The Collection of Medals to Great War Casualties formed by Tim Parsons

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Date of Auction: 2nd April 2004

Sold for £1,000

Estimate: £600 - £800

Six: Corporal R. de R. Roche, 16th London Regiment (The Queen’s Westminster Rifles), late Imperial Yeomanry, who was killed in action near Houplines on 8 January 1915

Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 5 clasps, Cape Colony, Rhodesia, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901 (4766 Tpr., 50th Coy. 17th Impl. Yeo. ); 1914 Star (409 L. Cpl., 1/16 Lond. R.); British War and Victory Medals (409 Cpl., 16 Lond. R.); Territorial Force Efficiency Medal, G.V.R. (409 Pte., 16/Lond. Regt.); another Territorial Force Efficiency Medal, G.V.R. (409 Pte., 16/Lond. Regt.), this being an entirely official but erroneous ‘double issue’, with related Memorial Plaques (Richard de Rupe Roche) and (Philip Henry Tibbs) [see footnote], the first very fine and the last polished, the remainder nearly extremely fine (8) £600-800

Footnote

Richard de Rupe Roche, who was born at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, the son of Captain R. Roche, R.N., enlisted in the Imperial Yeomanry in February 1900, aged 20 years. Subsequently posted to the 17th Battalion, he served out in South Africa from April 1900 until July 1901, and was dangerously wounded at Rondal on 28 March. He was discharged in the same year.

Roche, however, maintained his links with the military establishment, by joining the Queen’s Westminster Rifles, and was awarded his T.F.E.M. in Army Order 282 of October 1911. Clearly a keen Territorial soldier, he was a noted marksman, four times making the final hundred to qualify for the King’s prize at Bisley in the years leading up to the Great War. He also represented Ireland in shooting competitions in 1913 and 1914.

Called up in August 1914, he went with his Battalion to France on 1 November 1914, and was mentioned in despatches for his bravery at the end of the month:

‘On the 30th November, Lieutenant J. B. Baber and Corporal R. de R. Roche captured the first prisoners for the Battalion. They had gone out at night to patrol along a ditch some way in front of the line, when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by three different parties of the enemy who had apparently arranged to meet at a certain spot. Two of the enemy patrols passed by without having their suspicions aroused, but the third consisting of three men was making its way towards the place where Lieutenant Baber and Corporal Roche were crouching. The latter immediately opened fire, and after killing one man rushed the remaining two, who threw down their rifles and surrendered.’

The circumstances of Roche’s death during the Houplines operations are also described in The War History of the 1st Battalion, Queen’s Westminster Rifles 1914-18, by J. Q. Henriques:

‘On 8 January, just as it was beginning to get light, Corporal R. de R. Roche was shot as he was crossing the open to get some water for his gun. He was not missed until daylight, when he was seen lying in the open in rear of the trench and in full view of the enemy, who was not more than a hundred and twenty yards away. It was practically certain death to attempt to reach him; but two very gallant men, Rifleman P. H. A. Tibbs, a stretcher-bearer, and Rifleman Pouchot (both of No. 2 Company), crawled out to him to see if anything could be done. As soon as they were seen, the enemy opened fire on them, but both men went on and succeeded in reaching Corporal Roche, who was found to be dead. Rifleman Tibbs was killed as he was kneeling over his body; but Rifleman Pouchot, who saw that both men were beyond help, managed to get back to our lines untouched. He was awarded the D.C.M. for his bravery on this occasion, and thus won the first decoration gained by the Battalion. Rifleman P. H. A. Tibbs was mentioned in despatches. Corporal Roche was a noted rifle and revolver shot, and a very keen member of the Regiment. At home he had always been ready to give to others the benefit of his experience; he had served in the South African War, and in France had already done some splendid work for which he was mentioned in despatches. In him the Battalion lost a good soldier and a true comrade.’

A less comfortable but probably more accurate account of Roche’s final moments appears in The Daily Graphic, a witness describing how he was actually found ‘gasping for breath, with a terrible wound in his face’, and how Tibbs was shot down as he tried to bandage him with a field dressing; similarly, further mention of the incident is to be found in the diary of Sergeant B. J. Brookes, also of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles, who stated that their bodies lay out in the water - for the area was flooded - for a long time, ‘the stretcher bearer lying with his arm round the neck of the other man’, since the Germans kept a close eye on them in the hope of catching further victims.

Roche, whose posthumous ‘mention’ by Sir John French appeared in The London Gazette on 22 June 1915, was eventually interred in the Houplines Communal Cemetery Extension, where he lies in a grave adjoining that of the heroic Rifleman Tibbs; photographs of his headstone are included.

Sold with original M.I.D. certificate, dated 31 May 1915, and related War Office letter regarding the announcement of the award and offering the King’s condolences on Roche’s subsequent death in action; together with Record Office forwarding letter for his B.W.M. and Victory Medals, dated 12 August 1922.