Lieutenant, 1st/4th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment
Killed in action on Wednesday 5th May 1915, age 25
Buried in Hyde Park Corner (Royal Berks) Cemetery, Belgium.
Former evening class student (Mechanical Engineering Special Course) at The Tech.
Rugby legend Ronald Poulton Palmer, known as Ronnie, was capped 17 times for England. He scored 28 points (eight tries and one dropped goal) in international games during his captaincy of the team in1 913 and 1914. His looks, playing style and success put him on a pedestal as the often undisputed man of the match.
Born on 12th September 1889, Ronald was the fourth child of Emily and Edward Bagnall Poulton, the Hope Professor of Zoology at Oxford. His father had married Emily, the eldest daughter of George William Palmer, the Reading MP and biscuit-maker of world renown. Ronald was educated at Oxford Preparatory School, Rugby School and Balliol College, Oxford.
At Oxford in 1911 Ronald gained a second-class degree in engineering. There he had joined the Officer Training Corp (Dec 1908 to Dec 1911) and was promoted in 1910 to Colour-Sergeant. He continued his connection with the armed forces by joining the Royal Berkshire Regiment as a territorial in 1912. Progress continued and in July 1913 he was gazetted as a second lieutenant.
In April 1913 Ronald discussed his career path with his uncle Palmer and this included a 15 month spell at Mather and Platt, whose head was Sir William Mather. On the death of his uncle in October 1913 he became heir. Ronald’s pattern of work and play was soon set as he gravitated to Liverpool for his rugby where the Chavasse twins, contemporaries from Oxford, now lived. After work on Saturday mornings ended at 12:30 he sometimes found it difficult to get to Liverpool for his match. His sister Margaret Lucy was also close at hand as her husband Dr. J.C. Maxwell Garnett became Principal at the Manchester College of Technology in 1912.
Ronald threw himself wholeheartedly into this new environment in Manchester. As well as working shifts, and helping at the local Boys Clubs, he managed to fit in two hours, two nights a week at The Tech. Records show that he enrolled in the 1913-14 session as a student on the Mechanical Engineering Special Course with bread making and confectionary being among the topics he studied. He wrote to his sister in detail about the analysing of butter and margarine he’d been doing. Mr. James Grant of the Fermentation Industries department recalled of Ronald: “Whilst with us he endeared himself to all, both staff and fellow-students. He helped the students in their work whenever he could, was always unassuming, and made himself quite at home amongst them. He was always hardworking and set a high standard to those about him… Poulton told me just before he left Manchester that his work had been very happy and enjoyable, and that he hoped to come again and spend more happy hours in the Laboratory. But that was not to be. By his death the country has lost a man possessed of the power and ability as well as the ardent desire to leave the world better for his sojourn in it.”
Two days before the Great War broke out the Royal Berkshires went on their annual camp. Roanld now became immersed in the War. He undertook a variety of duties, includingtransport officer and billet officer, and attended courses on machine guns and trench engineering. He also grew a moustache. He considered it folly that civilized nations resort to war to settle their differences, but his sense of duty and desire to be an example to others were strong. He was, naturally, was saddened by the loss of friends who had already gone to the front.
On 30th March 1915 his unit finally left for the continent. Early April was spent in trench digging behind the firing line of Messines, Belgium, before moving into the front line trenches on 10th April where he carried out a patrol and endured shellfire. When out of the line he found time to play rugby for the South Midland Division. During mid April to early May Ronald’s unit was in Ploegsteert Wood where he reported in letters home that a German sniper was active. On the night of 4th-5th May Ronald was in charge of a working party and while superintending the completion of a dugout he was shot at 20 minutes past midnight. The bullet entered his ribcage on his right hand side, death was instantaneous. He was buried in a cemetery in the wood on the evening of 6th May. A Canadian Lance-corporal who wrote to Athletics News in 1915 stated that Ronald was: “One of the many fine athletes who had played their last dour and grim game of war as they did other games, For Their Country.”
After his death Ronald’s father wrote a very detailed book about his son’s life which contains much correspondence with Ronald, family, friends and military colleagues. On his headstone his father had the words ‘His was the joy that made people smile when they met him’ inscribed. Ronald’s estate was valued at over £22,000.