Researched and written by Anne Wright
Sergeant R R Rice
7th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
Killed in action, 30.11.1917
Ronald Richard Rice already had military experience before he fought in the Great War. He was a qualified tailor when he enlisted in the army in March 1902. Ronald served in the Boer War between November 1902 and April 1903 with the 2nd Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. He was discharged as medically unfit on 19 May 1903. Ronald was five feet and four inches tall, had a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. His time with the military had been put to good use as he gained his Certificate of Education and had held some responsibility as an unpaid Lance Corporal.
Ronald was born in early 1885 in Wincanton, Somerset to John William and Clara (nee Lawrence) Rice; he was baptised in the town on 19 April 1885. In 1891 the family which included his older sibling Norman and younger sibling Mabel lived at Townsend, Melbury Osmond, Dorset. His father was a housepainter. Ten years later Ronald was a tailor’s apprentice in Glastonbury but his family had moved to Tregena, St Mary’s Road, Oatlands. This was the address to which he returned on his discharge from the army in 1903. By this time he also had another brother, Percy, who was born in 1901. In 1911 the Rice family lived at Claremont Villas, The Crescent in Weybridge. Ronald was not with them as he was pursuing his career as a tailor in Stansted, Essex where he was a boarder with the Marshall family at 22, Brook Road.
When he enlisted for service in the Great War he did so in Weybridge. He was posted to the 7th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment where he rose to the rank of Sergeant. He was also attached to 253 Company, the Royal Engineers for a time before returning to the East Surreys. Ronald and his battalion arrived at Boulogne on 1 June 1915. At first they held a relatively quiet sector starting at Ploegsteert and extending to east of Armentieres. Their War Diary recorded at the end of August that their first three months had been, ‘…..a very easy time as regards fighting, but working parties have been very hard. The men have worked excellently.’ They had suffered thirteen fatalities in this period. They soon saw action when the battalion moved to trenches on the Loos road on 3 October and became embroiled in the Actions of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. They were bombarded heavily on 10-11 October but then attacked two days later to strengthen their line, successfully taking and holding Gun Trench. However, 58 were killed, 158 wounded and 33 reported missing.
In February 1916 they were in the front line before the Hohenzollern Redoubt. They remained in this area, alternating between front line duty and billets in Bethune until they moved south to the Somme at the end of June. They went into the front line at 3pm on 3 July as part of the Battle of Albert, the opening conflict of the Battle of the Somme. The trenches were already full of the dead and wounded when they arrived and the East Surreys brought in a further 250 wounded. They saw further action in the Battle of Pozieres in August. The later part of the year was relatively quiet for them; most of November was spent in and out of the line near Wailly before moving to the Arras sector in January 1917 where they remained until the end of the year.
Ronald’s East Surrey Battalion attacked the Germans at 3.45am on 3 May in the 3rd Battle of Scarpe, part of the Arras Offensive. They advanced in the darkest part of the night and often lost touch with each other, also due to the poor formation of the trenches. Many had to fight their way back to their own lines as they had passed over some of the enemy in the darkness. They sustained 250 casualties including nearly all of their officers. The battalion went into action again on 20 November close to Gonnelieu (south-south-west of Cambrai) at the start of the Battle of Cambrai. They liaised well with their tanks, captured 200 prisoners and by the next day were under cover in the Hindenburg Support Line. Ronald and his comrades held their position for ten days before the Germans counter-attacked with five divisions on 30 November. They were attacked on both flanks and withdrawal was the only option to avoid being surrounded, even so, most of the battalion was swamped by the enemy. By 2 December the battalion consisted of just 2 officers and 87 other ranks; they had been eviscerated. Ronald was among the dead.
He has no known grave and is commemorated, with over 7,000 other casualties of the Battle of Cambrai on the Cambrai Memorial (Panel 6) in Louveral Military Cemetery (16 km south-west of Cambrai). Of Ronald’s siblings, only his sister remained in Surrey where she died at Walton-on-Thames in 1966. His older brother, Norman, emigrated to Australia in 1910 where he died in 1978 and his younger brother, Percy, died in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1963.
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – East Surrey Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
British Army WW1 Service Records 1760-1915, www.findmypast.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
James L G Rice Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
Somerset, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1914, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk