KNOWN as “Weenie”, Ralph was born in 1899 and was one of the first Boy Scouts.

He joined the merchant navy, and was killed a month shy of his 18th birthday in one of the most notorious incidents of the war.

He was on the SS Belgian Prince, a cargo ship sailing from Liverpool to the United States, when it was torpedoed by a German submarine – possibly U55 – off the Welsh coast.

The U-boat picked the 41 British sailors from their lifeboats and lined them up on its deck above the waterline. The Germans removed all their lifejackets, and then the U-boat submerged – plunging the unprotected British sailors into the bone-chilling Atlantic.

Only three survived long enough to be picked up alive – Weenie Ralph wasn’t one of them.

Seven of the 38 sailors to drown came from the North-East, including the captain, Harry Hassan, from Jarrow. He was taken into the submarine by the German captain and never seen again – no one knows whether he was killed in cold blood to prevent him testifying to the atrocity or whether he became a prisoner of war.

The British press condemned the “submarine savagery”, and called it “a crime unparalleled for fiendish cruelty” and “a cold-blooded murder”. In a war of great inhumanity, it is a stand-out episode.

If it was U55 which committed the atrocity, its captain would have been Wilhelm Werner, a commander who perpetrated similar outrages. When the allies asked to try him at the end of the war, he fled to Brazil, although later he joined the Nazi party and became a high ranking official in Heinrich Himmler’s SS.

The Chester-le-Street Chronicle said of Ralph: “He had been away from here for less than a fortnight when he was drowned, and had been at home as a consequence of having been torpedoed previously. A month ago he gave an exhibition of high diving at a local swimming gala, and won one of the prizes.”

For 20 years afterwards, an In Memoriam noticed was posted in the Chronicle by his family on the anniversary of his death which had been caused, it said, by “German Pirates”.

CHESTER Lads (& Lasses) For Ever is the title of an exhibition being held on June 27 and June 28 by the Chester-le-Street Heritage Group in the Lambton Arms in the town.

For the last year, the group has been studying the Chester-le-Street Chronicle newspaper which was printed weekly during the First World War.

There are about 260 names on the town’s war memorials and the group has found stories about most of them in the pages of the Chronicle.

But there is always more to discover, and they are appealing to anyone with any war information to come along to the exhibition and bring it with them. All lines of inquiry welcome.

The long established history society meets twice a month on a Wednesday evening at the Chester-le-Street library and has a drop-in session every Tuesday from 10am till noon at the Salvation Army in Low Chare.