On the 19th October 1914 Mitcham born Leonard Ralph Bradshaw, private 10753 of the 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was advancing toward the enemy at Kezelberg just two miles from Menin. The 1st RWF lead the advance of the 22nd Brigade. It’s his first experience of being under fire. The Brigade’s left flank comes under heavy shell fire and some rifle fire. Orders are received to abandon the attack on Menin and swing from facing south to face east and take up new positions as air reconnaissance reported the approach of strong German columns from the north east and east. By the end of the day the 1st RWF were close to Zonnebke.
On the 20th October 1914 the 7th Division had orders to hold its line at all cost until nightfall. This will be Leonard Ralph Bradshaw’s first and only serious hostile action of the war. The pre-war regulars had been trained to march and in the art of accurate rapid fire better than any other army in the field, but the time for marching had stopped, and the shooting began.
By 1914, Leonard Ralph Bradshaw had been in the 1st RWF for nearly three years. On 11th February 1911, he had made his way to Kingston to join the special reserve and was assigned to the 3rd Bn. Royal Sussex Regiment. Judging by this army number, Leonard Bradshaw had joined the Regular Army in the last quarter of 1911, attesting in London. The RWF had many men from outside of Wales. It’s not known if he served in India before the war, or whether he was in the 1st RWF when stationed in Malta at the beginning of 1914, or if he spent time in the 2nd battalion. He was in 1st RWF, part of the 7th Division, when they landed at Zeebrugge on the 6th of October. He was now 24 years old.
Before joining the Army, Leonard Ralph Bradshaw had spent his entire life in Mitcham. Born in 1890, the fifth child of Henry and Eliza Bradshaw, he was one of ten siblings and had five brothers. At the outbreak of war the family had been in Mitcham for over thirty years and were living at 30 Chapel Road, off the Lower end of Church Road. A road, with its old dwellings, that has long since disappeared during redevelopments.
Whether Leonard Ralph Bradshaw had time to think of family and home on 20th October 1914 is debatable, like the men next to him, he is in a fight for survival.
The 1st RWF are manning hastily dug rifle slits outside Broodseinde. The 2nd Queens, are to their left and the 1st South Staffs to their right. The town of Zonnebke is about 1000yds to their rear, and the 22nd Brigade reserves are further back. The 21st Brigade are to 22nd Brigades’s right, in front of Polygon Wood and Gheluvelt. All battalions come under heavy and sustained attack on October 20th 1914.
The 1st RWF suffered in the morning as their positions were heavily shelled and were under infantry assault after noon. Rapid fire repulsed these attacks. The Germans resumed their attack along the entire front in superior numbers on the morning of the 21st of October. The 22nd Brigade were badly enfiladed by artillery and machine gun fire from early morning. In the afternoon the German infantry got within 200 yards of the 22nd Brigade. The entire Brigade had suffered heavily and the 1st RWF were withdrawn under cover of darkness at the end of the day.
In reserve on 22nd October, the 1st RWF numbered a little over 200 officers and men. With so many men killed, wounded, taken prisoner or missing, one of the surviving officers, wrote:
“I do not know the losses of the rank and file. After the bombardment we found it impossible to use many of the rifles and we had to hammer our bolts open with entrenching tools; our maximum rate of fire was about three rounds a minute”.
Like many others, private 10753 Bradshaw was first posted missing, but his death would be accepted as taking place on the 20th October 1914. As with many other casualties of the 1st RWF his name would be added to thousands of others when the Menin Gate is created as a lasting memorial to the casualties from the forces of Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and United Kingdom who died in the Salient.
In common with many other families, the Bradshaws would live with the possibility of losing more sons throughout the Great War. Claude Bradshaw had been on the RNVR and served on HMS Indomitable from 1917 until demobilised in 1919. An older brother Harry Bradshaw was conscripted in 1916, aged 36. Harry was finally discharged unfit from the 12th Royal Sussex on 3rd November 1917, his health broken by long exposure in the trenches during the winter of 1916, ironically while in the Ypres sector.
After the end of the War, Leonard Ralph Bradshaw’s elderly parents ensure his name is added to the Mitcham war memorial as “BRADSHAW L. R.”. They remain at 30 Chapel Road Mitcham into their old age.