John Radcliffe in World War One

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Widecombe WW1: John Douglas Henderson Radcliffe. Picture supplied by David Ashman


John Radcliffe was born on 9th August 1885 in Kensington, London, to Alexander Nelson and Isobel Grace Radcliffe. He had three younger sisters Maude (b 1887), Ruth Isobel (b 1890), Margaret Joan (b 1894) and brother Edmund (b 1900).


John attended Eton College and in 1904 was admitted to Balliol College, Oxford. He became a "Fellow of Balliol College" in 1908. Later he joined his father in Business as a solicitor in London, but his real "goal" was politics, although he was unsuccessful when he sought to be the member for Deptford in a London County Council election.

Widecombe WW1: John Douglas Henderson Radcliffe at Balliol College. Source Balliol College War Memorial Book Volume 2

Army Service

His first experience of the military was when he joined the "Inns of Court Training Corps" as a private. However when war came he enlisted in the Army as a Second Lieutenant on 12th September 1914 and joined the 7th Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He rose to the rank of Captain quickly during the following his period of training in the United Kingdom, prior to being posted to France. The 7th Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps were raised in Winchester in August 1914 as part of Kitcheners New Army. They were trained at Aldershot, Grayshott, and Bordon before being posted to France landing at Boulogne on 19th May 1915. On 30th July 1915 the 7th Service Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps were involved in the defence of the village of Hooge near Ypres in Belgium. The village has been captured from the Germans 10 days previously and the enemy were determined to retake it. As part of their attack on 30th July the Germans used a new weapon the "flammenwerfer" (flamethrower) which proved hugely successful and they were able to recapture the village. It was during this defence that the enemy entered a trench occupied by John Douglas Henderson Radcliffe and his men and it was here that he was killed. He has no known grave.

Click for more details on the Flammenwerfer.

Hooge - 30th June

In June, the 14th (Light) Division were sent straight to the Ypres Salient and soon were subjected to a severe trial. On 30th June at 3.30 a.m. the Germans attacked in force the trenches occupied by the 7th Battalion and 8th Rifle Brigade. The attack was accompanied by overwhelming shell and mortar fire, and flame-throwers were used for the first time. The Battalion was forced back to a line on the outskirts of Sanctuary and Zouave Woods, after heavy fighting. An immediate counter-attack at 2.45 p.m., ordered by VI Corps, was unsuccessful despite great gallantry shown by the 8th Battalion and 7th Rifle Brigade, tired and unfed and only just relieved. The 9th Battalion and 6th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry also took part in the attack, the former regaining some of the lost trenches facing east. No time for reconnaissance or a proper fire plan was given. Brigadier-General O. Nugent's estimate that a division would be necessary was afterwards found to be correct. Lieutenant-Colonel C. S. Chaplin, 9th Battalion, was killed.

Losses to the three Battalions: Officers: killed 21, wounded 16; Other Ranks: 812

Reproduced from the History of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps Regimental History World War One 1915. Used with the kind permission of the KRRC Assoc.

Battle of Hooge 30th July 1915


John Douglas Henderson Radcliffe is commemorated on Panels 51 & 53 of the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres in Belgium.

He is also commemorated on both War Memorials in St Pancras Church at Widecombe. The plaque in Widecombe Church (shown on the right) reads:

We pray you remember in the Lord

John Douglas Henderson Radcliffe

elder son of Alexander N Radcliffe

of Bag Park in this parish &

a Fellow of All Saints College

Oxford and a Captain in the 7th

Battalion Kings Royal Rifles

who fell in action near Hooge in

Flanders on 30th July 1915 in the 30th

Year of his life. Non sibi sed patria.

Widecombe WW1: John Douglas Henderson Radcliffe. Plaque marking his death in Widecombe Church. Picture supplied by David Ashman

Medal Entitlement

Widecombe WW1: John Douglas Henderson Radcliffe Medals. Picture supplied by David Ashman Taken at the 'Lest We Forget' flower festival at Cornwood Church in May 2015

Captain Radcliffe was entitled to the Campaign Medals for World War 1 consisting of the 1914/1915 Star, the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. The representation of the Service medals of World War 1 in the image on the left was exhibited at the "Lest We Forget" flower festival at Cornwood Church in May 2015.

Family Connection with Widecombe

Although there is little evidence of John actually living in Widecombe, the family owned Bag Park, Widecombe for many years, so he would have spent school holidays etc in the village, and all contemporary literature mentioning John Radcliffe always lists him as having an address in Widecombe. Certainly father Alexander was heavily involved in village life, and was treasurer of the fund set up to provide a suitable war memorial for Widecombe after the end of World War 1. "His marriage in 1913 to Miss Mary Augusta Garlinda Bolitho of Exeter was his crowning glory" (Balliol College War Memorial Book, Volume 11).

His younger sister Margaret Joan married Major Arthur Van Straubenzee, a career soldier, in 1919. Many years later land was donated to the village to commemorate the love the family felt for Widecombe-in the-Moor. This land now forms the main car and coach park for the village.

Widecombe WW1: John Douglas Henderson Radcliffe. Plaque marking land donated by Margaret van Straubenzee. Picture supplied by David Ashman

Before Action, by Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson, MC

Listen to Roger Claxton reading Before Action:

By all the glories of the day

And the cool evening's benison

By that last sunset touch that lay

Upon the hills when day was done,

By beauty lavishly outpoured

And blessings carelessly received,

By all the days that I have lived

Make me a soldier, O Lord.

By all of all man's hopes and fears

And all the wonders poets sing,

The laughter of unclouded years,

And every sad and lovely thing;

By the romantic ages stored

With high endeavour that was his,

By all his mad catastrophes

Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill

Saw with uncomprehending eyes

A hundred of thy sunsets spill

Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,

Ere the sun swings his noonday sword

Must say good-bye to all of this; -

By all delights that I shall miss,

Help me to die, O Lord.


Special thanks are recorded to the Kings Royal Rifle Association for the report on the Battle of Hooge.

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The information on this page was last modified on August 02 2017 10:39:28.

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