On April 15th 2021 the society hosted a talk by Brigadier David Innes, who spoke movingly and with vivid detail on the life and times of Captain Ralph Kite M.C. of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. The story of this young soldier of the Great War is told in Dr Simon Harris’ book “RBK a Very Parfit Gentil Knight”, and David’s talk drew on that resource.
We learnt of Ralph Kite’s early life as the son of a clergyman, posted to Hobart, Tasmania, and of some surprising contemporaries. These included individuals as diverse as Bernard Montgomery (later of course “Monty” of El Alamein fame) and Errol Flynn, Hollywood icon. We followed Ralph Kite through prep school, public school education and Keble College, and then immediately on to the outbreak of the Great War, where he and so many contemporaries signed up to service.
The core of David’s talk covered the several engagements in which Ralph Kite distinguished himself, especially during Somme battles. We learned through maps and images, some real insights into those battles, and their costs, which only a military expert such as Brigadier Innes can describe dispassionately and sympathetically in equal measure. It was sobering to understand how soon and how quickly such natural leaders as Captain Kite could find themselves promoted to command at such a tender age. Captain Kite was all of 21 years old in 1916.
Without sensationalism, we had many insights into the practicalities of war and training for war, including the use of telescopic sights in sniper warfare, and the need to train up troops in the art of handling grenades. The grenades of the time were rudimentary and often more dangerous to the handler than the enemy.
Amidst it all of course, were the stories of friends and colleagues lost in battle. These stories were moving indeed. The circumstances of Ralph Kite’s injury and subsequent decline is a story not necessarily of neglect, but certainly from a 21st Century perspective, avoidable. His death from wounds in December 1916 at a base hospital in Le Treport was described with great reverence by David Innes’ wife, reading from the diary – discovered many years later – of the nurse who witnessed Ralph Kite’s passing.
This was a memorable and information-rich evening.
About David Innes
Brigadier David Innes was the first commanding officer of the 5th Battalion Royal Green Jackets, a new Territorial Army battalion raised in the mid-1980s and based in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Away from work and following his earlier military career, David held the honorary position of Lieutenant of The Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard. This saw him take part in several state occasions a year, including searching the cellars of Parliament for any latter-day Guy Fawkes! David is also a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Hampshire. He is also a director of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock.