Isaac RATCLIFFE
Rank: Private
Number: 18810
Unit: 2nd Battalion BEDFORDSHIRE REGIMENT
Date of Death: 12 October 1916
Age: 38 (based on 1901 Census)
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

When the Census was taken, the Ratcliffe family was living in Heald Green where Thomas Ratliffe had a business as a market gardener. His three younger sons worked in the business – Thomas and John working directly with the crops. Isaac worked as a teamster and will have undertaken the deliveries of the produce. The eldest son, Sam, was a coat dealer.

There is no mention of the business in the 1914 edition of Kelly’s Directory and it is possible that Thomas had died by then and the sons had gone their separate ways. This might explain why, when War was declared, Isaac enlisted at St Albans into the local Regiment.

It has not been possible to establish when Isaac joined up, but a soldier with a service number only four away from his was reported killed in 1915. It certainly seems likely, therefore, that he would have seen action during the opening engagements of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. During September, the Battalion was in billets away from the front line, at Vignacourt (northwest of Amiens). The Official History notes that they enjoyed their stay there although the billets were not very good, nor were the inhabitants very friendly. During this time, they trained for the next attack. There was also an inter-battalion football competition. They beat the 19th Liverpools 1-0 and drew 1-1 against the 17th Liverpools

By 12 October, the Battalion was back in the front line, near the village of Flers, a little way north of the area of the July fighting. It was scheduled, with others, to assault the enemy positions, known as Gird and Bite Trenches. Zero hour was set for 2.05pm. The plan was that “C” and “D” Companies would form the first wave; “B” would follow acting as “moppers-up” and “A” Company would be in reserve.

About 11am, a party of about 50 Germans appeared in Gird Trench, without weapons and made signs that they wanted to surrender. 2nd Lt Fyson went out and spoke to one of the German officers who then went back into his trench. Just as he did, someone shot at him. It is not recorded if the shot came from the British or German side. It is, however, not surprising that the Germans did not come over.

On schedule, the leading companies advanced and all went well until a small ridge was reached some 60 yards in front on the British trench. At this point, the enemy opened up with heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the left. Around this time, Lt Harold Fyson was killed. “D” Company suffered many casualties and were unable to move either forwards or backwards due to the fire. They would have to stay out in the open, with no cover until nightfall.

By 2.30, over 100 of the Bedfordshires had become casualties, but “C” Company had made progress, passing over Gird Trench and into Bite Trench. They were unable to go further due to very heavy machine gun fire and started to make the trench deeper and prepare for a counter attack. “A” Company was also digging-in at Gird Trench and tried to dig a trench out to where “D” Company was still in No Man’s Land.

The Battalion proved to be the only one in the whole of the Corps that had been able to secure its advance, but it had been at high cost. The Bedfords had suffered 250 casualties of whom 96, including Isaac, had been killed. The gain was some 200yards of Bite Trench and 70 yards of Gird Trench. 

(Original research by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website)

   
           
   
     
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