King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'
Ralph was born in mid 1866 in Bollington, Cheshire. His father was called Thomas and his mother was Alice. He was their eldest child and his siblings were called William, Matthew, Alice, Mary, Harriett and Anne Elizabeth. The family were Roman Catholics.
As Ralph grew up Thomas worked as a clogger, making wooden shoes known as clogs. These were popular with industrial workers because they were durable and strong. The family lived on Palmerston Street in Bollington, although we don't know their house number. By 1881 Ralph had found work as a piecer in a cotton mill.
At some point during the 1880s Ralph joined the 4th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. This was a unit of the Militia, so he will have kept his job in the cotton mill and trained as a soldier for a short period every year.
Ralph must have taken to Army life because on the 5th April 1890 he left the Militia and joined the Regular Army at Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire. He chose to enlist in the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 2862.
When Ralph enlisted he was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 139 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, brown eyes and light brown hair. He told the Army he had been born in 1870. Giving a false age to join the Army was illegal; we don't know why Ralph did it.
After training at the Regimental Depot in Ashton, Ralph was assigned to the 1st Battalion in Ireland on the 18th July 1890. They were based in Tipperary when he left them on the 18th September 1891. He had been posted to the 2nd Battalion, who were based in India. We believe Ralph joined them in Sialkot in modern Pakistan. They moved to Meerut in late 1892 and spent some time in Chakrata in the foothills of the Himalayas. In late 1893 the battalion arrived in Dinapore, now Danapur, Bihar State.
We don't know anything about what Ralph did in Dinapore. He began to receive an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay on the 24th July 1896. The 2nd Battalion left India in mid January 1898 and moved to Aden, in modern Yemen, for the next year. We don't believe that Ralph spent any time there, however.
Most men enlisted in the Regular Army for 7 years to be followed by 5 years in the Army Reserve. This could be changed to 8 followed by 4 if the man was overseas when his service was supposed to end, as Ralph was. He was transferred to the Reserve on the 23rd January, which suggests he was back in the UK by this date.
As a Reservist Ralph was free to find a home and a job, but he could be called back to the Army in an emergency at any point during the rest of his service.
On the 26th December 1899 an emergency arose and Ralph was recalled. The emergency was the British defeats and casualties in the opening weeks of the Boer War, which had begun in October 1899. Ralph was posted to the 2nd Battalion and set sail for South Africa with them on the 16th March 1900.
Ralph reached South Africa in early April. The 2nd Battalion took part in fighting to the west of Harrismith during July 1900, which qualified Ralph and his comrades for the 'Wittebergen' clasp.
Having more soldiers available meant that the British Army could try to force the Boers to face it in battle. By the end of 1900 they had captured most Boer towns, but the Boers refused to surrender and began to fight as guerrillas in small units. Ralph will have spent the rest of the war manning blockhouses and taking part in patrols of the countryside aimed at restricting the movements of the Boer forces. This was eventually successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.
Ralph returned to the UK in late July 1902, shortly before the rest of the 2nd Battalion. He was demobilised and returned to civilian life on the 13th August.
The rest of Ralph's life is a mystery. He received a pension from the Army for the rest of his life. By 1936 he was living in Bolton, Lancashire, and must have been in poor health. He was admitted to Townley's Hospital in Bolton on the 9th July. He died there on the 10th August 1938. He was 72 years old. In 2013 Townley's Hospital is part of the Royal Bolton Hospital.
Ralph's medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 1997. As well as his King's South Africa Medal, Ralph was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Transvaal' and 'Wittebergen'.