Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1915, Lieutenant Ronald William Poulton-Palmer, 1st/4th Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’ (Royal Berkshire Regiment), was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres.
One of five children of an eminent Darwinian professor, Sir Edward Bagnall Poulton, Lieutenant Poulton-Palmer was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and Rugby School. He attended Balliol College, Oxford, taking an honours degree in Engineering Science
From schooldays he excelled at athletics, cricket and rugby, and by the outbreak of the Great War he was the English rugby team’s captain. He was described as having a “mesmeric presence” on the field, and one opponent asked “How can one stop him when his head goes one way, his arms another and his legs keep straight on?" The writer A.A. Thomson wrote about his body-swerve: "You had the optical illusion of seeing him go, not past the full-back but right through".
In June of 1912, Lieutenant Poulton-Palmer was commissioned in the Royal Berkshire Regiment. He became chairman of the Huntley and Palmer biscuit firm in 1914, inheriting substantial wealth from his mother’s brother, and complying with the requirement that Palmer be added to his surname. He was known to be a modest man, who helped working men and their children, and left a bequest to the Workers’ Education Association. He also argued that rugby should not be confined to a particular class.
At the outbreak of war, Lieutenant Poulton-Palmer immediately volunteered for service overseas, and arrived on the Western Front in March, 1915. He was about to become one of one hundred and thirty international rugby players to be killed there. On the day of his death he was overseeing a work party in the Oxford Trench at Ploegsteert Wood in Belgium, when he was shot by a sniper. In the short time he had been at the front he had become popular with all ranks, and an officer reported that when he went round informing the company, almost every man was in tears. His closest friend, William Temple, who went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that he had a "wonderful buoyancy and freedom from self-consciousness” and “a genius for evoking affection".
Lieutenant Poulton-Palmer lies buried in the Hyde Park Corner (Royal Berks) Cemetery near Ploegsteert. On his headstone are the words, “His was the joy that made people smile when they met him”. He is remembered on memorials at Rugby School, Oxford University R.F.C., Aigburth (Liverpool F.C.), Balliol College, and St. Mary’s Marlston in Berkshire. The wooden cross which had marked his grave in Belgium is now on the wall at Holywell Cemetery, St. Cross Church, in Oxford.
Ronald, from Oxford, was 25 years old.