b. 23/05/1914 Rushden, Northamptonshire. d. 08/09/1992 Kettering, Northamptonshire.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 22/03/1942 Valletta, Malta.
Dennis Arthur Copperwheat (1914-1992) was born on 23rd May 1914 in Raunds, Northamptonshire, the elder son of Arthur and Agnes Copperwheat (nee Haxley). The family originally hailed from East Anglia. His father worked in the boot and shoe industry. As a young man, Dennis won a scholarship to Kimbolton School and joined the Royal Navy as a boy sailor in 1930. In April 1931, when at St. Vincent, he won the Royal Society of St. George’s prize “for boy best at work throughout the term.” Working his way from the lower deck by ability, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in October, 1939.
In 1934, he had married Olive Cowley in Rushden, and they made their home in Southsea, Hampshire, where Jane, their only child, was born. Prior to the marriage, Olive worked in boot manufacturers, and during the Second World War, she worked for the National Provincial Bank in Rushden. She had moved back to Rushden “when Adolf took too much of a fancy to us.”
Like a number of other recipients of the GC, such as John Babington and John Bridge, he undertook training at HMS Vernon as a torpedo and explosives specialist. He also served on the convoys to Russia like William Goad GC, during the war. His ships included HMS Hero and the ill-fated battle cruiser HMS Repulse, later sunk with HMS Prince of Wales by Japanese bombers. Dennis had a narrow escape whilst serving as torpedo officer on the carrier HMS Indomitable, when he was blown off his feet by an explosion which followed an accidental fuel leak on the vessel.
On 22nd March 1942, he was serving in Valletta, Malta, when during a heavy air attack, he was in charge of a party of men from HMS Penelope sent to scuttle a merchant ship, that was laden with ammunition and burning in the harbour. Owing to the fires, it was impossible to place the scuttling charges in the hold, and they had to be slung over the side of the ship. As they worked, ammunition was exploding all around them. The ship was 40 yards from shore, which was too far for the cables for firing the charges. Copperwheat sent his party to cover and stayed to fire the charges himself from an exposed position; he was lifted up bodily when the charges were fired. Due to his actions, however, much of the ammunition was saved and some of the very heavy bombs were used in raids on Italy.
On 17th November 1942, Dennis was gazetted for the George Cross, one of three awarded during the Siege of Malta. He received his GC from King George VI at Buckingham Palace a week later, on 24th November 1942. After the war, he spent some years at the Underwater Weapons Research Establishment, Portland, Dorset and took part in the Spithead review in 1953 before ending his naval career in the Admiralty. He retired from the Navy in 1957 as Lieutenant Commander, and began civilian life working for a firm of London insurance brokers, before beginning his own career as an expert in the treatment of timber. Dennis’ marriage to Olive had broken down, and he re-married to Joy Croft, and they had two children, David and Cherry.
In the early 1970s, he decided to return to his native Northamptonshire, and settled in Weekley near Kettering. This was following the breakdown of his second marriage, and he subsequently married for a third time (and the second time to) to Olive, his first wife. After Olive’s death in 1979, he married for a final time to Joan Holmes. Dennis lived out his latter years with Joan in Weekley, where he died on 8th September 1992, aged 78. He was buried in Weekley Parish Churchyard. His medal group including his GC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, War Medal 1939-45, 1953 QEII Coronation Medal and 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal are privately owned.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRIVATELY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: WEEKLEY PARISH CHURCHYARD, WEEKLEY, KETTERING.
Kevin Brazier – Image of the Copperwheat GC Grave in Weekley Parish Churchyard.
Richard Yielding – Image of Copperwheat GC at the 1968 VCGCA Reunion.