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Captain Sir Harold Roper CBE MC, 8th Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment

Born in Exeter on 2 September 1891[1], Sir Harold was the second son of a surgeon, Arthur Charles Roper, and his wife Mary Dorothy.  He had an older brother, Eric, and a younger sister, Ivy Constance.  The family lived at The Shrubbery, Barnsfield Road, Exeter.[2]

Educated at Blundells School and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Harold joined the 8th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant in France in October 1915.  The Battalion had landed in late July and Harold arrived two months later on 30 September.[3]

He is mentioned three times in the Regimental History.[4]  The first records his arrival (on 5 October) with the Battalion, who were then at Cambrin, near Bethune.[5]

                In the first fortnight of October drafts amounting to nearly 400 men arrived, with them came   a score of subalterns, many of whom, like 2nd-Lieuts Duff, Tregellis, Roper, Lock and Savill,  were to figure prominently in the story of the 8th.

The second is a footnote, listing him among the seven 8th Battalion officers wounded near Mametz during the first day of the Somme offensive on July 1916.  The Battalions lost 3 officers and 37 men killed and 7 officers and 253 men wounded;  7 men were missing.[6]  The Battalion War Diary is peculiarly impersonal, barely mentioning any names at all.

The third mention in the Regimental History dates from 4 October 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele).  After moving through Hooge Crater, the battalion attacked near Polygon Wood towards Noordemhoek.  By this time an Acting-Captain, Harold Roper was commanding B Company supporting A and C Companies, which were leading.

                Meanwhile B, under Captain Roper, following hard behind A and C, had mopped up most effectively: a strongpoint just behind Captain Frood’s first pillbox was dealt with by a Lewis   gun, 20 Germans being killed here; some hutments further to the left yielded 50 prisoners    and a machine gun just in rear which opened fire was put promptly out of action.

Again, the Battalion War Diary adds nothing personal about him to this account

After 3rd Ypres, the 8th Battalion were despatched to Italy on 22 November 1917, where they remained until the Armistice, serving in the trenches on the Piave front.  Harold Roper’s name does not appear in the Battalion War Diary throughout their year in Italy. 

Captain Roper’s Military Cross is listed on page 481 of the Regimental History.  It was a Birthday Honour, gazetted on the King’s birthday.  No citation appeared as was customary with birthday and New Year’s honours.[1]  Whether the Military Cross was awarded for his gallantry at Ypres or on the Piave or was for consistent bravery throughout is difficult to establish but, considering his length of service as a platoon and company commander, it was certainly hard-earned.  Harold must have found the Italian campaign a welcome respite after experiences in France and Belgium.  Looking at the Battalion War Diary for the first few months of 1918 (ie before his MC was gazetted), I can see no mention of any action in which he might have won it.  My own view, therefore, is that the award was a belated recognition of his gallant work as a platoon and company commander on the Western Front.

As well as his MC, he earned the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal.  His campaign medals were sent to him at The Shrubbery, Exeter, in 1923.[2]  In 1953 he received the Queen’s Coronation Medal.[3]  His medals are held by the Devonshire Regiment HQ at Exeter and a few of his papers are in the regimental archives at the Keep, Dorchester.

Harold survived the war and rose to be General Manager of the Burma Oil Company in Rangoon during the Second World War.  He was mentioned in Despatches[4] in 1942 and awarded  a CBE in January 1943.  The citation for the CBE reads:

                Mr Roper played a leading part in the oil denial schemes in Burma.  By his personal example and influence he contributed largely to the maintenance of the morale of his employees, without whose services the successful denial of oil supplies to the enemy would have been impossible.  He remained in Rangoon to the end and left by sea with the last demolition  party.[5]

Returning to England, he sat as Conservative MP for North Cornwall from 1950 until1959. 

Sir Harold died in Torbay in the summer of 1971 in his eightieth year.


[1] London Gazette 3 June 1918 p 6496

[2] Harold Roper medal index card via Ancestry.co.uk

[3] Devonshire Regiment archives, The Keep Museum, Dorchester

[4] London Gazette 28 October 1942

[5] Extract from The Times 14 Jan 43 – Devonshire Regiment archives, The Keep Museum, Dorchester

1] Deaths register 1971 via Ancestry.co.uk

[2] 1901 and 1911 Census via Ancestry.co.uk

[3] Harold Roper medal index card via Ancestry.co.uk

[4] The Devonshire Regiment 1914-18 C T Atkinson Exeter 1926 p 138, 151 and 282

[5] War Diary 8th Battalion Devonshire Regiment

[6] War Diary 8th Battalion Devonshire Regiment