William Ratcliffe was born on 18 February 1884, the son of dock labourer, William Snr. at 38 Newhall Street. He grew up in conditions of some poverty but little detail is known of his early life. He enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment at the outbreak of the First World War. His older brother, Peter, lost his life in the sinking of the Lusitania and Ratcliffe seems to have been spurred on by this to exact personal retribution from the enemy. He gained a reputation as a fearless combatant and at the Third Battle of Ypres he won both the Military Medal and the Victoria Cross. On 14 June 1917 he single-handedly captured a machine gun position, his bravery being recognised by the award of the V.C. His citation read:
For most conspicuous bravery ( Messines, France ). After an enemy trench had been captured, Private Ratcliffe located an enemy machine gun which was firing on his comrades from the rear, whereupon, single-handed and on his own initiative, he immediately rushed the machine gun position and bayonetted the crew. He then brought the gun back into action in the front line. This very gallant soldier has displayed great resource on previous occasions, and has set an exceptionally fine example of devotion to duty.
Life was not easy for Ratcliffe after he left the army in 1919. Returning to his work on the docks where he suffered a serious accident in 1946 resulting in his becoming stone deaf and having serious neck and spine injuries. He was medically retired on a pension of just £2 a week and went to live with his niece at 29A St Oswald's Gardens, Old Swan. He died on 26 March 1963 and was buried in Allerton Cemetery.
Ratcliffe also lived at 5 Blundell Street L1 and 13 Upper Parliament Street L8. All his Liverpool homes have been demolished.
Ratcliffe receiving the Victoria Cross from King George V
St Oswald's Gardens L13, Ratcliffe's home at the time of his death in 1963.
The most comprehensive account of his life is in the excellent book Liverpool VCs by James Murphy [Pen & Sword 2008].
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