Monday, 3 November 2014

The first honour: Second Lieutenant Francis Pepys, killed in action 12 November 1914


Second Lieutenant Francis Pepys DSO (1891-1914)  Photo  reproduced by kind permission of the Headmaster and Governors of Charterhouse  

 For the Pepys family in Knowle, still grieving over the loss of their eldest son John, as described here it must have been devastating to be told, barely three months later, that his brother Francis had been killed at Ypres.  


Maybe the family gained some consolation from the news that Francis had died a hero.  

Like his brother John, he was brought up in the family home of Knowle House on Dalditch Lane.


A Charterhouse group: Francis Pepys is seated, right. 

Photo reproduced by kind permission of the Headmaster and Governors of Charterhouse 

While still at school at Charterhouse, in Surrey, he had decided on a military career. In May 1913 he was gazetted as Second Lieutenant to the 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He went to France with the Expeditionary Force on 13 August 1914, taking part in the retreat from Mons and in the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne the following month.  

Francis Pepys was the first serviceman from the Lower Otter Valley to be honoured with the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). The citation, dated 1 December 1914, reads as follows: "On 3rd November 1914, he did conspicuous good work in advancing from his trench and assisting in driving away a party of the enemy who were commencing to dig a new trench within 30 yards of his own; 30 of the enemy were shot down on the occasion.”   


‘The Defeat of the Prussian Guard, Ypres, 1914’ as depicted in 1916 by the English painter William Barnes Wollen (1857-1936).  The painting shows the 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in action against the Prussian Guard at the Battle of Nonne Bosschen, 11 November 1914.

Just over a week later he took part in the repulse of the Prussian Guards, an action of the Great War celebrated in paintings such as the above example. Sadly, he was killed in action on 12 November by a shell burst as he stepped out of his trench. 

Francis Pepys, who was unmarried, was evidently a promising young officer whose loss was keenly felt by his colleagues. Writing of the DSO which he had gained, his Commanding Officer described how he had “most thoroughly earned” the award for his determined action in repulsing the enemy “and for his splendid leading on other occasions."  The young man’s bravery was also mentioned in a Despatch of 14 January 1915 by Field Marshal Sir John French, later created 1st Earl of Ypres.


The Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery
©  Mo Sandford FRPS 2014
The author Michael Morpurgo has described Budleigh-based Mo Sandford's work as "deeply moving and interesting." More of her remarkable photos of World War I battlefields can be seen here

Francis Pepys has no known grave, although the Marquis de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour records that he was buried at Zonnebeke, in Tyne Cot, the largest British and Commonwealth war cemetery in the world.   


 Image credit: Commonwealth Graves War Commission

He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, seen above. 

A keen sportsman, he was noted for his love of steeplechasing: he won the Officers' Race in the Vim Hunt Point-to-Point in 1914. Golf, fishing, skiing and cricket were among his other passions; he is commemorated on the Lord's Cricket Members War Memorial, as well as in All Saints’ Church and on East Budleigh village war memorial.


All Saints Church memorial
Image credit: All Saints’ Parochial Church Council 
‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ 2015 exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! Reviews included: “Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!! 


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