Walter Gordon Cope

Rank Captain
Service No Unknown
Date of Death 06/09/1918
Age 28
Regiment/Service Yorkshire Regiment and then Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force
Cemetery East Finchley Cemetery and St Marylebone Crematorium. Part of the Cemetery is a War Graves Plot, which contains 75 Commonwealth burials of the 1914-1918 war. It was set aside in December 1916 for the burial of ex-Officers and men from the Borough whose deaths resulted from wounds received or disease.


Walter was the son of Walter Cornelius Cope (1856-1930), a commercial traveller for a hosiery manufacturer, and his wife Fanny Knight, nee Heard (1854-1941), who were married on 11th August 1884 at St Mary, Stoke Newington, north London.

Walter was born on 21st August 1889 at 349 Essex Road, Islington, north London and baptised on the 20th October at St Paul’s Canonbury, Islington. He had two sisters; Edith (1885-1976) and Kate (1887-1961) and was educated at Christ's College, Finchley. He was married to Doris Lucy Shephard (1891-1957) by Special License at All Saints, Childs Hill, north London, on 15th May 1918.

At the time of the 1901 Census, the family, together with a cook and domestic servant, was living at Rocklands, 188 Regents Park Road, Finchley. At the time of the 1911 Census the family resided at Carson House, Regents Park Road, Finchley. Walter was working as a warehouseman for a shirt manufacturer. 

Walter’s father was a significant Finchley figure. He was one of fourteen councillors serving on Finchley Urban District Council in 1914, being chairman of its General Purposes Committee. He was a churchwarden of St Paul’s from 1913 to 1923, and in this capacity was, in 1920, one of the three signatories of the application to the Bishop of London for permission to install the war memorial plaque and window. In 1926, the new Walter Cope eight-bed ward in Finchley Memorial Hospital was named after him.

From December 1912 to October 1914, Walter worked as a warehouseman for Lane Crawford & Co in Hong Kong, which was founded in 1850 by two Scotsmen. In the early 1900s it also had stores in Guangzhou and Shanghai in China, and Kobe and Tokyo in Japan.

Prior to enlisting in the Army, Walter served with the Hong Kong Volunteer Artillery, being discharged from their service, at his own request. On 16th October 1914, Walter was one of 110 men who climbed aboard the Japanese ship, the SS Suwa Maru, making its maiden voyage from Yokohama to London. Under the command of Captain Alan Hilton-Johnson, they were heading to England to join Lord Kitchener's 'New Army' of civilian volunteers. Under Hilton-Johnson's supervision the contingent received the rudiments of military training as they sailed. 

On 28th December 1914 Walter was stationed at Berkhampsted serving as a Private while at Officer Training Corps. On 25th March 1915 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant (on probation) and his appointment was confirmed on 7th December. On 30th August 1915 he was sent home from Flanders via Calais suffering from persistent toothache, serious inflammation of the dental periosteum in the upper and lower jaw and a septic mouth.

Between September 1915 and February 1916, Walter attended no less than six Medical Boards, which monitored his treatment. Records indicate that his return to health was protracted as he had chronic pharygitis (lingering sore throat and infection of the tonsils) and was rather anemic, debilitated and in need of rest. He was finally declared fit on 24th February 1916, which enabled him to rejoin his regiment three days later in West Hartlepool. Shortly thereafter he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as records indicate that on 25th May 1916 he was in Reading with 3 Reserve Squadron, a training unit. He received his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate on 4th August 1916 so becoming a qualified pilot and flying officer. On 23rd August he joined 42 Squadron, where he flew a B.E.2c, a single-engined two seater bi-plane.

On 25th September 1916, Walter survived a crash in 7065 BE2e, which happened just after taking off on a bombing raid. A report on the incident stated that engine revs dropped at 80 feet and he crashed near the aerodrome but that he was OK. On 19th January 1917 he was sent back to England suffering from a joint disease in his right elbow which required immediate and expert treatment. In his report, the medical officer stated that Walter was 'a good officer, hardworking and conscientious'. Although he was not declared fit again until 3rd July 1917, he was posted to the Wireless and Observers’ School, Brooklands, Surrey on 27th April 1917. Having previously been a Temporary Captain (flight commander) in November 1917, his appointment was made permanent on 1st April 1918.

On 30th January 1918 Walter moved to No 3 Training Depot Station at Netheravon, Salisbury. A month later he transferred to 70 Training Depot Station, based at RAF Beaulieu in the New Forest and then on 6th June he joined 103 squadron, also at RAF Beaulieu. His personnel records indicate that on 7th July 1918 he had contact with a hospital and was then off sick from 12th August, being under the care of the London Hospital in Whitechapel.

Walter was killed in Hampshire on 5th September 1918, whilst training Flight Cadet Edward Lydale Caldwell, who was also died in the accident. They were flying AVRO 504 E1849, an obsolete front-line plane that had become a trainer. More than 8,000 flight crew died during flight training, more dying from flight accidents and equipment failure than from enemy action.

During his career, Walter was qualified to fly a number of different aircraft, including the BE2c (mainly used for artillery observation and aerial photography duties), the S.E.5a (a single seater fighter and one of the fastest aircraft of the war at 138 mph), and the Sopwith Pup (a single-seater biplane fighter).

At the time of his death, Walter’s wife was living at 30, West Heath Drive, Hampstead. She inherited his estate which was valued at £315 12s 2d.