Ronald Poulton Palmer


Ronald Poulton Palmer was probably the most famous rugby player of his day. Born in Oxford in 1889 to a wealthy family with connections to Huntley & Palmers (biscuit factory) he excelled at sports and played for Harlequins and captained England rugby when they won back to back Grand Slams in 1913 / 14, the forerunner of todays Six Nations. He scored four tries against France in 1914 - the last test match to be played before the outbreak of the war. In all, he was capped 17 times.

By the time the First World War started, Ronald had already joined the Territorial Force of the Royal Berkshire Regiment and undergone Officer training. He was "called up" and sent to the Western Front in the spring of 1915. His Regiment was sent to the front at Ploegsteert near Ypres in Belgium. This was a relatively quiet area where new units could learn the skills required for trench warfare from more experienced soldiers.

On the night of 4/5 May 1915 Ronald was in charge of a working party strengthening the dugouts in Trench 40, also known as Oxford Trench, just north of a position called Anton's Farm. It was a very dark night. At twenty minutes past midnight he heaved himself up onto the roof of a dugout to better oversee the work taking place. A single shot was fired and he fell to the ground dead. He was the first officer of the 1/ 4 Royal Berkshire Regiment to die in the Great War. His body was taken by stretcher party through the lines of the 1/ 7 Royal Warwickshire Regiment to the Field Ambulance in the Convent in Ploegsteert. He was buried in this cemetery at 6.30 pm on the evening of 6 May 1915, with the Bishop of Pretoria officiating - a personal friend of the Poulton family.