment and Manchester Regiment. He survived the war and married Olive Staunton in 1927; he died in Newbury in 1965.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Died this day:
17 October 1917
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