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THOMAS ANDREW CROPPER
Lieutenant, 75th Brigade Royal Field Artillery.
Died 19 April 1918, aged 19.
Decorations: The British War Medal and The Victory medal.
The Lych Gate of Caerwent Church is a memorial to Thomas Walker, the builder of the Severn Tunnel. His daughter Anne had married Dr Cropper in 1895 and their only son Thomas was born at Mount Ballan in May 1898. It seems that he had a strict religious upbringing - Anne took a great interest in the workings of local churches and chapels. Tom’s father was more easy going and, probably due to that, Tom had a motor bike which he rode around the district, crashing it once at the bottom of the Batwell, Earlswood.
Tom was sent to Rugby School, joining the Military class, and left at age 16 to become a cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.He was commissioned in May 1916 and found himself in France by September. He is remembered as a very young soldier attending the memorial service for his father in Caerwent church.
His unit was attached to the 75th Brigade. The life of an artillery officer was better than that of an ordinary soldier - he enjoyed the services of a personal groom - but nevertheless difficult and not helped by the weather.To keep ammunition dry he stored it in his tent --one letter reports how he lined the wall of his tent with shells hoping that they might make the tent warmer too. His letters show a ready sympathy with the French peasants and with the ordinary soldiers.
In 1918 the Brigade was playing its part in resisting the German offensive around Arras. It was shelled many times and sustained a number of casualties. Eventually Tom was hit in the head by a splinter from an exploding shell. He died the next day before he could be moved from the casualty clearing station and is buried in the Bagneux British cemetery, Gezaincourt, 50 miles south of Calais.
Personal effects returned to his mother included four religious books, binoculars, mathematical instruments and his tobacco pouch.His mother continued to be a leading figure in the local Red Cross (see section 36) and continued to live at Mount Ballan with her surviving children: Dorothy became Dr Stanley, a local G.P., and Eleanor married Commander F Harvey. Eleanor’s great grandchildren (twin girls) were christened in Caerwent church two years ago.
JN Oct 1999