The task continues…

Last week I wrote a post about a research task that I had set for myself during lockdown; to find out how many men from my town were killed during the First World War. Whilst carrying out this task, I found that four men were had received gallantry awards; two being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and two the Military Medal (MM). In this blog post, I am going to talk about the personal research I have done for the two who were awarded the DCM. The Distinguished Conduct Medal was the oldest British award for gallantry and was a second level military decoration, ranking below the Victoria Cross until its discontinuation in 1993. It was awarded to ‘other ranks’ – the term given to any solder that wasn’t a commissioned officer; officers were awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). The two men who was awarded the DCM were Second Lieutenant Arthur Harper and Lance Corporal S Roper.

Firstly, I’ll talk about Lance Corporal S Roper. Roper has been the harder of the two to research. His entry in the CWGC database does not note a first name or any family details for him. The reason he appears on my spreadsheet of deaths is that there were only two S Roper entries on the CWGC site, and the other one has details for Burnley, Lancashire. L/Cpl S Roper is known to have served in 1/7th Worcestershire Regiment and died on 13th November 1916. At the time of the action, Roper held the rank of Private, but he was promoted to Lance Corporal afterwards. The citation for the award is as follows:

2496 Pte. S. Roper. For conspicuous gallantry in action. He used his machine gun with great effect during the attack, and, when another platoon was being driven back from an attack on another point, he got up on the parapet with his gun and fired into the enemy trench, which was only 100 yards distant.

Based on online research, when his award was gazetted – 28th September 1916 – and knowing the battalion’s movements, I believe that the action would have happened at some point in July 1916. However, there is no mention of any of the 5 DCMs that were awarded to the battalion for actions in that month anywhere in the war diary. I believe that it is most likely that the DCMs would have been awarded for actions around the middle of July, when the battalion was involved in fighting near to Ovillers. Roper’s service records did not survive the bombings during the Second World War so unfortunately this is not a line of enquiry that I can follow, meaning that this is an aspect that I’ll need to research further.

Unfortunately, Roper’s military service did not continue for much longer, as he died on the 13th November 1916. The battalion war diary shows that the unit had been moved to Peake Wood Camp on 9th November and spent the following week attending a church parade on the 12th and carrying out working parties and training for the rest of the week, including on the 13th, not giving an indication as to what might have been L/Cpl Roper’s cause of death. He is buried at Contalmaison Chateau Cemetery, which is not far away from where the battalion was at Peake Wood Camp, suggesting that he probably died in the immediate area.

L/Cpl Roper headstone (July 2020 – taken by Andy Lock)

The second soldier from my town that was awarded the DCM was Second Lieutenant Arthur Harper. Harper was the son of Thomas and Hannah Harper of Sulus Lane, Netherton, Dudley, Worcestershire and the husband of Isabella Annie Selina Harper of 10 The Crescent, Blackheath.  He was born in 1885 and was 32 when he died on 2nd April 1917. When Harper received his DCM in October 1914, he was a Corporal in the 5th Dragoon Guards and most likely a regular soldier. The citation for his DCM is as follows:

5565 Corporal A. Harper 5th Dragoon Guards For gallantry on 31st October at Messines, in endeavouring, under a very heavy fire, to bring into safety Captain Blane, who was wounded. Being unable to carry him, he returned later with a stretcher party and removed the Officer into cover.

Corporal Harper is also noted in the battalion war diary for killing six German soldiers with his rifle when they stormed a trench (position 15 – the barricade on the below map)

hand drawn map from battalion war diary WO95/1109/2

Unfortunately Captain Blane died of his wounds and is buried in Nieuwkerke (Neuve-Eglise) Churchyard. By Christmas 1914, Harper had been promoted to Sergeant and had written a poem called ‘Christmas Day in the Trenches 1914’ The unit were posted near to Mont des Cats for the entirety of December so the poem would have been written somewhere around there. It is quite long so I am posting the link here.

At some point between December 1914 and March 1917, Harper receives a commission and becomes a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Bn Border Regiment. On 30th March 1917, the battalion undertake multiple tasks around the village of Ecoust-St-Mein in France. The village is believed to be have been evacuated by the Germans when observed by aeroplane, so the battalion send out daytime patrols to carry out reconnaissance. The patrols came into full view of the German artillery and they suffered very heavily from shelling. Later that night, the battalion was ordered to attack two German posts. One attack went ahead as planned but found stiff resistance from a bombing party, that was subsequently neutralised. The second attack was delayed, and when it did commence found itself pinned down by a German machine gun position. However, the attack managed to overcome the German post and took some of the Germans as prisoners.

It was at some point during this day that 2/Lt Harper was wounded and evacuated from the area. He later died of his wounds on 2nd April 1917 and is buried at Euston Road Cemetery, 16.5mi/27km away from where he was wounded. The inscription on his headstone states IN THE MIDST OF LIFE WE ARE IN DEATH.

Euston Road Cemetery (May 2018)

I have really enjoyed finding out the stories of L/Cpl Roper and 2/Lt Harper. The only thing I am missing for them are pictures, to see what they actually looked like. My mission going forward is to find pictures for these two, and for as many on my list as I possibly can.

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