Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte H Ruffle
7th Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent) Regiment
Killed in action, 21.3.1918
Harry Ruffle hailed from Crondall in Hampshire where he was born in 1881 as the fourth of seven children. His older siblings were Charles, Florence and Martha and the younger were Mary, Frederick and Ada. Harry’s parents George and Mary (nee Randall) were also natives of Hampshire but both had died, in 1913 and 1908 respectively, before his war service began. When Harry was born the family lived at Brick Kiln Hill in Crondall where George earned his living as a farm labourer. Ten years later they were still in Crondall but George was now a bricklayer/labourer. At the time of the 1901 Census Harry was away from Crondall and it is highly likely that he was visiting the Southon family in Aldershot. If this is Harry he was a postman at this time. The next few years were eventful: he married Alice Sophia Barnes on 29 August 1907 at the Bible Christian Chapel in Crondall and moved to Weybridge where he became the manager of Joseph Frisby Ltd., a Boots and Shoes Store in Baker Street. Their only child, a son, Sidney Eric, was born on 6 March 1913.
Harry enlisted at Guildford in December 1915. He was 34 years old, stood five feet and nine inches tall, had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He was posted to the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent) Regiment of the 55th Brigade (moved to the 53rd in February 1918) in the 18th (Eastern) Division. They were already in France having arrived at Le Havre on 27 July 1915. Harry probably joined them there in the spring of 1916. His battalion already had experience of trench warfare having been in and out of the line near Dernancourt. They were in the trenches near Montauban (due east of Albert) on 1 July 1916 when the Battle of the Somme was launched. The 7th Royal West Kents (RWK) was a supporting battalion but at 10.30am, three hours after the action started they were ordered forward where they were shelled heavily. By the end of 4 July they had sustained significant casualties: 2 officers killed, 8 wounded, 37 other ranks killed, 135 wounded and 1 missing. Despite their losses they were back in the attack again at Trones Wood (NE of Montauban) on 12 July. In two days they suffered further losses: 4 officers killed, 6 wounded, 2 missing, 28 other ranks killed, 174 wounded and 33 missing. These totals were added to throughout the late summer and early autumn.
1917 proved to be an equally challenging year for Harry and his comrades: their division saw action in the operations on the Ancre in February and March, pursued the Germans to the Hindenburg Line between February and March and took part in the Arras Offensive in the late spring and early summer. In July they moved to the Ypres area and went into the trenches near Dickebusch. They became embroiled in the Third Battle of Ypres where the British attempt to break through the Ypres Salient became bogged down in attritional warfare in appalling conditions. Heavy rainfall turned the battlefield into a quagmire. Once again the 7th RWKs suffered heavily: in October, 14 officers, 57 NCOs and 240 other ranks made up their casualties. Harry suffered a gunshot wound to his right arm in November which led to a spell in hospital in Sheffield. He was admitted to hospital again on 7 January 1918 because of a bullet wound in his right arm. This may have been a fresh injury or complications from the original one. He was discharged on 25 February 1918.
By the time Harry re-joined his unit they had moved south to Mondescourt (SW of St Quentin); back to the Somme once more. They spent the first two weeks of March holding the line and after a short reprieve returned to the task near Moy (SE of St Quentin) on 19 March. The battalion was ordered to ‘stand to’ as news was received that the enemy was gathering in large numbers. After a bombardment lasting 5 hours in which 3.2 million shells were fired the Germans advanced on 21 March under cover of a dense mist. Harry and his comrades were positioned right in their path. They were overwhelmed by the onslaught. By 10.30am three companies of the battalion had been surrounded as was their battalion HQ by 11.am. The officer who was 2nd in command gathered the remnants and any reinforcements he could find and withdrew to Faillouel (SSW of Moy) and held a line just west of the canal. The battalion had been decimated; the casualties amounted to 20 officers and 577 other ranks. Harry was among them.
His body was never found. Initially, he was listed as missing but later officially declared to have died on 21 March or between that date and the 28 March. Harry is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial 6 kms north-east of Albert. None of his personal effects were returned to his widow who received a pension of £1 5s per week for herself and her young son. In 1935 he and his mother lived at 4, Holstein Avenue, Weybridge, followed by York Road and later a move to Byfleet. She died on 15 June 1964 at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey. Sidney Eric, who became a planning engineer, was a resident of Studland Road, Byfleet when he died, aged 65, in 1978.
The British Army in the Great War 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Royal West Kent Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-19120, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966. 1973-1995
Nedwick Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk