He served in the British army during World War I, and following the armistice in November of 1918 he was named head of an intelligence unit which investigated and suppressed Bolshevik activities among militiary personnel. For his army service he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Isham returned to New York City and was associated with a number of business concerns including Trumbull Securities Corporation, of which he was president. His avid collecting of James Boswell papers resulted in the private publication of The Private Papers of James Boswell from Malahide Castle in the Collection of Lt.-Colonel Ralph Heyward Isham (1928-1934) in eighteen volumes.
1890 Jul 2. Ralph Heyward Isham was born in New York City on July 2, 1890.
1908 He attended Cornell University
1910 Yale College (1910-1911)
1912. New York Law School.
1914 Jan 29. Married Marion Gaynor, then aged 16
Marion Gaynor in 1913
1915 Report in New York Times.
1916 Sep 15. He obtains US passport for purpose of going to England
Isham's was head of a British army intelligence unit known as A-2, G.H.Q. When British soldiers were not demobilized immediately after the armistice in November of 1918, some disgruntled troops conducted "strikes" and refused to parade or obey orders. Isham's work in dealing with disaffection among troops at his command was brought to the attention of Field Marshall William Robertson who appointed Isham to his staff in 1918 to investigate and suppress Bolshevik activities which were believed to be responsible for the strikes. In order to assist him in accomplishing these goals, Robertson authorized the formation of the A-2 branch at General Headquarters. Isham was named director with a major and six other officers under his command. Through undercover investigations of suspected Bolsheviks and lectures to troops on the dangers of Bolshevism, the A-2 Branch was successful in ending and preventing strikes among servicemen. Subsequently, the A-2 Branch was placed within the Home Office so that Isham could conduct investigations and take disciplinary action against nonmilitary British citizens who were believed to be involved in traitorous activities.
1917 Aug 15. Commission in RE Railway Operating Division. His enlistment form gives his father's occupation as "Capitalist", he gives his own work as "vice-president of corporation"
1917 Oct 1. Lands in France.
1918 Apr 4. Suffers from Shell Shock and is invalided back to UK
1918 Dec 14. To be made temp Capt
1919 Jan 7. Temp. 2nd Lt. R. H. Isham, R.E., to be temp. Capt. (without pay or allowances of that rank), whilst spec, empld.
1919 Feb 18. Promoted Temp Lt after 18months as 2nd Lt, retains temp Lt Col rank
1919 Mar 8. Temp. 2nd Lt. (temp. Capt.) R. H. Isham, R.E.. to be temp. Lt.-Col. whilst specially empld.
1919 Sep 4. Arrives in UK from New York on SS Lapland. He is given as an "army officer"
1919 Nov 26. Churchill, in his capacity as Secretary of State for War, writes to C. G. S. Home Forces and authorizes the dispatch of an aide to Dublin. The brief missive, penned on a lined sheet, reads in full: "Col. Isham is authorized to proceed to Dublin under instructions from the Home Secretary. Please take the necessary steps." It is signed "WCS" in black fountain pen.
1919 Dec 7. A secret committee report recommended that spies who were unknown to any members of Irish Police forces be infiltrated into Dublin. As Isham was unknown in Ireland, Thompson was keen to get him. The official justification for Isham's transfer to Thomson was given by Isham " Mr Shortt, then Secretary of State for Home Affairs, in agreement with Mr Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War, gave me a status in the Home Office which conferred upon the necessary authority. My immediate superior in the Home Office was Sir Basil Thomson." During the following couple of weeks A2's key personnel were transferred to other secret service work. The A2 officers had a farewell dinner and Isham present each of them with an engraved silver match slide.
1919 Dec 18. Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Isham was involved in secret negotiations over a transfer to Thomson's Dublin operations in a key position. Winston Churchill, at Basil Thomson's request, sent a note to Major-General Sir Cecil Romer, in the War Office Staff, seconding Isham to Edward Shortt, the Home Secretary. Field Marshal Haig, Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces was unhapy at GHQ Staff being seconed to the Home Office. Haig was overruled by Churchill after the Home Secretary and Isham went to the Secretary of State for War on 26 December 1919 to get his agreement.
1920 Jan. Lieutenant-Colonel Isham R.E. was awarded his CBE, turned himself into a civilian Heyward Isham Esq. and went with his valet to Dublin and saw the New Year in at the Shelbourne Hotel. A2's other fulltime spy, Private Raymond Gray, was demobilised on 29 December 1919
On his return to London, Isham's instructed Byrnes to renew contact with Collins. Isham appears not to have known that at this time Byrne's cover had been blown
1920 Feb 4. Temp. Lt. R. H. Isham, C.B.E., R.E., relinquishes the temp, rank of Lt.-Col. on ceasing to be specially empld.
1920 Feb 4. The undermentioned relinquish their commns. on completion of service: Lt. R. H. Isham, C.B.E., and is granted the rank of Lt.- Col.
1920 Divorced Marion Gaynor, his first wife.
1920 Sep 19. Arrives in UK from Rio de Janeiro on SS Almanzora. He is given as "Financier"
1921 Aug 31. Arrives in New York from UK on SS Olympic.
1921 Sep 26. Obtains a new US passport in order to return to Europe
1921 Oct 11. Arrives in UK from New York on S S Aquitania. He is a "businessman"
1922 Feb 15. Arrives in New York from UK on SS Olympic.
1922 Jul 1. Arrives in Southampton from New York on SS Olympic. He is a "Director"
1923 Feb 13. Leaves UK for New York on SS Berengaria. His occupation is "Director". There are many further records of him making trans-Atlantic trips on a regular basis.
1924 Nov 11. He married Margaret Dorothy Hart.
1933 Mar 27. Sued for Separation. Ralph Heyward Isham. 42, bibliophile, Boswell authority, New Jersey realty heir; by Margaret Dorothy Hurt Isham, 30; in Manhattan. Charges: cruelty and abandonment. Last week his lawyer said he hoped for an out-of-court settlement to avoid a scandalous "confession."
1937 Jun 12. Married a third time to Christine McRae Chirchill (nee Sinclair) in London. She and Lt.-Col. Ralph Heyward Isham were divorced in 1938.
1955 Jun 13. He died in New York
WO 374/36538 Lt Col Ralph Heyward Isham is his file in TNA