Rooper, Ralph Bonfoy
He was the second son of John Royden Rooper (F1903-06), of Reel Hall, Shamley Green, Surrey. His mother, Isobel Iris Rooper, was the daughter of Everard R. Calthrop, of Loughton. He was named after his uncle – also Ralph Bonfoy Rooper – who had been killed in May 1918. His elder brother, Anthony, was killed in June 1941 whilst flying with the Fleet Air Arm from HMS Ark Royal.
He came from Bilton Grange to Southgate House, his father’s old House. He was intelligent and gifted, a good gymnast, a skilled shot, and a capable games-player; he did well both at his prep school and at Winchester. At Bilton Grange he was gymnastics champion and Captain of Shooting.
Special entry to the Navy cut short his time at Winchester, but he shot for the Cadet Trophy at Bisley, won the 4th Gymna Medal and, with his younger brother David (F1934-1939), helped to win Dick Shield – all this in 1935. He had a flair for drawing, and was a keen carpenter: he had gifts also for music and the writing of verse.
In December 1935 he passed into the Navy, and went straight to sea in the training ship HMS Frobisher. He was posted as a Sub-Lieutenant to the battleship HMS Malaya in January 1937. Fond of yachting, he brought home a dinghy from Malta as cargo on board the battleship, so that he could sail it on the Thames.
He first saw active service in the Near East, being given in charge of a “blockhouse” in Palestine during the troubles of that year. From 1939 he served aboard the new destroyer HMS Kelvin, and in 1940, by now a Lieutenant, took part in the Norway campaign and in the attack on Cherbourg. In 1941 he became First Lieutenant in the destroyer HMS Velox, and was mainly on the West African station till the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. Thereafter he was in the thick of it, on convoy work in support of the advancing armies.
In the spring of 1943 he was picked by the Admiralty for special anti-submarine work, involving a six months’ course at Scapa Flow. The prospect of a period of relative safety did not appeal to him. Accordingly the Admiralty revised their decision, and appointed him Senior Officer Motor Gun Boats (MGBs) at Ramsgate, when the previous officer in charge was killed in action on May 29th 1943. Rooper’s command extended to the Channel Ports, and his force comprised Dutch, Polish and French, as well as English vessels.
On the night of July 24th 1943 – early in his command – Rooper’s two MGBs encountered two German motor torpedo boats (‘E’ boats) from Cherbourg which were passing through the Straits of Dover heading north. When attacked, the ‘E’ boats split up, and Rooper’s two MGBs concentrated their fire on one of them. Hits were scored on one of its torpedoes, which exploded and destroyed the ‘E’ boat. Four prisoners were taken, though the ‘E’ boat’s commander had been the first to jump overboard and was not found. The commander of the other ‘E’ boat was subsequently court-martialled by the Germans for fleeing from the scene and leaving his companion to fight alone.
On December 28th 1943 Rooper was awarded the DSC: “For outstanding bravery, enterprise and skill in successful attacks on enemy shipping in enemy coastal waters, while serving in Light Coastal Craft.”
He fell in action on March 16th 1944 on board MTB417, leading his flotilla, which closed with a greatly superior force of motor launches (R-boats) and armed trawlers off the French coast (British sources state that this was between Calais and Boulogne, German sources off Gravelines). The German escort to the convoy of trawlers was formed from the 36th M-Flotilla under Kapitan Grosse. Rooper’s flotilla sank the minesweeper M3610 with torpedoes, and then MTB353 sank the minesweeper M10 near Dunkirk. However, MTB417 was then sunk at point-blank range by the Germans.
Rooper’s body was washed ashore on the Dutch coast. He had died at the age of twenty-five, and is buried in grave 2.A.2 of the Bergen General Cemetery, on the coast of the Netherlands north of Amsterdam.
A memorial notice for him and his uncle appeared in The Times in May 1945: “In proud and loving memory of Ralph Bonfoy Rooper, Criox de Guerre avec Palme, killed May 29th 1918; and of his namesake and nephew, Lieutenant Ralph Bonfoy Rooper DSC, RN, killed in March 1944. “In their passing they have conquered death, And through the years shall shine their undimmed youth, Whose dauntless spirit was the living breath Of freedom and of Chivalry and Truth.” Mother and Grannie.
- Surname: Rooper
- Forenames or initials: Ralph Bonfoy
- House: F
- Years in School: 1932-1935
- Rank: Lieutenant
- Regiment: Royal Navy
- Date of Birth: 1st January 1919
- Date of Death: 16th March 1944
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner A1
- Decoration: DSC
- Burial Site: Bergen General Cemetery, Amsterdam: Grave 2.A.2