CAPRON, John Theodore

ă  Lt. R F A 109 Battery. b 1897 Erith Kent and grew up at ‘Westlowe’ Outseats.

The Capron family lived at Greenoak House, Totley from 1899 to 1911. In 1899 his father, Athol Capron, a well-qualified and experienced engineer from Erith in Kent, came to Sheffield with his wife and four children, to take a management job with Davy Brother’s Boilermakers, then an almost bankrupt company. The children were: Maurice aged 9, Dosy (Dorothy Catherine) 7, John T. 3 and Gerard 1 year old.  In 1903 their last child, Clare was born at Greenoak House.

When he became Managing Director, he steadily expanded the engineering side, which was fortuitous, because much later when war broke out in 1914, they were able to produce vast amount of presses and shell-making machinery. He was later awarded the OBE for his services during the war and in 1931 was made a Justice of the Peace for the City of Sheffield. He built a large stone house near Hathersage and in 1911 the family left Greenoak and went to live there at Westlowe, at Outseats.

Of the children both John and Gerard went to boarding school in Oxford and then they continued their education at Wellington College.

When war broke out in 1914 John joined the college training corps, and in Sheffield his elder brother Maurice, by then an engineer at Davy Brothers, volunteered for the army.  Much to his sorrow he was turned down due to a varicose leg condition..

In November 1915 John, just 19 years of age and in his last year at Wellington, was surprised to learn that he had been granted a commission in the Royal Field Artillery,  as a 2/Lt and must report to his Training Brigade with the 49th West Riding Division at Ripon on the 1 January 1916. Training alongside them was the Northumberland Artillery and his future brother-in-law, Frederick Herbert (Bertie) Claudet, (see below) who had already been out to France and wounded whilst serving of the ranks H A C.  He was given a Commission on coming out of hospital in Sheffield, where he met and later married John’s sister ‘Dosy’.

During the Somme holocaust of 1916 John was drafted out with other reinforcements to the 56th London TA Division, which had suffered heavy losses in the July attack. He served a year with their Ammunition Column, which involved endless ferrying shells by night convoys of horse and mule-drawn limbers over the dreadful aftermath battlefield of the Somme.  In the autumn when the mud got too deep for the wagons the 18 pounder shells were packed into canvas panniers, 4 each side, slung over the animals backs.  Each driver lead or more often dragged his reluctant pair, under cover of night, 3 or 4 miles from the “dump” to the gun-site.  In September 1917 John was posted to the 109 a regular 18 pounder battery defending the lines at Arras.  It was in that beleaguered town near to the station that John was wounded and sent down to hospital at Paris Plage, with shell splinters in the head and right thigh.  A month later he was back with the 109 battery. Their worst was on 29 March 1918, when the Germans made their last great attack, bending the 5th army, but not breaking through.  They were holding the line in front of Arras, a key point, and were under intermittent barrage for 17 hours. Four of their 6 guns were knocked out and two sergeants and several of the gun crews were killed.

Towards the end, the command of the now depleted battery was shared by John and two other young subalterns, there being no senior officers left.  All three were “Mentioned in Despatches” and recommended for decoration. The battery finished up on 11 November 1918, Armistice Day, a few kilometres south of Mons, where in August 1914, they were probably the first 18 pounder guns to open fire in defence of the bridge and the barricades there. John stayed with the battery until he was demobilised by Easter 1919.

John Capron decided that his future lay in farming, so to that end he enrolled at the Shropshire Agricultural College, where he met Ruth Adam, and they were married at Kidderminster in 1922.  Unable to raise enough capital to get into farming he returned to the Totley area, where they bought a small stone house at Holmesfield and John became articled to a solicitor in Sheffield. By 1927 John had left Sheffield with Ruth and their daughter Jane, and took a position at an established firm of solicitors in Norfolk. In 1940 when still on Army Reserve, he was recalled to serve on Coastal Defence with naval guns at various positions from the Orkneys south to Lowestoft, until the war was over.

When he retired in 1960, John and Ruth settled in Gillamoor, North Yorkshire, but In 1984 after the death of his wife he moved down to the small town of Kirbymoorside from where, even when over 90 years he was still a prolific writer and constant contributor to ‘The Yorkshire Post’ as ‘John O’Greenoak’.

(Those wishing to know more about the Capron family should see Totley History Group website to whom we are indebted for the above;  reference ‘Greenoak House’).