Enoch Roper

Born: 22 April 1886
Died: 30 December 1917
Service number: KW/768
Rank: Petty Officer
Regiment/Service: Royal Naval Division
Family information: Husband of Sarah Rowley

War service

Enoch Roper, my grandfather (a miner) enlisted as a private in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 1st September 1914. His army record tells us he was 5ft 6in tall weighed 114lbs, chest size 34ins, fair haired and blue eyed.

On the 7th September he transferred to the RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) and by 11th November 1914 he enrolled as A.B (able seaman). He was not new to military service as he had been in the Royal Engineers Volunteers for 2 years, but he hadn’t any sea experience! Until May 1915 he served with the RNVR in Drake battalion C company. This was part of the 1st Bn. 1st RN Brigade, RND (Royal Naval Division).

The Division was formed from the reserves the Navy had in August 1914. As the extra men could not be deployed on the ships, they formed a land-based unit. The Battalions within this Division were named after Naval commanders, for example Hawke, Hood, Nelson and of course Drake. 'Auxilio Divino' ('With the help of God') was its motto. The Royal Naval Division was founded by Winston Churchill while he was First Lord of the Admiralty and was nicknamed "Winston's Little Army". After 1916 it also included some Royal Marine and army infantry battalions.

Drake Battalion was posted to Gallipoli (Dardanelles) March 1915 and Enoch had been promoted to Acting Able Seaman. Unfortunately on 3rd July 1915 he suffered a slight bullet wound to his left buttock and was hospitalised on Malta. By the 26th August he had rejoined his battalion in Gallipoli having spent some time during August in Mustapha convalescent camp Alexandria. He continued to gain promotions, Acting Leading Seamen 18th October 1915, Acting Petty Officer 28th December 1915.

At the beginning of 1916 the RND were evacuated to Mudros and split up. 12th May 1916 he was granted a “Hurt Certificate”, which meant he was unwell. He remained at Mudros on the Greek Island of Lemnos (a British Base). Three days later he embarked on HMT Minnewaska bound for Marseilles. Drake Battalion was now bound for the trenches on the Western Front. In France the Naval Division were numbered the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division and the Brigades were numbered the 188th, 189th and 190th. Drake was in the 189th.

In July he was detached to 3rd Field Company RND Engineers (Deep Dug Out Platoon or Tunnelling Company) to which many ex-miners were attached. On the 7th October he rejoined Drake Battalion and around 21st October he fell ill with PUO - pyrexia (fever) of unknown origin and was admitted to Hardelot Military Hospital, Etaples. He later moved to a large rest camp in Boulogne and rejoined Drake Battalion on the 19th November 1916. He had been reverted to the permanent grade of Able Seaman.

For a brief respite he was on leave in England from 30th November to 11th December. In the New Year, in freezing weather, he was detached to 178 tunnelling company until 28th February 1917 during operations on the Ancre (Somme). He was confirmed in the rank of Petty Officer. For the next few months the 63rd were in action at Miraumont, Arras, 2nd Scarpe and Arleux.

He was detached to tunnelling again from 13th May until 26th September, returning to the 63rd in time to see action at 3rd Ypres and 2nd Passchendaele, which ended after a long struggle on November 10th 1917.

He was awarded the Military Medal in November 1917. This is a similar award to the Military Cross and is awarded to other ranks for gallantry on land in the presence of the enemy.

The morning of the 30th December, the line of the 63rd Division was in action along Welsh Ridge (part of the Battle of Cambrai and Flesquires). The enemy opened fire and shells fell and exploded all along Welsh Ridge. The Castleford and Pontefract Express January 11th 1918 reported that Enoch Roper was killed in action on December 30th and his wife had received a letter from his Officer saying “his death was caused by a heavy shell which exploded south of his dug-out and was instantly killed. Your husband was a brave man and an excellent soldier and was awarded the Military Medal for splendid work. His death means a great loss to this company as well as to yourself, I am very sorry that he has not been spared to enjoy the Honour that he has earned, please accept my greatest sympathy at your great loss”.

Family story

Enoch Roper was born in Featherstone on the 22nd April 1886. He was married to Sarah Rowley 18th December 1909 and they lived at 18 Hope Street, Fryston, Airedale, and Castleford. He worked at Fryston colliery as a stone blower underground. Since he was killed in 1917 and my father (John Roper snr) was only 4 years old (born 1913) and his brother (George Joseph) was 6 years old (born 1911), they didn’t really know him.

Story submitted by Terry Roper

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