Lieutenant Ralph Heaton Ward, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, died in Durham on 30th September 1920. aged 38. He was born in Solihull on 1st June 1882 and was baptised at St Alphege Church, Solihull exactly one month later. His parents were Henry Arthur Ward, a master gunmaker, and Fanny Jane (née Heaton) who had married in Solihull in 1878.
Ralph was the third of four children – having two older brothers, Arthur Ward (born 1879), George Heaton Ward (1881-1941) and a younger sister, Fanny Eleanor Ward (born 1885). The family lived at Warwick Road, Solihull from at least 1881 until at least 1891, before moving to Handsworth, Birmingham by 1901.
Ralph attended Solihull School before going onto Queen’s College, Birmingham and then Durham University, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in 1906, and a Master of Arts in 1909. He also joined the Durham University Officer Training Corps (O.T.C.).
After graduating, he remained in Durham, joining the staff at Johnston Technical School as senior history teacher, games master and swimming instructor. He was apparently one of the founders of the Historical Association. He married Mabel Orton on 3rd April 1915 in her home town of Bristol and volunteered for the Army on 22nd November 1915. He was transferred to the reserves the following day before being mobilised on 30th October 1916. Records at The National Archives note that he was 6ft 3in tall and gave his permanent address as 156 Church Lane, Handsworth Wood.
He was posted to the Durham Light Infantry as a Private on 4th November 1916, but was attached to the 3rd Officer Cadet Battalion on the following day. He received a commission on 1st March 1917 and joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry as Second Lieutenant. The following month he was posted to France, entering a Theatre of War on 16th April 1917.
The Birmingham Daily Post of 27th July 1917 carried a report that Second Lieutenant Ralph Heaton Ward was suffering from a serious gunshot wound in the left upper arm and had been admitted to hospital in France. A report of his funeral in the Coventry Herald 9th October 1920 notes that as well as being severely injured, Lieut. Ward had also suffered from shell-shock.
On 18th June 1918, he was awarded the Silver War Badge, at which time his address was given as 86 Chesterfield Road, Bristol, which is believed to have been his wife’s family home. By the time of the birth of his only child, William Alan Heaton-Ward on 19th December 1919, the family had returned to Durham.
Probate records indicate that Ralph Heaton Ward died at Drumforke, The Peth, Durham. His funeral took place at St Mary’s Church, Handsworth, although his name is not included on the war memorial there, nor at his birthplace of Solihull, nor at Solihull School. He also appears not to be included on the war memorial of Johnston Technical School (now Durham Johnston School). He is listed in the University of Durham Roll of Service 1914-1918 but listed as wounded and not noted as having died.
He is not known to be commemorated on any war memorial, and is not included on the Commonwealth War Graves Debt of Honour Register, presumably because he was no longer serving in the Army at the time of his death. However, his widow was granted a death gratuity on 21st December 1920, suggesting that his war service had played a role in his death.
After the death of her husband, Mabel Ward, returned with her 9-month-old son, known as Alan, to her hometown of Bristol where she returned to teaching. Alan grew up in Bristol and won a scholarship as a day boy at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, an independent school in Clifton. He left the school in 1936 and wanted to train as a doctor, but the tuition fees were beyond his mother’s means, so he began work, aged 16, in the office at Wills Tobacco Company.
Following the death of his grandmother in 1938, Alan’s small annual income from her estate meant that he was able to take up a place at Bristol University Medical School, qualifying as a doctor in December 1944. Dr William Alan Heaton-Ward died on 2nd June 2011, aged 91, and has been described as one of the most distinguished psychiatrists of his generation.
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Heritage & Local Studies Librarian