Ralph Farnham

The cottages in High Street, Meldreth where the Farnham family lived
Photo supplied by Ann Handscombe
Sarah Farnham, mother of Ralph Farnham (date unknown)
Photo supplied by Ann Handscombe
Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinghe, Belgium where Ralph Farnham is buried
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Ralph Farnham was born in Meldreth in 1888, the son of Thomas Farnham, born in 1850, also in Meldreth and Sarah Ann (nee Harman), born around 1851/2 in Bassingbourn. In 1891 the family lived in the High Street, Meldreth and Thomas was a 40 year old agricultural labourer.

Their children at the time were Walter (who lived two doors away with his grandmother), Frank, Kate, Ralph and Zillah. In 1901, the family still lived in the High Street and Ralph’s 57 year old Aunt Charlotte lived next door to them. At this time, Frank’s father was working in a local cement factory and his brother, Frank, was a farm labourer.

Ralph’s grandmother (also Sarah) was a widowed schoolmistress and was probably a significant influence on Ralph and his future choice of career. Unusually, for someone of his background in those days, he went on to higher education, graduating from Birkbeck College, University of London with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) degree and became a schoolmaster himself. He was a talented sportsman, winning his College colours for hurdling and the high jump.

In October 1914, whilst at London University, he joined the Officer Training Corps and is included in the University’s “War List of Appointed and Recognised Teachers, Graduates and Matriculated Students who have served or are serving in His Majesty’s Forces, 1914-1918”, published in May 1918. During the Great War the OTC became an officer-producing corps and some 30,000 officers passed through, Ralph Farnham amongst them. He was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in April 1915 and at the time he enlisted was teaching at a school in Tottenham, north London. He married Daisy A Haslar that summer but sailed for Gallipoli in October 1915 where he served in the Territorial 1st/6th battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, part of the 125th Brigade, 42nd Division.

He took part in some heavy fighting there and his battalion was one of the last to be evacuated from the peninsula; it was then posted to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal. In March 1917 he returned to the Western Front where he was engaged in further fierce fighting on the Somme. He was sent home from France later that year suffering from septic poisoning. Ralph Farnham went back to Flanders on 3rd July 1918, just before the birth of his daughter. His battalion had by that time become part of the 66th Division and he served in the final ‘100 days’ of the campaigns which eventually brought the Great War to an end.

Captain Ralph Farnham had survived ‘going over the top’ many times and endured life in the trenches over several years. As the War drew towards its close, his battalion was holding recently-won positions around Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast. He was wounded in the right arm and chest on October 14th 1918 and moved south west to a casualty clearing station at Poperinghe. He died from his wounds on 31st October 1918, aged 30 years and lies in grave 35.B.10 in the Lijssenthoek military cemetery in Poperinghe, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, one of 10,755 casualties who are buried there. His widow, Daisy Farnham, placed the following inscription on his headstone “The streams on Earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above”.

News of his death appeared in the Royston Crow on 18th November 1918, just a few days after hostilities had ceased. Having enlisted at the outset of the War he had served throughout it and in three separate theatres only to die in its final days. At the time of his death, his wife was living in Waltham Cross, London with their baby daughter who Ralph never met.

Acknowledgement: thanks are due to Bruce Huett and Steve Fuller. Steve has carried out extensive research on those who died in World War One, some of which is reproduced above. Further details are on his website.

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