Richard Rapson (full profile with references to follow) received no medals for his service at home in an almost forgotten corps. He was already 37 at the outbreak of war, and doesn’t seem to have been particularly fit, although his job as a plumber would have been reasonably physically demanding. He was a conscript “deemed to have enlisted” on 24 June 1916, but not actually called up until 5 April 1918, after deferments due to his medical rating and the request of his employer, the Education Committee of the Borough of Wimbledon. Nevertheless he is listed on the Surrey Association roll of honour. I should also note that his service was very difficult to research until the completion of a cataloguing project on Royal Marines’ records completed earlier this year.
Richard seems to have been born on 6 July 1877 in Winchester. There is some confusion about this as his service record, and the 1939 Register, give the year as 1876, but the birth registration is in the 3rd quarter 1877, and he had an older brother, George Henry, whose birth was registered in the 2nd quarter 1876. Their parents, Richard Rapson senior and Bridget Augusta Abraham married in Weeke, near Winchester, on 26 February 1876.
Richard senior seems to have been a railwayman, and it was presumably this employment that took the family to Wimbledon a few years later. Sadly the first record we have of them there is Bridget’s burial record. She was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Wimbledon, on 18 January 1881, at the age of 33. Her residence at death is given as 10 Alan Cottages, Gladstone Road, South Wimbledon.
As a widower working shifts it seems that Richard senior sent the sons to be in the care of his sisters-in-law, Eliza Baldwin and Fanny Abraham on the Isle of Wight. In the census taken on 3 April 1881 we find Richard and his brother living with them on St Mary’s Street, Northwood, Isle of Wight. Eliza and Fanny are both recorded as married, but neither husband was present on census night. Eliza (29) had her own son, Henry J T, while Fanny (28) does not seem to have any children of her own. Richard senior was lodging with the Cole family at 23 Gladstone Road, Wimbledon. His occupation is given as foreman railway porter.
By 1891 Fanny had brought the boys back to live with their father. The census on 3 April finds them living at Graham Road, Wimbledon. Both Richard and his brother (now listed as Henry George) are shown as boy clerks, while Richard senior is now a railway inspector and Fanny is listed as housekeeper. She is still shown as married, but again her husband is not present.
Richard senior died on 15 January 1900 and, like his wife, was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Wimbledon, on 20 January. At the 1901 census Fanny is shown as head of the household (still at 74 Graham Road), which comprised Richard, his cousin, William H Rapson (17, born Cork, Ireland) and two lodgers. Richard was now a plumber while William is a messenger.
Richard married Maud Miller at Christ Church, Collier’s Wood, on 22 May 1901. His address was given as 74 Graham Road. Maud was living at Palestine Grove. Her father, Alfred, was a carpenter.
Their first child, a daughter, Maud Ruth Rapson, was born on 10 May 1903 and baptised at Christ Church, Collier’s Wood, on 28 June 1903. The family were then living at 61 Latimer Road.
The birth of another daughter, Ethel Lydia Rapson, was registerd in the Kingston Registration District in the 3rd quarter 1906. No baptismal record has been traced. Sadly her death was registered in the Kingston Registration District in the 1st quarter 1907.
On 15 November 1906 Arthur Tidman was born to Ethel Louisa Tidman, she was not married. Arthur was baptised at All Saints, South Wimbledon, on 30 December 1906. Ethel was living at 47 Haydon’s Road, as was another single mother, Florence Clark, whose daughter, Elsie Florence, was baptised the same day. The address seemed unlikely to be a coincidence, and searching for it online I soon discovered that it was the Wimbledon Home of the Southwark Diocesan Association for the Care of Friendless Girls from 1901-21. In 1910 Arthur was adopted by the Rapsons.
It seems that it was probably sometime around 1906 that Richard learned to ring. Though he’s listed on the roll of honour as a Wimbledon ringer the first record of him ringing is on the tenor for a quarter peal of Grandsire Doubles at Collier’s Wood on 17 May 1908. He’s then recorded as ringing the second to a quarter of Bob Minor at “Mitcham” on Whit Sunday 1910 (Pentecost, 15 May that year). At this time Christ Church Collier’s Wood was often recorded as Mitcham, so it’s not clear whether this quarter peal was rung there or at SS Peter and Paul, Mitcham parish church. Another quarter peal (of Grandsire Doubles) was rung on 20 May following the local memorial service for King Edward VII.
A third daughter, Florence Bertha Rapson, was born on 14 August 1910 and baptised on 25 September at Christ Church. The family were then living at 35 Norman Road, Wimbledon. At the 1911 census the family were still at Norman Road.
A fourth daughter, Winifred Agnes Rapson, was born on 15 March 1917. By this stage of the war it was becoming increasingly likely that Richard would be called up. Pressure on manpower meant that those with lower medical ratings were being brought in as much as possible to release fitter men for front line roles.
On 16 January 1918 a notice was sent from the National Service London Region office at Newington Causeway, London, SE1, instructing Rapson to “present youself again for medical examination on the 2nd Feby 1918, at the hour of 9.30 am at Bishopsgate Institute EC2.” On 22 January he wrote back complaining that he had already attended a medical examination at Camberwell Baths on Monday 6 January 1918 and had been placed in Grade 3. Further he “cannot afford to lose any more time from work and if I have to attend at Bishopsgate Institute I should be entitled to a railway warrant or my fare refunded, besides losing the half day from work it will cost nearly 2/- for railway fare.”
It appears his employer, the Wimbledon Education Committee had also been trying to get an exemption as the local military service tribunal wrote to Mr F Challenor of Durnsford Road Scool, Wimbledon on 2 Feburary 1918 to explain that Rapson’s case would be heard at the next tribunal sitting. He appears to have had to have had another medical on 14 March 1918 at Camberwell Baths. He was again placed in Grade 3. This was all to no avail, and Rapson was required to present himaself for service on 5 April. He was recorded as being 5’11¼”, with a 35½” chest, fresh complexion, brown eyes and brown and grey hair. He was then posted to the Royal Marine Engineers on 13 April 1918. This corps was raised to support Admiralty building projects at home. Rapson was passed fit to be employed as a fitter, so his day-to-day activities probably changed very little from what he had been doing before he was called up. Unfortunately his record gives no detail of where he was posted during his service, just that he was demobilised on 24 March 1919.
Arthur Tidman emigrated to Australia in 1924. A possible death record is found in Queensland on 22 December 1936. On this his mother is described as Louisa Rapson, and his father as Arthur. Louisa was of course his birth mother’s name, Rapson the surname of his adoptive family, but it’s not clear where the name Arthur came from.
Maud Ruth Rapson married William Barnard Ball in 1928. In 1939 they were living at 19 Evelyn Road, Wimbledon. William had the somewhat unusual job of evangelist, so was presumably working for a church. He was also a Wimbledon ARP warden. It seems they may have had 7 children between 1929 and 1940 (only one other Ball-Rapson marriage seems to be recorded in the GRO indices, but that is several years earlier), though none of them are resident in 1939, presumably having been evacuated.
Florence Bertha Rapson married James C F Austin in 1936. In 1939 they were living at 69 The Crescent, Welwyn, Hertfordshire. James is recorded as a baker. They seem to have one child with them and four lodgers. The child was presumably Beryl F Rapson, born in 1937. It appears another daughter was born much later, Margaret G Austin, in 1951.
The only other record that’s been found of Rapson ringing is on 8 May 1938 at Wimbledon, 960 changes of Grandsire Doubles (halfmuffled) to mark the death of another Wimbledon ringer, Edgar Baker, on 30 April.
In 1939 Rapson and his wife and youngest daughter, Winifred, were still living at 35 Norman Road. Her surname was crossed through and changed to Oliver, leading us to her marriage to Ernest J Oliver in either later 1940 or early 1941. They would have a son, Richard M Oliver, in 1941.
Richard Rapson’s death was registered in the 4th quarter 1952 in the Surrey North Western Registration District.