Arthur G. Hopkins
Mr. Valiant the life story of Arthur G. Hopkins, M.C.
The following are excerpts from Arthur G. Hopkin’s book (Mr. Valiant)
Arthur left Headingley in the summer of 1914, when he was twenty-three years of age. War broke out shortly afterwards, and the call came for men. When Great Britain entered the conflict and troops were being dispatched to the front in that fateful August, Arthur felt strongly that he ought to join the Forces. Like many another young man of courageous spirit, the love of Country stirred deeply within him, and he was eager to respond to her call in time of need. Accordingly he asked the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society to forgo his appointment to Honduras for the period of the War in order that he might enlist as a soldier. For reasons into which one need not enter, his request was refused; and though his disappointment was great, he felt he could not press the matter as he had already volunteered to undertake work of special difficulty and danger in the Mission Field.
His letters six months later show that this conviction was beginning to be overshadowed by the sense that his immediate duty lay elsewhere. ‘When I think of the fight that is going on.’ He wrote, ‘and the constant call for men… and then of myself here far from it all, I feel very disappointed.’ Another six months, and we find him being interviewed by a military officer with a view to the granting of a commission. He applied again for the Mission House’s sanction, and this time it was given. Two more months elapsed, and on January 17, 1916, he entered St. James’ Barracks, Port of Spain, to take up his duties as Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Trinidad contingent of the British West Indian Regiment.
In a letter, written to his father about this time, Arthur gave an account of his reasons for making this change in the course of his life. He made it clear that he would carry with him into the Army the missionary ideal.
‘For Fifteen months, he wrote, ‘I have worked in the West Indies; now I lead West Indians to the battle line. It is a fitting thing. Perhaps I shall be of the unreturning number. Never mind. Eternity is with us soon, and eternal bliss but cheaply bought.
‘And if it should be that my name is amongst the list of the killed, think of this. If in years to come some schoolboy reads in the annals prepared for aftertime that at some dark moment on the field the men from the Caribbean turned the scale of victory for the armies of God, how great will be the reward!
“It is a great and beautiful thing to die for one’s country.”
‘The roses will bloom again and the cornfields smiles, and if by our dying we can pass new blood into the veins of a stricken world, we shall be satisfied.’
When Arthur joined the British West Indian Regiment, there was a great shortage of white officers for training the men. He found his new work strenuous, and likely to become more so, as new recruits continually arrived. ‘The work,’ he said, ‘of transforming a company of raw black lads into efficient soldiers takes some doing.’ But he liked the life and soon was in his element. He had always been a good shot, and when sent to represent his unit at a revolver-shooting competition he brought back the laurels in triumph. In addition to this, he was made Musketry Instructor to the Forces in the Island for the duration of their establishment there. It was not expected, however, that they would remain there for long, and rumours were abroad that the whole contingent would be sent for a period of training to England. The rumours proved to be without foundation, but the following extract shows how smoothly the transition from mission-house to camp-ground was made:
‘Like Abraham, I am sitting at my tent door, for the older men have been moved into camp to make room for the new ones… It is a delightful day, and in my tent – which is under a large tree – it is beautifully cool. My wash-stand is a box nailed to the trunk of the aforesaid tree… Camping was ever my joy, and therefore I do not regret the change from the rather crowded officers’ quarters to a large and palatial tent. My scouting stands me in good stead. I have just taken a special course of signalling, and done quite fairly… The contingent is going to be very big… and they will make a fine show in the old country… Soon, after a few weeks of training, we shall be home again.’
After his second ‘crash,’ which occurred the day following the capture of Jerusalem, Arthur made application to undergo a course of training for his pilot’s certificate, saying that he intended to break his own neck in the future, if such were to be his fate. Up to the present he had acted only as an observer, flying in company with different pilots. His commanding officer agreed to his request, and after spending Christmas with his squadron, during which time most of the tents were blown down owing to a terrific storm, he was sent back to Heliopolis to the School of Military Aeronautics. Here he was engaged on theoretical work, and had a busy time, beginning at 5:30am daily and usually finishing at 6:45pm. Sunday was a less strenuous day, and he was able to attend a religious service, a privilege which he appreciated, and there was little opportunity for such things when up the line. Having passed the theoretical course, he had to submit himself to a severe medical examination before going on to a course of practical flying elsewhere. By this time the strain of war service had told upon him severely, and the doctors refused to pass him, so that he was never allowed to proceed with the course and gain his pilot’s ‘wings.’
A letter written by him about this time reveals the mixed feelings with which he viewed this new development.
‘Unfortunately the Medical Board has turned me down as permanently unfit for flying, or anything except Base duty. My heart isn’t good enough for them, it seems, and I’m now waiting like Mt. Micawber, for “something to turn up”… It seems as though I were destined to be in at the capture of Jerusalem and finish flying… Personally, I’m awfully glad to have a fling; it has been a most useful experience. Now that my pukka active service is finished through no fault of mine 0 well, I take it that it had to be.
My bouts of rheumatism are mainly responsible, I’m told, and I guess the days when I was travelling about Lancashire hills are getting their own back. You mustn’t think, however, that I’m a wreck! There is nothing seriously wrong, but I am not fit for the strain of flying, or the rigours of an infantryman’s life. One must look at this side of the question, I shall probably get through the War all right now, and I certainly look forward to the post-war days, and work. Had I stayed in the R.F.C., who knows what might have happened? “All things work together for good,” so ‘tis said. No doubt this will… I passed my exams, but it’s very annoying to have been on the grind for a month and then fail medically.’
For a short time Arthur was placed on the staff of the School of Artillery Observation, near Cairo, but he found it difficult to settle down to instructional work, and he yearned for his old service squadron.