My grandparents and late uncle. Ralph and Edyth
with their first-born son, Ralph.
After the Great War, Ralph locked his diary, photographs and medals in an old wooden steamer trunk. My family doesn’t know if he ever opened it again.
Ralph did not return to medical school. He and Edyth stayed in southern Ohio where he struggled to find work. Edyth found employment as a doctor’s nurse. They eventually leased a farm. Times were tough but they did their best to raise horses and corn.
On the farm they birthed my two uncles, Ralph and Marion. Several years later, one of his horses kicked Ralph in the head and nearly killed him. He never fully recovered. Ralph continued to struggle financially and the Depression of the 1930’s nearly wiped him out.
Ralph also fought psychological depression after the war and had been admitted to several veterans hospitals. He was apparently difficult to live with.
No longer able to continue the tumultuous marriage, Edyth divorced Ralph in the late 1930’s after my mother was born. Doctors had told Edyth years before she could not get pregnant again. My mother’s arrival was quite a surprise.
Drifting through jobs for a number of years, Ralph sent money back to Edyth. World War Two provided Ralph stable employment as a worker building military transport ships in Elyria, Ohio.
A sketch by a French artist of Ralph made after receiving
his Croix de Guerre (1919).
Ralph returned to Cambridge to ask Edyth to remarry him in the early 1950’s. She refused.
Ralph passed away several years later, alone. It was said he died of a broken heart. The Great War had finally claimed its casualty.
Ralph was gone before I was born. And nobody ever spoke about him as I grew up. I knew nothing about my grandfather. I wondered why so many friends had two grandfathers but I only had one.
Ralph’s leather bound diary lay forgotten in my grandmother Edyth’s attic for 43 years. When Edyth passed away in 1963, Ralph’s personal effects and the trunk were given to the eldest son, my Uncle Ralph. Uncle Ralph found the diary.
The diary stayed with him until 1999 when he presented it to me. I read and transcribed the diary for my family. Some years later, my Uncle Ralph, Aunt Cloé and Cousin Jenifer gave me other critical information. The Regimental history and photographs helped me to more fully understand the timeline and circumstances of my grandfather Ralph’s enlistment.
Then I had the details I needed for my book.
The cover of the Princeton Bantam Regimental History book.
In writing the book, I found my grandfather. I discovered that despite his anguish during and after the Great War, Ralph
was thoughtful, sensitive and a highly amusing man. He liked to play jokes and often the Bantams picked on him. Being born of a “poor farmer” the wealthy Princeton boys sometimes called him “Raff,” as in “riffraff.” Ralph didn’t mind too much since he was a YMCA heavyweight champion wrestler who could “hang them up and beat them like dirty rugs.”
To you, Grandpa and Grandma. My hope is that this project would have made you proud.
Cousin Lew, “Lew’s girl,” Edyth and Ralph, my grandparents circa 1919.