Ralph Mervyn BAWDEN Update Details

BAWDEN, Ralph Mervyn

Service Number: 3113
Enlisted: 2 October 1916, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 50th Infantry Battalion
Born: Adelaide, South Australia, 23 August 1895
Home Town: Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Heathfield School, South Australia
Occupation: Horse Driver
Died: Died of wounds, Belgium, 25 September 1917, aged 22 years
Cemetery: Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Aldgate Honour Board, Aldgate War Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

2 Oct 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 3113, Adelaide, South Australia
16 Dec 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 3113, 50th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '19' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Berrima embarkation_ship_number: A35 public_note: ''
16 Dec 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 3113, 50th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Berrima, Adelaide
25 Sep 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 3113, 50th Infantry Battalion, Menin Road

Help us honour Ralph Mervyn Bawden's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by John Edwards

Son of John BAWDEN and Elizabeth nee MARCH

Mr. and Mrs. J. Bawden, of Aldgate, have been notified that their son, Pte. Ralph Bawden, died of wounds in France on September 17. Shortly after the beginning of the war, Pte. Bawden sought to serve his country. On five occasions he was refused, but on presenting himself the sixth time he was successful. His enlistment dated from September, 1916, and prior to enlistment he was in the employ of Messrs. Stephens & Briant, of Crafens. He was popular on the football field, and was a good pianist and vocalist, he was sought after at social gatherings in the district. He was a member of the Church of Christ at Stirling East. An older brother is with the Flying Corps in Egypt.

"...3113 Private Ralph Mervyn Bawden, 50th Battalion from Aldgate, South Australia. A 21 year old horse driver prior to enlisting on 2 October 1916, he embarked for overseas with the 8th Reinforcements of the 50th Battalion from Adelaide on 16 December 1916 aboard HMAT Berrima. Following further training in England, he went to Beglium where he joined the 50th Battalion on 25 August 1917. A month later, he was wounded in action at Westhoek Ridge, Belgium on 25 September 1917 and evacuated to the 17th Casualty Clearing Station for medical treatment. Pte Bawden died of his wounds that same day and was buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium." - SOURCE (www.awm.gov.au)


Biography contributed by Amber Tiller

Ralph Mervyn Bawden was born on the 23rd of August 1895 in Salisbury, South Australia, Australia. He was the fifth child and fourth son of John and Elizabeth Bawden. His older siblings were; Theodore John (b. 1885), Earnst Rupert Roy (b. 1887), Herbert Leonard (b. 1889), Matilda Bawden (b. 1892). His younger siblings were Gertrude (b. 1897), George (b. 1897), Elizabth Myra (b. 1900) and Henry Mathew (b. 1904).

In his life before the war, Ralph is said to have been a young man of high regard. He was known for engaging in both sporting and cultural hobbies. A popular player on the football field, a talented pianist/ vocalist, and is said to have been sought after at social gatherings. He was also a member of the Church of Christ at Stirling East.

As a young man he worked for messers. Stephens and Bryant of Crafers, as a horse driver.  Records list him as being a valued assistant and a favourite with the customers. He was also a member of the senior cadets, 74th Battalion from the age of nineteen and a half. This aligns with the start of 1915, six months after the commencement of World War I.

It is not known when Ralph first attempted to enlist in the Australian Defence Force, but it is known that he presented himself on five occasions each resulting in rejection. Two such rejections were specifically from the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F) and the Citizen Military Force. This was due to his teeth and pelvic bone respectively. The A.I.F was the first main expeditionary volunteer force established after Britain declared war on Germany.   The Citizen military force was a reservist organisation that has restricted overseas service, with efforts focussed on the home front. On his sixth attempt to join the war effort Ralph was accepted to the 8th reinforcement of the 50th Battalion on the 2nd of October 1916. His enlistment came six months after that of his older brother Herbert.

We gain insight into Ralph’s physically appearance from his attestation papers. He was 6ft 5 ½ inches tall weighing 160lbs. He had a fresh, tan complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair.

On the 16th of December 1916, Ralph boarded HMAS Berrima bound for England. Originally the P&O passenger liner SS Berrima was built in 1913 to transport around six hundred passengers on cruises and voyages. Shortly after the outbreak of war the cruise liner was requisitioned by the Royal Australian Navy and taken to cockatoo island. Here she was refit into an armed merchant cruiser and troopship with four, four-inch breech loading guns. The passenger accommodation was also modified with cabins removed to allow for the transport of fifteen hundred troops in the cargo hold. From this she was commissioned as the axillary cruiser HMAS Berrima. Her sister ships included; Ballarat, Beltana, Benalla and Borda. Ralph disembarked the vessel in January 1917, one month later the she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-84 in the English Channel.

Once in England, Ralph entered a training unit for eight months in preparation for joining the 50th Battalion. The 50th Battalion was formed in early 1916 in an effort to double the force of the A.I.F. Half the unit was made up from veterans of the 10th Battalion and the other half of new Australian recruits. The majority of these members all hailed from South Australia. The battalion’s efforts focussed on the Western Front, specifically in front line duty, training and labour. With bleak winters spent in the trenches. Their main areas of operation were France and Belgium during Ralph’s time in service. He officially joined the unit in Ypres, Belgium on the 25th August 1917.

The Third Battle of Ypres otherwise known as the Battle of Passchendaele was a campaign fought on the Western Front from July to November 1917. The main objective was to gain control of ridges South and East of Ypres in West Flanders. This attack was a key part of Allied strategic plans established in conferences held in November of 1916 and May of 1917. Part of this campaign was the Capture of Westhoek ridge, fought on the Gheluvelt Plateau, Ypres, Belgium. This battle took place on the 10th of August 1916 when the German forces (4th Army) fortified themselves and took the operations area after great bloodshed on both sides. After this, the Allied forces kept presence in the area with continual gunfire attempting to push back on the German line. Australian troops joined the front line on the 20th of September 1916, this was the first time Australians had engaged in the Third Battle of Ypres.

Ralph was a member of the ration party, tasked with bringing food from the rear to the front lines. The job was risky and dangerous, with difficult conditions for its party members. This resulted in many ration parties on the western front operating at night to avoid enemy fire as they manoeuvred between the friendly trenches. Food was fuel and fuel was survival, thus the importance of these soldiers cannot be overlooked. Eye witness accounts put Ralph at the front-line trenches at Westhoek Ridge, five days after Australia joined the effort.

At around 1000 on the 25th of September 1916, Ralph was in a support line at Westhoek Ridge when a German shell exploded. The shell wounded at least five men, Ralph was hit in the stomach, arm and head. He was soon after taken by the stretcher bearers in a conscious yet mortally wounded state to the 17th casualty clearing station. Eye witness accounts in the Red Cross dispatches from his unit members provide insight into the hellish last moments of Ralph’s life. Private James White (3493) stated, “I knew Bawden well, we were in the ration party together…Bawden was in front of me…I don’t think [he] could have been buried as he was blown to pieces”. ANZAC mateship also shines through in the dispatches. Private C.A. Bennett (3500) stated, “He was a mate of mine…the only man of that name in the convoy, in which he was extremely popular”.

Once at the dressing station the severity of Ralph’s wounds was fully realised. He passed at 1100 withing an hour of arriving and was buried at the soldiers grave near the hospital. This was the day before allied forces advanced into Polygon Wood. Where a one-week battle resulted in 15,375 British, 5,770 Australian and 13,500 German troops being killed in action. Plot XXV - F – 7, Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, is Ralph’s final resting place along with 1,103 other Australian troops. He died exactly one month into his active service. For his sacrifice Ralph was post-humorously awarded the 1914/15 Star Medal, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Ralph’s family in Australia were notified of his death within two weeks of his burial. Notices were published in five South Australian newspapers; The Observer, The Chronicle, The Advertiser, The Express and The Telegraph. Not only did the family receive an official confirmation of his death, The Red Cross conducted and recorded/ obtained eye witness accounts and dispatches relating to Ralph’s passing. Allowing his family to know when and how he died as well as where he was buried. Facts that not every family had the fortune of learning. Elizebth wrote two letters to The Red Cross, thanking them for the efforts and praising them for the work that they do. Elizabth was also able to chose the inscription on Ralph’s tombstone. She chose; ‘His Duty Nobly Done’. 

Ralph is listed on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, ACT, Australia. His name is listed on panel 150. My dearest and most sincere hope for this passage is for recognition of Ralph’s sacrifice so he can be honoured and remembered and not lost to history as he has been for the last hundred years.

By A.A.J Tiller (2nd great-grand neice of Ralph)