Sunday, October 26, 2014

2nd Lt Reginald Trench Copleston, King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regt)

Reginald Trench Copleston was born on Christmas Day 1885 in Colombo, Ceylon.  He was the son of The Most Reverend Reginald Stephen Copleston DD and Edith Copleston (nee Chenevix-Trench).  Reverend Copleston was the Bishop of Colombo between 1875 and 1902 and when he left that post in May 1902 to take up the post in India of Lord Bishop of Calcutta, his brother Ernest Arthur Copleston succeeded him and in turn was Bishop of Colombo until 1924.   

Bishop Copleston remained in India for a further 11 years and thus was only recently returned to England when the First World War broke out.  During his time in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), he wrote a number of books on Buddhism and had previously distinguished himself at Oxford University.  He was elected a Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford, in 1868 and was twice elected President of the Union. 

Reginald Trench Copleston does not appear on the 1891 census (presumably because he was in Ceylon with his parents) but he does feature on the 1901 census.  He appears as a 15 year old living with two maiden aunts, two sisters and three (female) servants at Abberton, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex.  The household comprised Jane E Copleston (head, single, aged 52 and living on her own means), her sister Mary E Copleston (aged 44, also living on her own means and their nephew and nieces: Frances M Copleston (aged 17), Anne R Copleston (aged 16) and Reginald.  All three had been born in Ceylon.  Jane and Mary, like the children’s father, had been born in Barnes, Surrey. 

Reginald Trench attested with Royal Fusiliers at Westminster on 29th September 1914.  His short service attestation paper gives his age as 27 years and eight months, his occupation as electrical engineer and his height as five feet, ten inches.  He had fair hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion.  He was given the army service number 221 and posted to the 19th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.

On 17th July 1915 Reginald was appointed lance-corporal but may already have been contemplating somewhat higher office.  On 25th September he applied for temporary commission in the regular army (with a preference for the infantry, even though he could ride) giving his permanent address as 25 St John’s Road, Putney and Damerel, Newick in Sussex. (The 1915 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Sussex notes Bishop Copleston living at Damerel). Reginald noted his present address for correspondence as D Company, 28th (Reserve) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, Farm Camp, Epsom.  Five days later his commanding officer approved his application and the following month, on 19th October, the War Office wrote back: 

“Sir, I am directed to inform you that Lance Corpl R T Coppleston, 28th Batt, Royal Fusiliers has been appointed to a Second Lieutenancy (on probation) in the Special Reserve of Officers and posted to the 3rd Battalion Royal Lancaster Regiment stationed at Fort Stamford, Plymouth, but prior to joining his unit has been selected to undergo a course of instruction at the Chatham School of Instruction and should report himself without fail to Fort Darland, Chatham on 31st October 1915 between 2 and 4pm. 

“He should provide himself with bedding and and camp kit before joining, but uniform, if not ready, can follow him.  He should draw his outfit allowance from his Army Agents or Paymaster.” 

Reginald was discharged from the 19th Royal Fusiliers on 26th October 1915 and granted a commission in the 3rd King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment. 

Events over the next twelve months are unclear and there is nothing noted in his surviving service papers held at the National Archives in Kew.  In February 1916, Chailey Parish Magazine mentions him for the first time, stating Copleston, 2nd Lieutenant R T, King’s Own (Lancs) Regt, but it is not until 20th October 1916 that another note in his file appears.  This is to state that Reginal Copleston of the 3rd King’s Own (attached 7th King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment; 56th Brigade, 19th Division), left the battalion. 

From subsequent entries and Medical Board notes it appears that he probably went to France around the beginning of July 1916 and saw three and a half months’ active service.  On 3rd November 1916 he embarked for England from Boulogne aboard Tar Brydel; arrived at Dover the same day and went straight to the 4th London General Hospital.  A Medical Board, held at the hospital ten days later reported: “Scabies and Neurasthenia.  He has been three and a half months in France.  At Hebuterne at the beginning of October 1916 he had scabies on the arms, back and abdomen.  Treated in hospital two weeks at Boulogne.  This is now cured.  In addition he has had insomnia, loss of memory, dull headaches, unable to carry on.

Unfit General Service and Home Service 8 weeks.  Unfit Light Duty 6 weeks.  Grant leave 3.11.16 – 24.12.16.  Inform o[fficer] c[ommanding] Res Bn.  Condition caused by exposure to infection and stress of service.” 

Reginald obviously left London at some point during the next few weeks because on 13th December he was writing to The War Office from The Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton, enquiring about his next Medical Board.  This was duly held at Caxton Hall on the 6thJanuary 1917 where it was found that, “Although not sleeping fully he is much better and is fit for light duty at home. Unfit General Service [for] 2 months and Home Service [for] 1 month.  Fit [for] Light Duty at home. 

On 8th January 1917 he joined the 3rd Bn Royal Lancaster Regt at Fort Stamford, Plymouth and one month later, on 9th February, attended his third Medical Board, this time at the Military Hospital in Dorchester.  The Board reported, “He now sleeps very well.  Has occasional headaches in the morning.  He states he forgets what he has read easily.  Unfit General Service 2 months. Fit [for] service at home.” 

By the time he attended his next Medical Board (at Bath War Hospital), Reginald Coppleston was stationed with the 43rd Training Reserve Battalion at Sandhill Camp, Sutton Veny, Wiltshire.  The Board found that he was “anaemic and still complains of headaches.  Unfit [for] G[eneral] S[ervice] [for] 1 month.  Fit [for] Home Service.” 

Finally, in May 1917, his fifth Medical Board held at the Military Hospital at Sutton Veny found that he was fit for General Service. 

Again there is a gap in his service record.  It would seem that Reginald returned to his regiment but by 10th November he had been approved as a probationer for the Indian Army Reserve of Officers (IARO).  It could be that his father pulled some strings or perhaps Reginald pointed to his own background in Ceylon (and possibly India).

On 21st November 1917 he was seconded for service with the IARO and exactly one month later embarked for India at Devonport on the transport ship Walmer Castle.  On 9th February 1918, having completed his period of probation, he was admitted to the IARO and appears to have remained in India at least until January 1921at which point surviving correspondence in his army file at Kew ceases.

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