1914-18          Rayne War Memorial       1939-45


In Memory of

Sir THOMPSON CAPPER CB, DSO,

KCMG

Major General East Lancashire Regiment

who died on Monday, 27th September 1915.

 

Commonwealth 
War Graves Commission

    Casualty Details      2947368  

    

 
Personal
Information
  

Husband of Mary Capper, of 67, Portland Court, Marylebone, London.

Thompson Capper, together with two brothers (who survived the war) spent much of his boyhood in Rayne as the Rector of Rayne, Rev W S Hemming was uncle to the boys.

Thompson Capper was one of the fifteen most senior officers to be killed during the War.

 
Memorial: Grave
 
Reference/Panel Number:
Location:
  

LILLERS COMMUNAL CEMETERY, Pas de Calais, France In front of II. A.

Lillers is a small town about 15 kilometres west-north-west of Bethune and the Communal Cemetery and Extension lie to the north of the town. From the Mairie in the centre of the town, head north on the D182, after 500 metres turn right onto Rue St Venant. The cemetery is a further 200 metres on the left hand side. Within the Communal Cemetery the Commonwealth war graves are situated on the right hand side half way up the cemetery central path, and the Extension is at the far right end of the Communal Cemetery. Both cemeteries are signposted. Lillers was used for British billets and Headquarter offices from the autumn of 1914 to April, 1918. It was during that time a hospital centre; the 6th, 9th, 18th, 32nd, 49th and 58th Casualty Clearing Stations were in the town at one time or another, and they buried their dead on the right of the central path of the Communal Cemetery, working back from Plot I. In April, 1918, the Germans advanced as far as Robecq; Lillers came under shell-fire, and the units holding this front continued to bury beyond the cemetery boundary, in the Extension. There are now nearly 900,
1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, nearly 70 are unidentified. The British plots in the Communal Cemetery, and the one plot which is the Extension, cover together an area of 2,346 square metres.

 

 Theatre of War

  

Major General Sir Thompson Capper was one of the highest ranking soldiers of the British Army to be killed in action during World War One.

 He was a career soldier, being commissioned into the East Lancashire Regiment in 1882. He served in India, The Sudan and in South Africa. He commanded the 7th Division of the British Army in France from 1914 to his death in 1915. 

He was a highly respected commanding officer, and was always aware of the men who served under him. One at least one occasion in France he disregarded orders from above, to spare his men unnecessary casualties

 On the 25th Sept. 1915 the Battle of Loos commenced. In conjunction with attacks by the French Army further south, this was intended to drive the Germans back to the Belgian border. The 7th Division, commanded by General Capper was initially successful in driving the Germans back towards the town of Loos. 

 Later on the 26th September whilst conferring with his staff at Divisional Headquarters, the building was struck by a long range German shell. This caused many casualties, General Capper was severely wounded, and despite being taken to a field hospital, died of his wounds the following day.

Other information

  

Major General Sir Thompson Capper was one of the highest ranking soldiers of the British Army to be killed in action during World War One. He was a career soldier, being commissioned into the East Lancashire Regiment in 1882. He served in India, The Sudan and in South Africa. He commanded the 7th Division of the British Army in France from 1914 to his death in 1915. He was a highly respected commanding officer, and was always aware of the men who served under him. One at least one occasion in France he disregarded orders from above, to spare his men unnecessary casualties.

In late September 1915, the division was assigned to participate  in the Battle of Loos against fortified German positions at Loos- en-Gohelle and Hulluch. Advancing on 26 September against furious German opposition, the 7th Division was held up several times and Capper visited the frontline to view the enemy for himself from the captured trenches. Urging his men into a final assault, Capper stayed behind to view the field and was struck by a sniper's bullet fired from houses along the line of advance which were thought to have been abandoned. The assault failed and Capper was discovered by his retreating units and taken to Number 6 Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers to the rear of British lines [6] personally by Captain O'Reilly, a medical officer. O'Reilly had gone out at 8pm to bring Capper in from the battlefield (the war diary suggests that Capper had been wounded at 5.50pm) and had arranged for the wound to be dressed at the Divisional Collecting Station before onward transfer to the CCS - O'Reilly was subsequently recommended for the Military Cross. The bullet had penetrated both lungs, and doctors gave no hope of survival. Major-General Sir Thompson Capper died the following day, on 27 September 1915 in the casualty clearing station. His division had lost over 5,200 men killed or wounded in just three days of fighting.


Thompson Capper was an active and vigorous soldier who had been wounded just six months before his death in an accidental grenade detonation. Shortly before this wound he had been knighted by King George V for his service in command of his division during the First Battle of Ypres. Field Marshal Sir John French commented upon his death that "he was a most distinguished and capable leader and his death will be severely felt." He was also a keen military historian and his collected papers are currently stored at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King's College London

Thompson and his elder brother John were born in Lucknow but at a young age were sent to England for their education. Thompson Capper attended Haileybury and Imperial Service College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst before being commissioned into the East Lancashire Regiment as a lieutenant on 9 September 1882.He was employed on home service for the next ten years and whilst serving as regimental adjutant was promoted to captain on 22 April 1891, attending Staff College before being transferred with his unit to India. It was in India that Capper saw his first action, when in 1895 his regiment was attached to a force sent to the Indian-Afghan border to relieve a trapped British force in Chitral. Three years later he was again in action as an advisor to an Egyptian unit of the Anglo-Egyptian army under Horatio Kitchener which travelled down the Nile in the final campaign of the Mahdist War. During these operations, Capper participated in the battle of Atbara and was with the force which fought in the culminating Battle of Omdurman. He received a brevet promotion as major on 16 November 1898.

The following year, 1899, Capper and his regiment were again engaged in Africa, being transported to South Africa to serve in the Second Boer War. There Capper performed his duties with distinction for the next three years, being heavily engaged at the defeat of Spion Kop and participating in the relief of Ladysmith in early 1900. He remained in South Africa engaged in guerilla operations against the Boer forces until the armistice of May 1902, commanding a flying column in the Cape Colony. During the war, he received a brevet appointment as lieutenant colonel on 29 November 1900, and was promoted to the substantive rank of major on 5 December 1901.[9] Following the war's conclusion in June 1902, Capper was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on his return home. He was also awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with six clasps and the King's South Africa Medal with two clasps in recognition of his service during the war, and was twice Mentioned in Despatches. Capper returned to the United Kingdom in the SS Dunottar Castle, which arrived at Southampton in July 1902.

In 1906 he was promoted to temporary Brigadier–General and in 1908 he married Winifride Mary, with whom he would have one son. In 1910 his work at the staff college was recognised with the award of the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the King's Birthday Honours. In 1911, after a brief period of half-pay in his permanent rank of Colonel, Capper was transferred from India to Ireland, where he commanded the 13th Infantry Brigade until 1913. He returned to Ireland briefly a year later in the aftermath of the Curragh Incident, to support his friend Hubert Gough. During early 1914, Capper was briefly the Inspector of Infantry but in the emergency of the summer of 1914 he was promoted to substantive Major-General and posted to the regular 7th Division, which was sent to the Western Front.

During the opening months of the war, Capper busied himself with organising the new division placed under his command; the work involved in this task meant that the division was not ready for action until October 1914. On 6 October 7th Division arrived at Zeebrugge just as the German forces began to push into that area as part of the "Race for the Sea". Initially forced back, Capper's division covered the Belgian withdrawal to the Yser and then held the line near the town of Ypres. For the next two months, the 7th Division was embroiled in bitter fighting at the First Battle of Ypres, when they were crucial in stopping the German advance but lost over 10,000 men. The Times later stated that "no one but Capper himself could, night after night, by the sheer force of his personality, have reconstituted from the shattered fragments of battalions a fighting line that could last through tomorrow". For the service he and his men provided during the battle, Capper was awarded a knighthood as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in early 1915.

Remaining on the front lines during the winter of 1914–1915, Capper's men held the German advance and were given some respite in early 1915 with the arrival of territorial divisions. It was during one of these rest periods that Capper was seriously wounded when in April 1915 he was struck in the shoulder by shrapnel from a "Jam-tin bomb" during a demonstration of improvised grenades being held behind the lines. He was temporarily replaced by General Gough and returned to England to convalesce, but was back with the 7th Division on 19 July 1915

 
 
Address given at
Remembrance  Sunday
at All Saints, Rayne 2005
  

Not all those named on the Rayne Memorial lived in Rayne. Some of them had lived here and had moved away possibly with family members still in the Village. 

This morning I am going to talk about Sir Thompson Capper CB, DSO, KCMG. The very mention of his decorations shows that Sir Thompson was a very senior officer indeed. In fact he was one of the fifteen most senior officers killed in the war. Sir Thompson was in the East Lancashire Regiment and at the time of his death he lived in London. 

What then was his connection with Rayne? The Rector of Rayne in the pre-War period was the Rev Hemming. The Rev Hemming was the uncle of Thompson Capper and so he and his brothers had spent much of their boyhood boyhood staying at Rayne Rectory, then of course in the lane. 

After the war, when a Memorial was to be erected in Rayne, his surviving family asked if Sir Thompson’s name could be included as he had many happy memories of the Village. Sir Thompson was a career soldier being commissioned in 1882. He served in India, The Sudan and South Africa and at the outbreak of the War had risen to the rank of Major General. He was a highly respected commanding officer, known on at least one occasion to have disregarded an order to spare his men unnecessary casualties, something which was a courageous decision in this War. 

On the Memorial are commemorated six men from Rayne who died in the Battle of Loos, a small coal mining area in North east France. Coincidentally, although not from Rayne, it was in this same Battle that Major General Capper was also killed. 

The Battle of Loos commenced on 21 September 1915 with some intermittent shelling, but the weather prevented any large scale attack being very wet and with low cloud. On 25 September this cleared and the shelling resumed, continuing without let up through the whole day and into the early hours of 26 September. Of course the German Army fought back and on both sides suffered heavy casualties. 

During the afternoon of 26 September, intensity of the fighting had lessened a little but even so there was occasional shelling and it was during one of these attacks that Major General Capper was badly wounded. He was moved to a field hospital – and it is probably not easy for us to comprehend how different this would have been to modern mobile medical facilities – where he died of his wounds the following day, 27 September 1915