The Rippingale Brothers

Picture of the Brothers in an article from the Peterborough Examiner, July 28, 1917. Used with Permission from Trent Valley Archives, F340: Peterborough Examiner, July 28, 1917.  

Alfred Benjamin and Horace Stanley Rippingale were the sons of Alfred Rippingale and Agnes Corder. Benjamin was born in June of 1895, while his brother Stanley was born three and a half years later somewhere between October and December 1898. Stanley and Benjamin’s parents married in 1894 and gave birth to the boys’ only sister Agnes Lily on a=August 19, 1896. Their mother died in March of 1902 at the age of thirty, leaving her three young children under the sole care of Alfred. The widower mourned for around four years before marrying Elizabeth Wright in April of 1906. Alfred and Elizabeth then gave birth to Dennis Rippingale, the boys’ half-sibling. 
Benjamin and Stanley grew up in England until 1912, at the ages of seventeen and thirteen respectively, when their father Alfred decided to move the family to Canada in search of a better life. The Rippingales were qualified for the British bonus (a commission given to United Kingdom booking agents by Canada’s immigration agency for every suitable immigrant buying a ticket to sail to Canada). Alfred stated his intended profession as “farming”. The family arrived on the 28th of July 1912 and took up residence in Peterborough. Alfred worked as a hired hand for a farm, with hopes of one day owning his own farm. At this point, Stanley and Benjamin were in school and working as farm hands alongside their father as tensions grew in their homeland.

When the war began in July of 1914, Benjamin did not enlist, and Stanley, who was only fifteen, was too young. Based on the family’s history, there may be an explanation for Benjamin's delayed enlistment. Growing up relatively close in age and helping each other deal with the loss of their mother created a special bond between the siblings, as they had to look out for each other without the supervision of their mother. Due to the close relationship the two boys had with each other, it is believed that Benjamin was waiting for Stanley to come of age, despite the social pressure to enlist, so the boys could stay together. Regardless of why the boys did not enlist right away, they both enlisted at the end of 1915, one year into the war.

Stanley enlisted on November 10, 1915. On his attestation papers, Stanley marked his birthday as October 13, 1897, suggesting that he had just turned eighteen. However, British census records from 1901 and 1911 as well as documentation of birth registrations indicate that Stanley was born sometime between October and December of 1898. This means that Stanley was sixteen or seventeen at the time of his enlistment. Benjamin soon followed his brother’s lead, enlisting on December 18, 1915. The brothers were initially assigned to the 93rd Battalion based in Peterborough and held the rank of private. They set sail for England on the SS Empress of Britain on July 15, 1916 and arrived on July 25.

Once in England, Stanley and Benjamin were transferred to the 20th Battalion on September 15, 1916.  Both brothers wrote wills upon joining the unit. In his will, Benjamin ceded all his possessions to his father in the case of his death whereas Stanley left all his possessions to his step-mother. They joined the unit on the field in France on October 3 where they were assigned to the same six-man Lewis Gun crew. Lewis guns were light and mobile machine guns adopted by the Canadian Expeditionary Force after the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. Lewis guns played an important offensive and defensive role in the war and, as of February 1917, each Canadian battalion was required to have 14 Lewis Gun crews. During their time in the 20th Battalion, the battalion participated in the final stages of the Battle of the Somme in October and November 1916 and in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April of 1917. Lewis gunners played a key role in the Battle of Vimy Ridge by drawing German machine gun fire towards themselves to provide openings for Canadian soldiers to advance on the German lines.
Sometime in spring of 1917, Benjamin wrote an undated letter to his parents marked as coming from “somewhere France”. The letter described a big advance made by Canadian forces. Considering the fact that the letter was written in France during the spring of 1917, it is likely that the big advance Benjamin was referring to is the Battle of Vimy Ridge where the Canadian Corps took the ridge from German forces who had held it since the beginning of the war despite previous failed attempts from the Allied Forces to take control of it. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

Well dear mother, it is getting a little more like spring out here now. […] I expect you have seen in the paper about us Canadians making the big advance, well we were in it. We are fighting more in the open now, we have no trenches except a few holes in the ground. The place we drove him out of was a pretty strong one, he had held it for about two years. I expect he thought we could not take it, but we soon showed him different. Dear Mother, you must not worry if you don’t get letters very often because on an advance like this we don’t get much chance to write.

Benjamin and Stanley were killed in action together on July 16, 1917 near Lens in Pas-de-Calais, France. At 2:30am, the battalion carried out a gas attack against the German forces. The Germans retaliated with heavy trench mortar fire, with one shell from a 77mm trench mortar directly hitting a front-line Lewis gun crew that the brothers were part of. Benjamin and Stanley were buried side by side at Aix-Noulette cemetery in Pas-de-Calais France. The brother’s death was announced to the Peterborough community in a short article in the Peterborough examiner. After learning of their sons’ death, the Rippingales were devastated. The death of the two oldest sons came as a great loss to the family and demonstrated the cruel reality of war.  Alfred continued to work in Peterborough, taking on a job as a caretaker at Little Lake Cemetery, before buying a farm a short distance outside of Peterborough. Two memorial plaques, commonly referred to as the dead man’s penny, were presented to the Rippingale family by the British government to recognize the brothers’ service and death in the War. The memorial plaques are inlaid into the family’s tombstone in Peterborough’s Little Lake Cemetery with an inscription in honour of the brothers. Since neither Agnes Lily or Dennis ever married, all four Rippingale children as well as Alfred and Elizabeth’s names are present on the family tombstone, uniting the family in their final resting place despite the Stanley and Benjamin’s bodies being buried in far away France.

Rippingale Family Tombstone in Little Lake Cemetery. Inscription Reads: In Memory of Our Boys, Ben and Stan, Machine Gunners 20th Batt. Who Were Killed by Shell Together July 16 1917 At Lens. Buried in Graves 11 & 12 Aix-Noulette Cem. France. Picture Taken by Amanda Roy.   

Research by Amanda Roy and Carter Lamb
Sources “Alfred B Rippingale in the 1901 England Census.” Accessed October 30, 2018. “Horace Stanley Rippingale in the England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915” Accessed October 28, 2018. "Rippingale - Corder Family Tree." Accessed November 04, 2018.”Stanley Rippingale in the 1911 England Census.” Accessed October 30, 2018.
Archives Canada. “Benjamin Rippingale Personnel Records.” Accessed October 15, 2018.

Archives Canada. “Stanley Rippingale Personnel Records.” Accessed October 15, 2018.

Archives Canada. “War diaries - 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion: 1914/11/01-1917/04/30.” Accessed October 18, 2018.

Archives Canada. “War diaries - 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion: 1917/05/01-1917/12/31.” Accessed October 18, 2018.

Peterborough Examiner. “Brothers Meet Death Side By Side: Peterborough Brothers Are Killed In Action” In The Peterborough Examiner, July 28, 1917. Accessed from Trent Valley Archives, F340: Peterborough Examiner, July 28, 1917.

Rawling, Bill. “Technology in Search of a Role: The Machine Gun and the CEF in the First World War.” Material History Review 42 (Fall 1995): 87-100.

Read, Fergus. “Next of Kin Memorial Plaque, Scroll and King’s Message.” Accessed November 4, 2018.

Rippingale, Benjamin. Benjamin Rippingale to Alfred and Elizabeth Rippingale. France, 1917. Accessed from Trent Valley Archives, F646: Alfred Rippingale.

Township of Otonabee. “Township of Otonabee Land Index.” Accessed from Trent Valley Archives, F60: Peterborough County Land Records Plan No.24, Lot No.4, p.258.

Veterans Affairs Canada. “Stanley Horace Rippingale.” Accessed October 21, 2018.

Veterans Affairs Canada. “Benjamin Alfred Rippingale.” Accessed October 21, 2018.