Remembering Batley Grammar’s Private Ryan

Batley War Memorial. (D511C406)
Batley War Memorial. (D511C406)

Lawrence Ryan was born in Batley in the summer of 1895 and entered Batley Grammar School in the summer term of 1907, staying for only one year.

By 1911 the Ryan family were living in North Bank Fields, Batley. Lawrence was the eldest, with three younger brothers and a sister, Anne.

The latter, even at the age of 13, was working in the textile mills. Lawrence himself had a short life at the school and by 1911 he was also working in the mills as a piecener – working in the spinning area, tying on ends that had broken when the thread was spun.

It is not known when Lawrence joined the army, but his medal card shows that he entered the French theatre of war on February 9 1915.

With training and deployment it is likely that he would have joined the colours in 1914. He joined the 2nd Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

He was killed on April 24, 1915, when, due to overcrowded trenches and disorganisation, his unit was unable to obtain cover. Canadian soldiers were in the trenches they were supposed to be taking over and many of his comrades were also killed with him.

The War Diary for the 2nd Infantry for April 24 1915 reads: “At 12 noon the Battalion got sudden orders to proceed at once to assist the 10th Brigade in retaking the lost line NE of Wieltje. We marched at once followed by the Queen Victoria Rifles and on approaching St Jean we were subjected to a very heavy shell fire, which followed us until we Continually (sic) reached our allotted positions in part of GHQ’s line of trenches, 500 yards NE of Wieltje, where we had to crowd into a Trench already filled with Canadian Highlanders.

“Owing to bad staffing arrangements by the Canadian Division, this line, which should have been empty, was so crowded with troops of different regiments that our companies had to lie in the open, fully exposed to the enemy who opened up a heavy shrapnel fire on us, killing Lieutenant Hunter and many men and wounding Lieutenant Webb and many more.”

It was the inefficiency of inexperienced logistics officers then that led to the death of Private Lawrence Ryan, less than three months after he had gone to France with his regiment.

The school magazine of July 1915 recorded his death with the short paragraph: “Private Lawrence Ryan of the 2nd KOYLI fell in action on April 24th. He was nineteen years of age and was at the school from Easter 1907 to July 1908.”

A rather short stay at the school it seems.

His body was never found, blown to bits by the bombardment that found him in the open.

He is commemorated on the Menin Gate and on the war memorial in Batley. A memorial tablet in Cross Bank Methodist Church, Batley, also bears his name.

Lawrence Ryan was the first old boy of Batley Grammar School to die whilst actually on active service in the first world war.