Harry Ratcliffe was born in 1880 in Brindley Ford. The date is verified on Staffordshire BMD. At the time he was the youngest of six children born to Amos and Mary, née Shaw. Amos was a coal miner who later opened a grocer’s shop and post office. By 1891 two more children had been born and Amos had branched out to being a grocer as well as a coal miner.
In 1901 the family were living at 27, High Street, Brindley Ford (probably the same premises as in 1891). The shop by then incorporated the Post Office. Harry was working there as a grocer’s assistant. This was still the case in 1911. Harry had married Mary Ann Worthington in 1908 at St. James’, Newchapel and in 1911 they were living next door at 25, High Street along with Mary Ann’s three siblings, Clement, John and Gwendoline Worthington who was only seven years old. No children have been found for Harry and Mary Ann. Harry was still working as a grocer’s assistant for his father when he enlisted or was called up. The few surviving war records show that he had adopted Gwendoline.
Harry enlisted at Burslem on August 21st 1916. By November he was sent to train under the new army structure training plan. This was at Press Heath TR/3 with the 75th Training (12th Reserve Battalion) East Lancashire Regiment. After training he was sent to the 8th battalion Depot at Ripon. A confusing set of service numbers appear. On January 6th 1917 Harry was posted to the 1st/4th Battalion, The King’s Own Royal Lancashire Regiment, and crossed the channel to join his battalion in the field in Flanders. This battalion was attached to the 164th Brigade, 55th (West Lancashire) Division and had served in Flanders since May 1915.
In January 1917 the 55th Division were holding their lines in a cold and wet Ypres Salient. Though a reasonably quiet time, the troops were still under the threat of enemy shell fire and were surrounded on three sides in the large salient. Harry would have joined his new mates in the Railway Wood area, not far from the Menin Road out of Ypres. Their front spread two miles north to the village of Wieltje.
Ten days before the Third Battle of Ypres was to commence on July 31st, Harry was taken out of the front line and returned to England arriving on July 21st 1917. The reason for this is uncertain but heath problems could very well have been the cause. He spent time attached to a home based unit until April 2nd 1918 when he was discharged from the army.
Nine months later, at the age of 38, Harry Ratcliffe sadly died at his home, 27, High Street, Brindley Ford, on December 5th 1918. He was described as an Army pensioner (grocer’s assistant). He died of 1) influenza 10 days 2) broncho pneumonia; he was caught by the flu epidemic. No mention of his death appears in the CWGC records.
Private Harry Ratcliffe is remembered on the Brindley Ford memorial.
Elaine Bryan and Michael Turnock.