Gallant Ronald Copeland Back to the Main Historical Society page
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Gallant Ronald Copeland

From the Barwicker No.103
September 2011

In 1914 at the age of 63, and being too old to re-join the regular army, Col. Richard Thomas Trench Gascoigne of Lotherton Hall took two of his cars to the front in France and used them to transport the injured to the various hospitals. However a much younger member of the (extended) Gascoigne Family also took a car out to France, which was duly converted into an ambulance in WWI.

He was Richard Ronald John Copeland (known as Ronald) born 1884 and his reason for going to the front in such a capacity was because he could not join the regular army as he was very short sighted. Rather than stay at home with a cosy desk job he was attached to the Third French Army in a Quaker ambulance unit. Ronald had no particular leanings toward the Quakers and was considered a fairly stalwart member of the Church of England. He was anxious to do something useful and was probably self-conscious and uncomfortable that he wasn’t allowed to join up.

The photograph above shows Ronald Copeland standing beside his own car, being an open tourer of about 1912, after it had been converted into an ambulance. The words ‘Urgency Cases Hospital’ can be seen on the side of the vehicle.

The photograph below which was probably taken outside Ronald’s home, Kibblestone Hall, in Staffordshire, shows a young lady in the driving seat of the car prior to it being converted into an ambulance, with Ronald sitting beside her.

Photograph (courtesy of Michael G Copeland) shows Ronald Copeland in his car before it was converted into an ambulance in WWI

After leaving school in 1902 Ronald was keen to go to university but his father needed him to help in his company so he went straight into the business. When his father died in 1912 Ronald took over as Chairman and Managing Director. His elder brother had, by mutual consent, left the business to become a missionary. His younger brother also served in France with the 3rd North Staffordshire Regiment. In 1915 Ronald married Ida Fenzi who was Mrs Gascoigne’s niece and the couple had met on the Gascoigne estate at Craignish in Scotland. In a letter dated 1915 Evelyne (Ida′s mother) wrote to her sister-in-law, Cristina Fenzi, we are being harried by Zep raids at least in London and the east coast not Surrey (that′s where she is writing from) two Zeps were brought down and finished off last week which is some comfort.
Ida has just engaged herself to Ronald Copeland. He has been out driving a motor ambulance for the French hospital at Bar-le-Duc as he cannot enlist on account of his short sight. He is a nice sort of fellow and has been devoted to her for years. He has a place in Staffordshire and is well off, tall, well made but an ugly face. However we feel he is thoroughly good and dependable and I am sure she has made a wise choice. They are to be married in three weeks, very quietly as befits these terrible times……..I shall miss her but I am glad that she should have a protector for when I am gone.

Ronald became a scout leader in 1910 and was one of the first scout masters in Staffordshire. Although the North Staffordshire Boy Scouts’ Association had been using part of the Kibblestone Hall Estate for many years with Ronald′s permission, he later donated the land to them. In 1954 Ronald and Ida who were benefactors of the Twyford Scout and Guide Hall at Hanley, Stoke on Trent, were invited to perform its official opening ceremony. Before the Girl Guide movement was instigated, Ida was also a Scoutmaster at Mickleham in Surrey. His Grandson remembers being taken by Ronald to a camp fire and gang show at Trelissick, Cornwall, when the family lived there.

However, he was elderly and infirm by the time many of his grandchildren were young boys full of energy and mischief and although his grandson remembers him with affection, it was more as a sedentary Grandfather rather than an energetic Grandparent who played cricket on the lawn with the children. However some of the older cousins used to enjoy his company on shrimping expeditions. In the 1920s Ronald along with other patrons helped fund and set up a TB hospital which was greatly needed in Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire. He was awarded a C.B.E. for services to the Scout Movement. Ronald was a truly remarkable gentleman who put others before himself and a worthy addition to the Gascoigne Family.

I am extremely grateful to Michael G Copeland, (Ronald Copeland′s grandson), for allowing me to interview him and supplying scans of the photographs for the purpose of this article.


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