Corporal Ramsden defied the rules and the odds

Name: Wilfred Ramsden
Date: 1914-1918
Unit: Australian Field Artillery
Location: Egypt, Europe

Corporal Wilfred Ramsden was not one to take 'no' for an answer. He broke all the rules, went AWL in Egypt by boarding a ship bound for Europe so he could join a fighting unit, was awarded two medals for bravery and died just two days before the end of World War I.

He joined the AIF to fight, so when he was sent to Egypt with the Army Medical Corps, he was not at all impressed and continually applied for a transfer to a fighting unit.

After several attempts had failed he finally got his chance on Wednesday 12 January 1916. That morning at the 6am parade volunteers were called for AMC men to be transferred to the 7th Light Horse. With a mate, Ramsden volunteered and they were sent to Maadi that afternoon to join the Unit. To his disgust they were attached to the Dressing Station.

But fate played into Ramsden's hands when he was struck down with dysentery, a fairly common complaint in Egypt. After his discharge from hospital he decided to take matters into his own hands and with about 20 other soldiers jumped onto a ship which was heading for Europe. They were soon discovered and eventually ended up in England under open arrest.

Ramsden continued to apply to join a fighting unit and finally had his wish granted. He was transferred to the Australian Field Artillery and eventually promoted as a Bombardier.

He was trained as a signaller and after treatment for sore eyes, which was diagnosed as early trachoma, was eventually sent to France where he was soon in the thick of battle on the Somme.

Ramsden kept a daily record of events in his diary:

1-5-1917

We are throughout the whole day periodically diving under cover out of view from hostile aircraft, every precaution is necessary not to give away our Bty position. Fritz put over gas shells last night. Fritz Bombarded around the Bty this afternoon with 5.9 and 4.2 made a complete mess of our lines had to wait till he finished before they could be repaired.

Four days later he received a cable from his mother to say his brother Ap had been killed in fighting.

As a signaller, Ramsden's job was to maintain communications between the front line and his unit, which meant frequently facing enemy fire, as he laid out telephone wires and repaired broken lines.

21-5-1917

Fritz as usual putting them all around the road at our corner. We have been slacking off fire during the last few days. While reeling in the OP wire this evening shell fire Drove Veal + myself away three times stopped a piece in the Shrapnell Helmet putting a dent in it two inches long but did no damage only knocked the hat off my head, they were three exiting attempts, the closest thing for me so far the fourth attempt we were successful in getting the wire in.

Ramsden's determination to get the job done despite enemy fire was clearly demonstrated in that last entry. It was to occur time and again over the next 18 months. By now the fighting had moved to Belgium and in particular Ypres.

31-7-1917

Left Ramparts 2.40 am Our Party also Lieut Reed and Sapper Sinclair of Bde Hqrs Passed through St James Trench + West Lane with enemy barrage pouring in on our trenches within 150 yds of Cambridge trench when Lieut Reed, Lieut Wiltshire + Sapper Reed killed. Picked myself up dazed between the three bodies with only a splinter in the leg + scratches all over the face and clothes torn. The Barage had played full on our trenches for 10 minutes at the time of these casualties. Now left in charge of party carried on for a while. No definite orders forced me to go back + obtain another officer for instructions as to the positions in which communication was to be sent back. With Lieut Gregory now in charge we followed up the Advancing infantry, running wire through as we went, established a relay station in what an hour ago was Fritz third line, then carried our line through to within 400 yds of the position our boys had consolidated and were now holding against counter attack. Wild Wood was now our position immediately behind Gallipoli Ridge, both places now being heavily shelled. We hopped over at 3.45am at 3PM we had advanced 1600 yds.

Ramsden was awarded a DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) for his actions on that day.

In November he was severely gassed in an attack and was evacuated to England where he eventually recovered. His ability to get himself into trouble surfaced once again.

31-1-1918

Got nabbed by Jacks coming home from a dance at 1.20am.

2-2-1918

Before C.O. to-day, admonished The ribbon saved my stripe.

Ramsden was then sent to a signal school at Heytsbury where he spent the next few weeks studying and getting into more trouble. By May he had had enough and volunteered to go back to the fighting in France.

2-5-1918 (Sunday)

We leave to-morrow for France. Cheer-e-o Ri one more slap at the fun. then home, if there's any luck X Will. If my lucks out just think theres thousands of better men than me gone west + their is a claim on everyone sooner or later. Yours till the end. Will X

Ramsden was continually in the thick of things as diary entries showed. Many of his colleagues were wounded or killed during the next few months as the war staggered towards its end.

The entries for 8 and 9 August describe action for which Ramsden was later awarded a Military Medal.

8-8-1918

Hopped over with the 8th INF Bde today, advanced 12 kilos, captured many field guns + MG + several thousand prisoners, he retreated fast + we could not keep up to him. We came back ½ mile + consolidated.

9-8-1918

Hopped over with Coys of 29, 30 + 31 Btns, advanced 300yds + got held up by MG fire, he sniped 7 of us killing 4 in addition 8 casualties from enemy shell fire + only 2 Coys advanced. Came back to the consolidated line + waited until 4.30 + again hopped over with the 18 Btn. For the first 1000yds met no opposition only with MG snipers. The enemy immediately surrendered. We met strong resistence after 1000yds + got chopped up a lot with MG, HE + pipsqueaks firing at us point blank, our total advance today has been 2000yds, casualties fairly heavy. Many MG captured. Moved our Bty position to the R flank Right of Harbonnières. Sgt Jefferies + 1 Driver Killed last night on the road. Sgt Major Cotterel + Gnr Digman wounded yesterday afternoon. In the advance of the 8-8-18 we advance from Villers-Bretonneux through Warfusee-Aboncourt Lamotte-en-Santerre, Bayonvillers, Harbonnières, Framerville, Vauvillers, Rainecourt, these villages are the ones that the 8 INF Bde came through with the ARTY Bde close on their heels.

Ramsden never received his decoration for he was transferred to hospital at Etratat, a small coastal town, where complications set in and he died on 9 November of influenza, just two days before the war ended.

Expressions used by Corporal Ramsden in his diary may need some explaining.

1 - Hopped over refers to leaving the trenches to take part in an attack.

2 - A stunt is a battle.

3 - Pipsqueaks are something small or insignificant such as pipsqueak shells compared to the larger more deadly versions.

No changes have been made to the spelling or grammar of the original diary entries.

The material for this article was supplied by Bevan Ramsden of Western Australia


Last updated: 3 June 2019

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Corporal Ramsden defied the rules and the odds, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 14 August 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/corporal-ramsden-defied-rules-and-odds
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