On 3rd August 1917, Second Lieutenant Roger Paul Hepburn M.C. died in Ypres at Casualty Clearing Station, no 10, of wounds received in action serving with the Royal Engineers (30th Signal Company, attached. 21st Infantry Brigade). He was 24 years old, and had enlisted in the Army on the day war broke out, driving through the night with two friends on their motorcycles, who offered themselves as despatch riders for service with the expeditionary force. The group didn’t ask permission to go, simply leaving a note to say they had gone. Roger served for eight months at the front in this capacity, before being commissioned with the Royal Engineers and returning to the Front in November 1915 after training as a signaller. His two friends – T. Daish and J. N. Perks – both survived the war.
The local connection is that Roger was educated at Packwood Haugh School, in the Solihull rural district, between 1905-1911, when he joined Rugby School before studying natural sciences at Magdalen College, Cambridge, and taking his degree in June 1914. Whilst at Cambridge, he was also a member of the Officer Training Corps (OTC).
Roger Paul Hepburn was born in 1893 in Bradninch, Devon and was the youngest of the six children (three sons, three daughters) of Sir (Thomas) Henry Hepburn and his second wife, Josephine (née Robinson). Sir Henry had married Alice Foster Gotch in October 1871 but she died in August 1872. After being connected for 11 years with the St Mary Cray Paper Works in Kent, he joined the Hele Paper Mills in 1873 as a business partner of Mr C. R. Collins, becoming the sole proprietor after his partner’s retirement. He remarried in 1875 and became a Devonshire County Councillor when the council was established in 1888. In 1912, he was knighted in the New Years Honours list, and took over the Chairmanship of the County Council in March 1916.
Sir Henry died in February 1917, aged 76, after suffering a heart attack the previous autumn, and then being further weakened by influenza and pneumonia. His obituary in the Western Morning News 3rd February 1917 noted that his three sons were all serving with the military – John Patrick (1878-1962) a cadet-corporal with the Devon RGA, Maurice Gotch (1883-1953) a Captain with the Worcestershire Regiment serving in Salonika, and Roger, serving with the Royal Engineers. The article mentions that Roger had recently had a narrow escape when stuck by a bullet which hit a compass he was carrying. The damaged compass was treasured at the family home, Dunmore, for saving his life.
Second Lieutenant Roger Hepburn was awarded the MC in June 1917 for general good service. His Commanding Officer wrote, “I found him of the utmost help, and always considered his opinion of very great value. He was without equal in bravery and disregard for his personal safety and comfort.”
At the time of his death, Second-Lieut. Hepburn was engaged to be married to Denise, only child of Doctor Sacreste, of Bourges Military Hospital, France. Roger Hepburn was buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge, West Flanders, Belgium. He is commemorated on the roll of honour at Packwood Haugh School, Rugby School, Magdalen College, and in Bradninch, Devon. His mother also unveiled a memorial in his memory:
Western Times 24 October 1919
Lady Hepburn unveils memorial at Bradninch
At the Baptist Chapel, Bradninch, after the morning service on Sunday, the stained-glass window, presented by Lady Hepburn to the Chapel in memory of her youngest son, Lieut. Roger Hepburn, M.C., was unveiled. The window is fixed in the new porch erected by Lady Hepburn in memory of her husband, Sir Henry Thomas [sic] Hepburn, who was deacon and treasurer of the Chapel for nearly half a century. Lady Hepburn spoke feelingly of the great happiness it gave her to present these memorials of her dear ones to the Chapel.
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