William Albert Ralph

William Albert Ralph, No. 14151

1st Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment

Killed in action, 3 December 1917

Born in 1893 at Waimangaroa on the West Coast, William Albert Ralph was the second of Sophia and William Ralph’s ten children. The family lived at Denniston, where William’s father worked at the coal mine. William attended school in nearby Waimangaroa. Tall, with dark hair and eyes, William was working as a miner for the Westport Coal Company when he decided to join up in 1916.

William enlisted in March and became a private with the Canterbury Infantry Regiment. At the end of June he left New Zealand to serve overseas. He joined his battalion at Armentières – a quiet sector of the Western Front – in mid-October 1916, where the New Zealand Division was recuperating after the Battle of the Somme. There, the New Zealanders settled into the routine of trench warfare and prepared for their first European winter.

In early 1917 the New Zealanders moved north into Belgium and soon began preparing for the assault on Messines Ridge. At the time of the battle, William was posted to a reinforcement camp behind the lines at Morbecque. He returned to the front after the New Zealanders captured Messines.

William finally got his chance to participate in a large set-piece battle when the New Zealand Division became involved in the Ypres offensive. He quickly proved his worth. On 1 October he helped to thwart a 12-man enemy patrol near Gravenstafel Spur, an action for which he was awarded a Military Medal. He then survived the costly battles at Passchendaele, and was appointed lance-corporal on 12 October, the day of the disastrous failed attack on Bellevue Spur.

In mid-November, William went on leave to the United Kingdom. Three days after he returned to the front, he took part in the attack on Polderhoek Spur, an unsuccessful attempt to capture the ruins of Polderhoek Chateau and straighten the front line. William disappeared towards the end of the day while helping to bring in the wounded and was deemed to have been killed in action. He was 24 years old. The Ralph family recalls that on the day he died his mother Sophia came in from the garden and said to her family: ‘something has happened to William.’ His body was never found but he is remembered on the New Zealand Memorial in Buttes New British Cemetery at Polygon Wood in Belgium. His name is also recorded on the war memorial in Westport.

Further information:

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph – William Ralph

Commonwealth War Grave Commission online record – William Ralph

'War honours for New Zealanders', Dominion, 26 October 1917, p. 6

'Roll of Honour', Greymouth Evening Star, 21 December 1917, p. 5

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