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George Rowland Patrick Roupell was born to a military family in Tipperary in 1872, his father having served with the East Surrey Regiment of the British Army, the same regiment that would lead George on the road to a Victoria Cross, Order of St George, Order of the Bath, Croix de Guerre and the epithet given to him by some newspapers in 1915: The Hero of Hill 60.
Roupell attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and was commissioned in the East Surrey Regiment, becoming a lieutenant a matter of weeks before the outbreak of World War 1. The beginning of war and British mobilisation saw the East Surrey Regiment deployed in northern Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force, Britain’s vanguard in the fight against Germany and her allies.
Roupell, commanding his own platoon, served with distinction in both the Battles of Mons and the first Battle of the Aisne. His platoon came under heavy fire, and his regiment experienced serious losses as the German defences repulsed the Surreys’ attacks. Roupell survived, and in April 1915, on Hill 60, his courage in the face of enemy fire earned him the British and Commonwealth army’s highest distinction.
The citation for Roupell’s Victoria Cross reads; “For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, on the 20th April 1915, when he was commanding a company of his battalion on Hill 60, which was subjected to the most severe bombardment throughout the day, though wounded in several places, he remained at his post and led his company in repelling a strong German assault. During a lull in the bombardment he had his wounds hurriedly dressed, and then insisted on returning to his trench, which was again being subjected to bombardment.
Towards evening, his company being dangerously weakened, he went back to his battalion headquarters, represented the situation to his commanding officer, and brought up reinforcements, passing backwards and forwards over ground swept by enemy fire. With these reinforcements he held his position throughout the night, and until his battalion was relieved the next morning.”
When this action took place in April 1915, Roupell was just 23 years old. His citation describes how his “courage, devotion and tenacity…undoubtedly inspired his men to hold out till the end.” His Victoria Cross was presented by King George in July, and was quickly followed by Croix de Guerre, Russian Order of St George and a promotion to captain.
In 1916, the ship on which he was a passenger was sunk by a German destroyer. In 1917 he was promoted to the rank of acting Brigade Major, the rank he would hold until the end of the war. After the war’s end, Roupell elected to remain in the military. He was promoted to acting lieutenant colonel in December 1918, before being sent to Russia in 1919 to assist Tsarists in the Russian Civil War.
Tsarists mutinied while Roupell was visiting, and he was taken prisoner in Russia, eventually being repatriated in 1920. The inter war years were typically eventful for the career soldier Roupell. He served in Africa, India, China and spent two years at the Royal Military College of Canada. He was still serving when World War 2 began, though at the rank of colonel, then acting brigadier.
Roupell was given command of the 36th Infantry Brigade and once again his men were deployed with the British Expeditionary Force. When stationed near Doullens in northen France, Roupell’s headquarters were attacked in force by German troops. Upon hearing this, Roupell is said to have replied “never mind the Germans. I’m just going to finish my cup of tea.”
Whether his tea remained undrunk isn’t recorded, however Roupell’s headquarters were overrun, and he spent the next month at large in the French countryside, eventually reaching a farm outside Rouen where he spent two years in disguise, working as a farmhand. Eventually, with the help of the French Resistance, Roupell made it back to Gibraltar, and back to Britain.
Brigadier Roupell retired from active service in 1946, ending a military career periods of which wouldn’t have been out of place in Men’s Adventure comic books. He died at home in 1974, aged 82, almost 50 years after his heroism on Hill 60.
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