Ralph Jaques

kings royal rifle corps badgeRifleman, C/12550, 21st (Service) Battalion (Yeoman Rifles), Kings Royal Rifle Corps, killed in action, 15th-17th September 1916, aged 28

Born at Crowle in 1888, Ralph was the third son of Walter and Jane Jaques (nee Farthing). The family lived at Commonside where his father was a farmer. With his other brothers helping out on the farm, Ralph went to work in the offices of Fox’s Brewery in Brewery Road. Starting as an office clerk, by the time he enlisted he had worked his way up to become the manager of the bottling store. He was also a leading member of Crowle Choral Society and Crowle Town Tennis Club.

Ralph enlisted in the 21st (Service) Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps at Crowle, in November 1915, only a few days after their commanding officer, the Earl of Feversham placed a letter in the Epworth Bells asking for more local recruits to join him. Better known as the Yeoman Rifles, the unit had been formed in September 1915 from volunteers from the farming communities of the northern counties. The Earl applied a strict entry procedure and wished his men to be ‘of a very high standard physically educationally and socially, the battalion priding itself on having less crime than any other in the service’.  Ralph would have served with other Lincolnshire men in D Company and he was also a member of the machine gun section.

For their initial training the Yeoman Rifles were based at Duncombe Park, Helmsley, the ancestral home of the Earl of Feversham. A story, possibly not apocryphal, tells of the Earl asking his recruits to practice ‘open order advance’ against a herd of deer on the estate. The deer did not take kindly to this and prepared their own counter attack which routed the fledgling recruits!

Ralph was treated for influenza at Cambridge Hospital between 18th February and 30th March 1916 but was back with the Yeoman Rifles when they departed for the front in May 1916. Initially stationed at Ploegsteert (Plugstreet) in the Ypres area, they moved to the Somme to join the battle there in August.

On 15th September the Yeoman Rifles were one of the units tasked to participate in The Battle of Flers-Courcelette. The third main phase of the Battle of the Somme it is best known for the first use of tanks in battle. At Flers the Yeoman Rifles were tasked with the capture of three trench lines to the east of Flers. Reports from members of the battalion who survived the action say the first problem they faced was their artillery support falling short. Along with endangering them, this meant that when the barrage ceased the German lines were all but intact and the resistance fierce. However their tank support did work well and despite severe losses to the machine gun fire, the Yeoman Rifles did manage to capture their objectives.

Unfortunately they then came under a heavy German counterattack and were pushed back and pinned down in ‘no man’s land’ under heavy artillery fire. Losing colleagues all the while they held on for as long as possible but with no hope of reinforcements the remnants of the battalion were eventually forced to retire back to their own trenches. When the Yeoman Rifles were paraded the next day a roll call was taken. It was found that 57 men, including Ralph Jaques and the Earl of Feversham had been killed, 266 were wounded and a further 70 were missing.

Ralph was initially buried in Lesboeufs Guards Cemetery. When his body along with a number of other men from the Yeoman Rifles was exhumed for reburial at Cateerpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval in 1925 his identity disc was found and returned to the family.

Ralph was remembered in a joint memorial service with Edgar Allan at St Oswald’s Church in October 1916. He is also one of the three members of St Oswald’s Church Choir to die in the Great War commemorated on the memorial lectern in the church.

inscription to sydney empson on lectern in st oswalds church