King Edward’s School and the Great War

Memorial Roll of Honour 1914 - 1918


Payton, Ralph Stuart

Lieutenant ▪ 1st Bham Pals, 14th Royal Warwickshire Reg

Ralph Stuart Payton, born on 12th March 1894, was admitted to King Edward’s School in January 1906 as a Foundation Scholar. His father died when Ralph was at School, and the years following were rather chaotic for the family. At first, they continued to live at 77, Greenfield Road, Harborne, until the end of his time at School, when Ralph boarded with Mrs Sculthorpe of Emerson Road, Harborne, while his mother lived at Cary Crescent, Torquay. Luckily, as both Ralph and his older brother, Wilfrid, were on full Foundation Scholarships during their time at KES, their mother did not have to worry about paying their school fees. Wilfrid, also an Old Edwardian as well as School Captain and member of JRR Tolkien’s circle of friends, served with the Indian Army during the war, reaching the rank of Captain in the Khyber Rifles. Their older brother, William, again an Old Edwardian, served with the Malay Federal States Volunteer Rifles.

At School, Ralph (known as ‘The Baby’ within Tolkien’s circle, being the younger Payton), excelled. He was School Captain, Chronicle Editor, Shooting Secretary, played for the 1st XV, and won academic prizes aplenty, including the Class Prize for Composition and the Governors’ Prize for Greek Prose. Ralph was, along with his brother and the rest of Tolkien’s ‘Fellowship’, an enthusiastic debater, who “in spite of a faulty delivery was usually worth hearing.” In 1913, on the subject, “Modern Life is Prosaic”, Ralph contended that “misery could be just as romantic as happiness…the object of modern life – the golden fleece of modern Jasons – is universal knowledge.” This was particularly poignant considering the recent death of his father. He was also a member of the Literary Society, and as part of a lecture on “Nonsense”, he presented the following verse:

“Sam had spirits nought could check,

And today at breakfast he

Broke his baby sister’s neck:

So he sha’n’t have jam for tea.”

After School, Ralph won the Milward Open Exhibition for Classics and went on to Christ’s College, Cambridge. Tolkien, under the guise of Debating Secretary, wrote of Ralph that he “has, when his outward modesty could be overcome, sparkled on more than one occasion at the expense of the Secretary (Tolkien) and the ex-Secretary (WH Payton).” Ralph won the Dale Memorial Medal in 1913.

In 1914, Ralph enlisted as a Private Soldier in the 1st Birmingham Pals Battalion (14th Royal Warwickshire Regiment), along with many other Old Edwardians including his friend and contemporary TK Barnsley, who was to die at the Battle of Passchendaele. After rising to the rank of Sergeant, Ralph gained a commission as a Second Lieutenant, Machine Gun Officer. In November 1915, he was sent to France as a Lieutenant, and saw action at the most fierce part of the line during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. It was during this action that Ralph was killed, on 22nd July 1916, between High Wood and Delville Wood, while leading his machine guns over the site of the Somme’s first and last cavalry charge of the previous week. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France, and he left his estate of £179 to his mother in Torquay.