Cotton, Ralph Charles Fairbairn

Son of Stephen Fairbairn Cotton, of Brydone, Bitterne, Southampton, and Carrie Cotton, daughter of Thomas Hooper of Biggleswade, he was born in Sydenham, South London. He came to Winchester from Wayneflete, the Reverend J H Wilkinson’s school at Clifton. He spent three years in Sixth Book, was a Commoner Prefect and for two years was Head of his House. He went to New College, Oxford in 1902 as a Scholar and took his degree with Honours in Classics, he rowed in the College VIII and was elected a member of Leander. He was called to the Bar in 1908.

He was keenly interested in improving the daily conditions among the working classes, and lived and worked for two years at Oxford House, Bethnal Green, later lecturing on Equity at the London Working Men’s College.

Shortly before the war he had taken over the duties of Secretary to the Wykehamist Society. On January 3rd 1914, at St. Paul’s, Knightsbridge, Cotton married Miss Jane Beatrice Haselfoot (daughter of Frederick Kneller Haselfoot, a barrister), of 16 Grange Road, Eastbourne, and left two daughters (Teresa Jane and Judith Mary) when he died.

Prior to 1914 he served in the Inns of Court OTC for seven years, and on the outbreak of war was gazetted to the 1/1st Hampshire Yeomanry (Carabiniers). After acting for a time as Assistant Adjutant, he specialized in machine-gunnery and was one of the first officers to be attached to the Machine Gun Corps (Cavalry) when that corps was formed. He was ordered to France in October 1916, and in November 1917 was mentioned in despatches for gallantry at the Battle of Cambrai, where he served with the dismounted section of his squadron. He spent forty-eight hours under terrible shell-fire in Bourlon Wood, and was buried in his dug-out when it collapsed from a hit by a shell, narrowly escaping with his life.

On March 26th 1918, the sixth day of the great enemy attack on the Western Front, 2nd British Cavalry Division (of which his Machine Gun Squadron formed part) came to the support of V French Corps, which was being hard pressed at the Bois des Essarts, north of Noyon. They galloped through the French troops and attacked the enemy, who were advancing through the wood in considerable force. Cotton was bringing his machine-guns into action when he fell mortally wounded, shot in the lungs. He was taken to the hospital at Compiegne, and from there, as it was being shelled, to the American Red Cross Hospital at Evreux, where he lost consciousness and died on 28th March, a few hours after his arrival. His name was mentioned in Despatches for his conduct in the field on the day he was wounded. His name appears on the war memorial in Holy Saviour Church, Bitterne.

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Cotton
  • Forenames or initials: Ralph Charles Fairbairn
  • House: D
  • Years in School: 1896-1902
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Hampshire Yeomanry (Machine Gun Corps)
  • Date of Birth: 16th January 1883
  • Date of Death: 28th March 1918
  • How Died: Died of Wounds
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer A5
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: EVREUX COMMUNAL CEMETERY: Grave C.37