Thompson Capper

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Sir Thompson Capper
Sir Thompson Capper
Born 20 October 1863
Died 27 September 1915 (aged 51)
Loos, France
Allegiance Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1882–1915
Rank Major General
Unit East Lancashire Regiment, General Staff
Commands held 7th Infantry Division
Battles/wars Chitral Relief Force
Mahdist War
Second Boer War
First World War
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Mention in Despatches (2)

Major General Sir Thompson Capper, KCMG, CB, DSO (20 October 1863 – 27 September 1915) was a highly decorated and senior British Army officer who served with distinction in the Second Boer War and was a divisional commander during the First World War. At the Battle of Loos in 1915, Capper was shot by a sniper as he reconnoitred the front line during an assault by his division on German positions. He died the next day in a casualty clearing station from wounds to both lungs; his grave is in the nearby Lillers Communal Cemetery.

Major general, is a "two-star" rank in the British Army and Royal Marines. The rank was also briefly used by the Royal Air Force for a year and a half, from its creation to August 1919. In the British Army, a major general is the customary rank for the appointment of division commander. In the Royal Marines, the rank of major general is held by the Commandant General.

Sir is a formal English honorific address for men, derived from Sire in the High Middle Ages. Traditionally, as governed by law and custom, Sir is used for men titled knights i.e. of orders of chivalry, and later also to baronets, and other offices. As the female equivalent for knighthood is damehood, the suo jure female equivalent term is typically Dame. The wife of a knight or baronet tends to be addressed Lady, although a few exceptions and interchanges of these uses exist.

Distinguished Service Order UK military decoration

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the Commonwealth, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat. Since 1993 all ranks have been eligible.


Capper was an active and vigorous soldier who had been wounded just six months before his death in an accidental grenade detonation. Shortly before this wound he had been knighted by King George V for his service in command of his division during the First Battle of Ypres. Field Marshal Sir John French commented upon his death that "he was a most distinguished and capable leader and his death will be severely felt." [1] He was also a keen military historian and his collected papers are currently stored at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King's College London.

First Battle of Ypres First World War battle fought for the strategic town of Ypres

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John French, 1st Earl of Ypres Anglo-Irish officer in the British Army

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Early career

Thompson Capper was born in October 1863 to William and Sarah Capper (neé Copeland). William Capper was a civil servant with the Bengal Civil Service and Sarah was the daughter of industrialist William Copeland. Thompson and his elder brother John were born in Lucknow but at a young age were sent to England for their education. [2] Thompson Capper attended Haileybury and Imperial Service College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst before being commissioned into the East Lancashire Regiment as a lieutenant on 9 September 1882. [3]

John Capper British First World War general

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He was employed on home service for the next ten years and whilst serving as regimental adjutant [4] was promoted to captain on 22 April 1891, [5] attending Staff College before being transferred with his unit to India. It was in India that Capper saw his first action, when in 1895 his regiment was attached to a force sent to the Indian-Afghan border to relieve a trapped British force in Chitral. [6] Three years later he was again in action as an advisor to an Egyptian unit of the Anglo-Egyptian army under Horatio Kitchener which travelled down the Nile in the final campaign of the Mahdist War. [7] During these operations, Capper participated in the battle of Atbara and was with the force which fought in the culminating Battle of Omdurman. [6] He received a brevet promotion as major on 16 November 1898. [8]

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Adjutant is a military appointment given to an officer who assists the commanding officer with unit administration. The term adjudant is used in French-speaking armed forces as a non-commissioned officer rank similar to a staff sergeant or warrant officer but is not equivalent to the role or appointment of an adjutant.

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Staff College, Camberley, Surrey, was a staff college for the British Army and the presidency armies of British India. It had its origins in the Royal Military College, High Wycombe founded in 1799, which in 1802 became the Senior Department of the new Royal Military College. In 1858 the name of the Senior Department was changed to "Staff College", and in 1870 this was separated from the Royal Military College. Apart from periods of closure during major wars, the Staff College continued to operate until 1997, when it was merged into the new Joint Services Command and Staff College. The equivalent in the Royal Navy was the Royal Naval Staff College, Greenwich and the equivalent in the Royal Air Force was the RAF Staff College, Bracknell.

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The Nile is a major north-flowing river in northeastern Africa, and is the longest river in the world, though some sources cite the Amazon River as the longest. The Nile, which is about 6,650 km (4,130 mi) long, is an "international" river as its drainage basin covers eleven countries, namely, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Republic of the Sudan and Egypt. In particular, the Nile is the primary water source of Egypt and Sudan.

South African service

The following year, 1899, Capper and his regiment were again engaged in Africa, being transported to South Africa to serve in the Second Boer War. There Capper performed his duties with distinction for the next three years, being heavily engaged at the defeat of Spion Kop and participating in the relief of Ladysmith in early 1900. [6] He remained in South Africa engaged in guerilla operations against the Boer forces until the armistice of May 1902, commanding a flying column in the Cape Colony. [2] During the war, he received a brevet appointment as lieutenant colonel on 29 November 1900, and was promoted to the substantive rank of major on 5 December 1901. [9] Following the war's conclusion in June 1902, Capper was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on his return home. [10] He was also awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with six clasps and the King's South Africa Medal with two clasps in recognition of his service during the war, and was twice Mentioned in Despatches. [11] [12] [13] Capper returned to the United Kingdom in the SS Dunottar Castle, which arrived at Southampton in July 1902. [14]

South Africa Republic in the southernmost part of Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini (Swaziland); and it surrounds the enclaved country of Lesotho. South Africa is the largest country in Southern Africa and the 25th-largest country in the world by land area and, with over 57 million people, is the world's 24th-most populous nation. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere. About 80 percent of South Africans are of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (White), Asian (Indian), and multiracial (Coloured) ancestry.

Second Boer War war between South African Republic and the United Kingdom

The Second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire's influence in South Africa. It is also known variously as the Boer War, Anglo-Boer War, or South African War. Initial Boer attacks were successful, and although British reinforcements later reversed these, the war continued for years with Boer guerrilla warfare, until harsh British counter-measures brought them to terms.

Battle of Spion Kop battle

The Battle of Spion Kop was fought about 38 km (24 mi) west-south-west of Ladysmith on the hilltop of Spioenkop(1) along the Tugela River, Natal in South Africa from 23–24 January 1900. It was fought between the South African Republic and the Orange Free State on the one hand and British forces during the Second Boer War campaign to relieve Ladysmith. It resulted in a Boer victory.

Staff career

After his return, Capper was initially selected as a deputy-assistant adjutant-general on the divisional staff of the 1st Army corps at Aldershot, [15] but as an experienced staff officer, he was shortly thereafter given a post as a professor at the Staff College, Camberley from December 1902 to 1904. [16] He was promoted to brevet colonel on 11 December 1904. [17] He was then transferred to the Staff College, Quetta in India as commandant (and substantive colonel). [18] It has been suggested that this move was initiated by jealous colleagues at the college due to his ability as a teacher and tactician. [2] He retained this position until 1911, teaching the lessons of the Russo-Japanese War and emphasising the importance of "attacking dash" as the best means of overcoming entrenched positions. [2] He came into contact with numerous important figures of the First World War through this work, including Douglas Haig, with whom he did not get on and Hubert Gough, who admired his "spirit of self-sacrifice and duty, instead of the idea of playing for safety and seeking only to avoid getting into trouble". [2] He also amassed a prodigious collection of military literature during his research and teaching. [19]

I Corps (United Kingdom) army corps in the British Army

I Corps was an army corps in existence as an active formation in the British Army for most of the 80 years from its creation in the First World War until the end of the Cold War, longer than any other corps. It had a short-lived precursor during the Waterloo Campaign.

Aldershot Garrison garrison in South East England

Aldershot Garrison, also known as Aldershot Military Town, is a major garrison in South East England, located between Aldershot and Farnborough in Hampshire. Established in 1854, Aldershot is the home of the British Army although smaller than in previous years. The garrison was established when the War Department bought a large area of land near to the village of Aldershot, with the objective of establishing a permanent training camp for the British Army. Over time, this camp grew into a military town and continues to be used by the Army to the present day. It is home to the headquarters of the Army's Support Command, and it is also the administrative base for the 101st Logistic Brigade. The garrison plays host to around 70 military units and organisations.

Colonel (Col) is a rank of the British Army and Royal Marines, ranking below brigadier, and above lieutenant colonel. British colonels are not usually field commanders; typically they serve as staff officers between field commands at battalion and brigade level. The insignia is two diamond-shaped pips below a crown. The crown has varied in the past with different monarchs; the current Queen's reign has used St Edward's Crown. The rank is equivalent to captain in the Royal Navy and group captain in the Royal Air Force.

In 1906 he was promoted to temporary Brigadier–General [20] [21] and in 1908 he married Winifride Mary, with whom he would have one son. [2] In 1910 his work at the staff college was recognised with the award of the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the King's Birthday Honours. [22] In 1911, after a brief period of half-pay in his permanent rank of Colonel, Capper was transferred from India to Ireland, where he commanded the 13th Infantry Brigade until 1913. [23] He returned to Ireland briefly a year later in the aftermath of the Curragh Incident, to support his friend Hubert Gough. [2] During early 1914, Capper was briefly the Inspector of Infantry [24] but in the emergency of the summer of 1914 he was promoted to substantive Major-General [25] and posted to the regular 7th Division, which was sent to the Western Front. [6]

First World War

During the opening months of the war, Capper busied himself with organising the new division placed under his command; [26] the work involved in this task meant that the division was not ready for action until October 1914. [6] On 6 October 7th Division arrived at Zeebrugge just as the German forces began to push into that area as part of the "Race for the Sea". [6] Initially forced back, Capper's division covered the Belgian withdrawal to the Yser and then held the line near the town of Ypres. [2] [27] For the next two months, the 7th Division was embroiled in bitter fighting at the First Battle of Ypres, when they were crucial in stopping the German advance but lost over 10,000 men. The Times later stated that "no one but Capper himself could, night after night, by the sheer force of his personality, have reconstituted from the shattered fragments of battalions a fighting line that could last through tomorrow". [2] For the service he and his men provided during the battle, Capper was awarded a knighthood as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in early 1915. [28] [29]

Remaining on the front lines during the winter of 1914–1915, Capper's men held the German advance and were given some respite in early 1915 with the arrival of territorial divisions. It was during one of these rest periods that Capper was seriously wounded when in April 1915 he was struck in the shoulder by shrapnel from a "Jam-tin bomb" during a demonstration of improvised grenades being held behind the lines. [2] He was temporarily replaced by General Gough and returned to England to convalesce, but was back with the 7th Division on 19 July 1915. [6]

Battle of Loos

CWGC gravestone for Thompson Capper Lillers Communal Cemetery 20.jpg
CWGC gravestone for Thompson Capper

In late September 1915, the division was assigned to participate in the Battle of Loos against fortified German positions at Loos-en-Gohelle and Hulluch. Advancing on 26 September against furious German opposition, the 7th Division was held up several times and Capper visited the frontline to view the enemy for himself from the captured trenches. Urging his men into a final assault, Capper stayed behind to view the field and was struck by a sniper's bullet fired from houses along the line of advance which were thought to have been abandoned. [6] The assault failed and Capper was discovered by his retreating units and taken to Number 6 Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers to the rear of British lines [6] personally by Captain O'Reilly, a medical officer. O'Reilly had gone out at 8pm to bring Capper in from the battlefield (the war diary suggests that Capper had been wounded at 5.50pm) and had arranged for the wound to be dressed at the Divisional Collecting Station before onward transfer to the CCS - O'Reilly was subsequently recommended for the Military Cross. [30] The bullet had penetrated both lungs, and doctors gave no hope of survival. Major-General Sir Thompson Capper died the following day, on 27 September 1915 [31] in the casualty clearing station. His division had lost over 5,200 men killed or wounded in just three days of fighting. [6]

Following his death, a rumour abounded that he had been killed charging the German lines on horseback. [2] This story has persisted despite eye-witness accounts to the contrary. [6] Capper was buried in Lillers Communal Cemetery behind British lines and his grave is marked by a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone bearing the inscription TOMMY. [32] He is also commemorated on the War Memorial in Rayne, Essex, where he spent much of his boyhood with his uncle, the Rector of Rayne, Rev W S Hemming. His collected papers were donated to King's College in 1971, where they are still available to researchers and contain a wide selection of primary materials concerning the warfare of the early twentieth century. [19]


  1. Sir John French's Ninth Despatch, The Long, Long Trail. Retrieved 9 July 2007 Archived 13 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine .
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Beckett, Ian F. W.Sir Thompson Capper, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , doi : 10.1093/ref:odnb/32285. Retrieved 14 January 2008
  3. "No. 25145". The London Gazette . 8 September 1882. p. 4178.
  4. "No. 26115". The London Gazette . 16 December 1890. p. 7052.
  5. "No. 26160". The London Gazette . 12 May 1891. p. 2543.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 P.53-54, Bloody Red Tabs, Davies & Maddocks
  7. "No. 26934". The London Gazette . 1 February 1898. p. 579.
  8. Hart′s army list, 1903
  9. "No. 27388". The London Gazette . 17 December 1901. p. 8917.
  10. "No. 27490". The London Gazette . 31 October 1902. p. 6902.
  11. Old Haileyburians Who Died in the Service of Their Country 1915, Haileybury School. Retrieved 9 July 2007
  12. "No. 27282". The London Gazette . 8 February 1901. p. 943.
  13. "No. 27459". The London Gazette . 29 July 1902. pp. 4837–4845.
  14. "The Army in South Africa - Troops returning home". The Times (36814). London. 8 July 1902. p. 11.
  15. "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36854). London. 23 August 1902. p. 8.
  16. "No. 27513". The London Gazette . 6 September 1903. p. 110.
  17. "No. 27743". The London Gazette . 13 December 1904. p. 8561.
  18. "No. 27921". The London Gazette . 12 June 1906. p. 4078.
  19. 1 2 Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King's College London. Retrieved 9 July 2007
  20. "No. 27928". The London Gazette . 3 July 1906. p. 4556.
  21. "No. 27946". The London Gazette . 4 September 1906. p. 6015.
  22. "No. 28388". The London Gazette (Supplement to the London Gazette Extraordinary). 23 June 1910. pp. 4475–4476.
  23. "No. 28471". The London Gazette . 3 March 1911. pp. 1635–1638.
  24. "No. 28800". The London Gazette . 10 February 1914. p. 1094.
  25. "No. 28830". The London Gazette . 12 May 1914. p. 3838.
  26. "No. 28933". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 October 1914. p. 8115.
  27. "No. 28992". The London Gazette . 1 December 1914. p. 10158.
  28. "No. 29074". The London Gazette (4th supplement). 16 February 1915. p. 1686.
  29. "No. 29102". The London Gazette . 16 March 1915. p. 2621.
  30. Brian Curragh, "A great victory all but gained": The Battle of Loos 1915 in Spencer Jones (Ed), 'Courage Without Glory', Helion, Solihull, 2015
  31. "No. 29347". The London Gazette (4th supplement). 29 October 1915. p. 10756.
  32. "Casualty Details: Capper, Sir Thompson". Commonwealth War Graves Commission . Retrieved 29 January 2018.

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Military offices
Preceded by
New post
GOC 7th Division
Succeeded by
Hubert Gough
Preceded by
Hubert Gough
GOC 7th Division
July – September 1915
Succeeded by
Herbert Watts