Unveiling forgotten heroes: The untold sacrifice of Captain Ralph Lenton in WWII – Cathy Buckle

In a heartfelt open letter, Cathy Buckle reveals the poignant love story of Captain Ralph Lenton, a young soldier from Southern Rhodesia lost at sea in 1944. Denied a place at the Cenotaph in London, the letter brings to light the sacrifices of 34,000 soldiers from the region in World Wars I and II. As we discover Ralph’s journey through war-torn lands, Buckle’s narrative becomes a timeless tribute, ensuring that heroes like Ralph are not just remembered but cherished. Read, remember, and honour their sacrifice.

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A Life Lost But Never Forgotten

By Cathy Buckle

Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabwe is not allowed to join in the wreath laying at the Cenotaph in London in memory of their soldiers who lost their lives in World War One and Two. 34,000 soldiers of all races from Southern Rhodesia served during the World Wars. 800 died in World War One and 916 in World War Two. This poignant little tale today is in remembrance of one soldier. We may not be there to show him respect but he and 1,716 others are not forgotten.

Ralph met and was smitten with Barbara when they were both at Umtali High Shool (now Mutare) in the 1930’s. Ralph was three years older than Barbara and left school to join the Civil Service Treasury Department. Barbara went to University in South Africa and contact between the two was lost until war broke out in 1939. When Barbara returned from University she underwent a month’s military training and found out that Ralph had also enlisted. Before long Ralph had tracked her down, Barbara was living in Sacs House, a women’s residence in Salisbury (now Harare).  One afternoon Barbara received a phone call out of the blue from Ralph. He invited her to a picnic on the Hunyani River. Ralph was very tall, 6 foot 5, but he was also painfully shy. Ralph asked Barbara to watch for him from the window and come out when she saw a red two-seater car arrive. Barbara laughingly agreed and from that picnic on, the school sweethearts were destined to be together.

Little else is known of Ralph Lenton. His war records show that he served in Uganda and the Middle East; that he had been in Kenya and Madagascar and had, in 1943, learnt to speak Swahili fluently. Ralph and Barbara were married when the young Captain came home on leave in early 1944. The couple went on honeymoon by train to the Victoria Falls where they spent one idyllic week. Returning to Salisbury they spent another fortnight together before Ralph was called back to duty.

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Captain Ralph Lenton of the East African Artillery (Royal Artillery Regiment) was reported missing at sea on Saturday the 12th of February 1944. Sailing on the 6th February 1944 from Kilindini Harbour in Mombassa Kenya to Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in convoy, the Khedive Ismail was hit by two torpedoes. 1,297 people perished. Captain Ralph Lenton was 25 at the time of his death, his wife of one month was 22.  

Sixty years later I met Barbara. She had never married again. She said she had come close two or three times but that it never ‘felt right, as it did with Ralph.’ Barbara had four black and white photographs of her beloved Ralph, three in army uniform, the fourth showing a dashing and tall young man in shorts and casual shirt, smiling shyly in the African bush. When Barbara was 87 she told me that every morning she looks at the photograph of Ralph and says ‘Hello sweetheart.’

The story of Ralph Lenton is of a life lost, but not forgotten, and now, whoever who reads this Letter will also know it. One day we hope that we too will be there at the Cenotaph to remember Ralph Lenton and the 1,716 men of all races from Southern Rhodesia who gave their lives.  

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 23rd year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)

Love Cathy

10th November 2023. Copyright © Cathy Buckle  https://cathybuckle.co.zw/

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