Ralph Nathaniel Bewick was born in 1890 in Guisborough, Yorkshire, the son of Charlton and Martha Bewick. Charlton Bewick was a successful outfitter, originally from nearby Loftus, and his wife Martha was from Gateshead, County Durham. Ralph Nathaniel, known as Nathaniel or ‘Nat’, was their sixth child of seven.
After primary school Ralph Bewick was admitted into the local grammar school Prior Pursglove College in Guisborough on 18 September 1901. He was a keen sportsman, playing in the school’s football XI in 1903. A match report of one game describes him as the team’s “bull-dog centre-half”, and that “opponents found him a hard nut to crack”. A report in the school magazine, The Guisborian, describing his part that year in the school’s Sports Day notes, “Bewick ran like a hare and quite out-distanced everybody, quite the surprise packet of the day”.
He taught as a pupil teacher at Stanghow Lane School, Skelton in Cleveland, where he is noted in the School Log Book four times. Aged twenty-one he decided to emigrate to Australia, sailing on 14 December 1911 on board the White Star liner S.S. “Persic”. Also travelling were seven other passengers listed as teachers: Robert H. Lefley, William F. Calvert, Robert Hutchison, G. P. Palmer, Walter Lowe, William A. C. Guy, and Mary Jolly. They all arrived at Adelaide on 14 January 1912 where Bewick disembarked.
In 1914 Bewick returned to England, intending to study at Bede College. He sailed into war on what must have been an eerie voyage from Brisbane on aboard the Orient Line’s S.S. “Orama”, docking at London on 24 August. He entered into Bede life, representing the college at rugby in March 1915 in a game against the Imperial Services. The Bede magazine also notes that he was one of the first year students intending to enlist in the armed services.
The exact date of his enlistment is unclear, but on 28 July 1915 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, home to many Bede College servicemen. The battalion took part in the Battle of the Somme from 1 July 1916 until the end of September 1916, when the original objective of Thiepval was finally captured. It was during the final phase of this series of battles that Bewick died. A D.L.I. diary published in The Bede magazine records his last action at Le Sars on 29 September 1916 as follows:
"The Battalion carries out a bombing raid along an old German C. T. [Communications Trench] which we were holding as a front line, meeting with great resistance, and, after our store of bombs had been exhausted, subject to heavy grenade fire from the German positions. In spite of heavy losses we succeed in holding on to our position. During this raid 2nd Lt. Bewick was killed and 2nd Lt. Wallace seriously wounded. Our stretcher-bearers did magnificent work on this occasion, rescuing our wounded from under the very feet of the Germans. Serjeant Chrisp earned his M.M. during this stunt."
The Bede magazine, vol. 13, no. 2, April 1917, p.5
More details were published in the College’s 1916 Annual Report:
"On the night of September 29th-30th, in heavy fighting during which the 50th Division gained over two thousand yards in depth, and the [8th] Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, in which they were both Second-Lieutenants, took two lines of German trenches, Nathaniel Bewick and Robinson Wallace both gave their lives. The latter fell mortally wounded as he was hastening to his Company Commander from an advanced bombing post. The former was shot dead on the parapet of a German trench, as he was leading his men in an attack. The officer second in command of his Battalion writes of him: 'Bewick made a fine end. Everyone speaks of the splendid way in which he held on until he was killed. He fell in a night bombing attack after doing magnificent work. I thought very highly of him. He has done excellent work all throughout.'"
Bede College 75th Annual Report, 1916, p.9
The Thiepval Memorial, dedicated to the missing men from the Battle of the Somme, bears the names of 72,000 Officers and Men for whom there is no known grave: Ralph Nathaniel Bewick is one of them.
A tablet (Flickr image) dedicated to Nathaniel Bewick was unveiled in Saint Nicholas’s Church, Guisborough, on 20 February 1918 by G.C. Ruscoe, a contemporary who had served alongside him. Bewick’s father, Charlton Bewick, lived to see this, but died in December the same year. His mother, Martha, died in July 1929. He is also remembered on the Guisborough war memorial, and the Guisborough Grammar School War Honours Board.
His brother, William, an electrician, had followed him to Australia, arriving in Albany on 23 June 1913. William Bewick enlisted into the Australian army in 1914. He embarked at Freemantle for an unpublished destination aboard the S.S. “Koromiko”, a vessel of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand, sailing with 795 other members of G Company on 1 November 1914. He survived the war and continued to live in Freemantle until at least 1943, when he is listed as residing in 10 Norseman Street, Victoria Park. Nathaniel Bewick’s elder brother Charlton enlisted into Lord Helmsley’s Regiment of Yorkshire Hussars in October 1914. He also survived the war, and was discharged in August 1917, marrying in 1920.