The centenary of Private William Ratcliffe’s Victoria Cross and the unveiling of his commemorative stone took place at Liverpool Parish Church on 14th June 2017. He would have been familiar with the church as he would have passed it daily on the Overhead Railway on his way to work in the docks.
It was in the presence of The Right Worshipful The Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Malcolm Kennedy. Three generations of his relatives were guests – Ms Zara Weadock, her mother Laura and Grandmother Noreen who is William’s great niece. Zara spoke with great admiration for William’s exceptional gallantry and service. Bill Sergeant of the Chavasse VC Association spoke and Major M K Bowden-Williams of the 4th Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment read the VC citation and later gave the Dedication in the form of the Kohima epitaph.
The commemorative stone was jointly unveiled by the Lord Mayor and Mrs Noreen Weadock who wore William Ratcliffe’s miniature medals. Jim Ryan, County Chairman of the Royal British Legion, gave the Exhortation. Alongside the standard bearers, Bandsman Alex Smith sounded The Last Post and then Reveille after two minutes silence. Prayers were led by The Rector of Liverpool, The Revd. Dr Crispin Pailing, who gave the final blessing.
William was employed on stretcher bearer duties on 14 June 1917 during the battle of the Messine Ridge in Belgium. There was murderous fire from German machine gun. A Battalion officer at the time explained: “Ratcliffe asked permission to have a try at capturing it. I am not sure that the permission was given. In fact, I think it was refused, but that did not matter to Ratcliffe. He dashed straight at the position, and tackled the crew of the gun on his own. After a fierce struggle he killed or drove them off, and then picked up the gun and started back with it.”
He returned fire using the German gun, and miraculously survived. He then went back to his stretcher bearer duties. The gun survived too and was brought to the commemoration by Trustees from the Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston where is it considered one the principal treasures.The full story of William’s gallantry on 14 June can be read on the Lancashire infantry Museum website: www.lancashireinfantrymuseum.org.uk
His actions brought the award of the Victoria Cross, with which he was invested personally by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 26th September 1917. Already, and for the rest of his life, known as ‘the Dockers’ VC’, Bill Ratcliffe returned to work on Liverpool Docks, but eventually had to retire after an industrial accident. He never married. He died in March 1963, aged 79, and is buried in Allerton Cemetery, Liverpool. His regimental memory is kept alive by today’s Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, heirs of the proud traditions of Bill’s Regiment – the Prince of Wales’ Volunteers (The South Lancashire Regiment).