Captain Ralph Erskine

Biography of Captain Ralph Erskine

Ralph Erskine was born on the 10th March 1893 in Camlachie, Glasgow. He was the youngest son of Captain James Erskine of the Gordon Highlanders, and his wife Janet (known as Jenny). He had an older brother Thomas, and a younger sister Agnes (known as Nancy). He also had two siblings who died in infancy, James and Margaret. His mother died of tuberculosis when Ralph was 6 years old. He was educated at Allan Glen’s school, Glasgow, from 1906. Whilst still at school he won a number of athletic and boxing prizes including the Amateur World Featherweight Championship in New York in May 1911.

He enrolled at Glasgow University in 1912 to study medicine, taking classes in Chemistry and Zoology in his first year and Anatomy and Physiology in his second. In his second year he was awarded University Sports Blues, full colours, for his athletic achievements. He lived at 8 Deerpark Gardens, Tollcross, Glasgow with his father and brother while at university.

He left the university in 1914 to enlist, joining the Royal Scots Fusiliers where he was given the commission of Captain. He was posted in France during the Battle of Loos (25th September – 18th October 1915). His older brother, Captain Thomas Barrie Erskine, died the same year in Flanders.

In December 1915 Ralph joined the Royal Flying Corps, spending some time training with the Australian Forces Royal Flying Corps. He was then posted as an observer in France where he was wounded in the leg on the 14th January 1916. From September 1917 he was a pilot with the 66th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, flying a ‘Sopwith Camel’ first in France, and later in Italy.

On 1st January 1918 Ralph was reportedly chasing down an enemy plane when his own aircraft was shelled and crashed. He force-landed in front line trenches near Flers and the aircraft was destroyed by artillery fire. It was subsequently confirmed that Ralph had died on the 1st January 1918, aged 25.

In April that year, the Presbyterian Messenger reported that: “Captain Erskine, who was married to Miss Higgins little more than a year ago, had been for some weeks on the Italian front, and had highly distinguished himself on several occasions. After an engagement on New Year’s Day he was reported missing, and some weeks later news was received, through a neutral country, of his death.

Captain Erskine was a man of splendid physique, one of the finest athletes perhaps in the whole Army, a complete master of aircraft, extraordinarily cool, resourceful, and courageous.”

Ralph had married his wife on the 9th March 1917 at St Columba’s, a congregation of the Church of Scotland in Pont Street, London. The couple’s son Ralph Barrie Erskine was born 16th of January 1918 two weeks after Ralph's death. His son subsequently died in Tunisia during the Second World War, on 23rd April 1943.

Captain Ralph Erskine is buried in the British military cemetery in Tezze, near Venice. He is remembered on the Allan Glen's Roll of Honour, on the University of Glasgow Roll of Honour in the Memorial Chapel, and on the Roll of Honour of Trinity United Reformed Church in Wimbledon.


Captain Ralph Erskine
Rank: Captain
Regiment: Royal Flying Corps
Degree: Student
Awards: Mentioned in Despatches
Comments: Killed in action 1 January 1918. Brother to Captain Thomas Barrie Erskine.
Note/Press Clipping: Ch 4/4/2/3/536, 1022
Photo ID: N/A


With thanks to Robert Lee for providing us with photographs of Ralph and for providing further information. University of Registry Records.

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