We have asked our team of lovely Heritage volunteers to contribute to our blog. They’ve chosen pieces from ‘The Horse at War: 1914-1918’ exhibition with local stories behind them to write about. In this installment they tell us the story of Ralph Ernest Sydney Warner, whose illustrated diaries are on display in the exhibition alongside the sketchbook of Sir Alfred Munnings whose fine art pieces are on show in the Main Gallery. It is incredibly moving to think that these sketches were made while the artists were at the front and provide an insight into what life was like at the front.
Ralph Ernest Sydney Warner was born in Shalford on 6 January 1890 and died in Woking in early 1978. His family moved to Westfield and then to 47 High St, Old Woking, by 1911, and all the men in the family including Ralph were employed at Unwin’s printing works. He joined the Royal Garrison Artillery in November 1915, aged 25, and after a spell at Plymouth, embarked for Alexandria, Egypt, on 4 March 1917.
Once in Egypt, his unit, the 195th heavy battery, fought its way towards Jerusalem. Ernest was an Observer, riding an Arab horse, and going ahead of the gunners to send back co-ordinates so they could direct their shells. He undertook training in horsemanship, learning to do jumps with both hands in the air – presumably so he could hold a gun at the same time. His illustrated diaries date from his time in Egypt, and earned him a note of praise from his commanding officer in his discharge paper, saying that “he has made some very clever sketches during the campaign”. He designed a Christmas card sent out to all the units and perhaps even to General Allenby, who led the troops to Jerusalem and entered the city on 11 December 1917.
He was redesignated as a signaller on 21 September 1918 and after a spell in hospital in Egypt returned to be demobilized on 3 April 1919. He returned to Unwin’s as a printer until a head injury from an accident at work prevented him from working. He lived for many years in Kingfield with his wife, Mary, and son Ralph Munro Warner who died early in 2014.
To see Ralph Warner’s illustrated diaries visit ‘The Horse at War: 1914-1918’ at The Lightbox. The diaries are located in the Main Gallery.
Find out more about 'The Horse at War: 1914-1918' exhibition here.
Image Credits: Mules to Water, Sketchbook-diary, 1917, Ralph Ernest Sydney Warner, Sketchbook (cover inscribed: 1918 France), Sir Alfred Munnings © The Munnings Collection at Castle House, Dedham, Mr and Mrs Warner on their wedding day, courtesy of Ruth Barker