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Lionel’s Cottage…

  • Posted on 30 Apr 2021
  • 13 min read

By Prosper Keating

Captain Lionel Queripel of the 10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross after the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944, has been commemorated in various ways over the years. The latest tribute is a maroon plaque on the wall of Corner Cottage in the hamlet of Owston, where he lived when The Tenth was stationed in High Leicestershire, just south of Melton Mowbray, from December 1943 to September 1944. 

Owner John Williams has always been very proud of the association with Queripel VC and was thrilled when the Friends of The Tenth –– who raised the money for the impressive 10th Battalion Memorial in September 2019 –– asked if they could fix the plaque to his wall. Mr Willams told them of a visit in the 1990s by Queripel VC’s younger sister and niece; emerging from the car, Queripel VC’s sister exclaimed: “Oh! It’s Lionel’s cottage!”.

In 1990, G Block at The Duke of York’s Headquarters in London was renamed Queripel House. The building was home to Battalion HQ and 4 Coy, 10 PARA (V), then commanded by Lt-Col Philip Neame, himself the son of a VC holder. Philip Neame MBE recalls: “I put it to Brigadier Bowser, the head of TAVRA (GL), that a letter of the alphabet was rather unimaginative. He challenged me to come up with a better idea, and Queripel was the obvious answer, which he approved.”.

Sold off to the private sector with other parts of the Duke of York’s HQ after the disbanding of 10 PARA (V), Queripel House is now occupied by offices but as Philip Neame remarks: “As a result of the renaming, an echo of 10 PARA at the barracks lives on. Satisfying.”. So does an echo of The Tenth, whose veterans considered 10 PARA (V) very much as the wartime Battalion’s heir. When the 10th Battalion was reformed as a Territorial Army unit in 1947, several veterans of the wartime Battalion joined, including the legendary Keith ‘Tex’ Banwell.

The Tenth was formed in Egypt in December 1942 with 144 Officers and Other Ranks from 2nd Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment as its nucleus. Many were from Sussex but there were quite a lot of Londoners and lads from the Home Counties amongst them. 2 RSR had recently given a good account of themselves at Alam el Halfa, against Rommel’s Panzers, and at the Second Battle of El Alamein in November 1942, in brutal hand-to-hand fighting against the tough paratroopers of the Italian Folgore Division. 

After training in Egypt’s Canal Zone and Palestine, The Tenth took part in the invasion of mainland Italy in September 1943, capturing the strategically vital airfield at Gioia del Colle. The 10th Battalion was withdrawn to England in December 1943. Stood to and stood down for some fifteen airborne operations during the nine months spent in High Leicestershire, The Tenth finally went back to war in September 1944. Of the 604 Officers and Other Ranks listed in 1st Airborne Division records as participating in Operation Market Garden, just thirty-seven returned to Somerby after the Battle of Arnhem. A few dozen more men hidden by Dutch civilians and resistance units returned to England as the Allies advanced over the coming months. However, The Tenth was formally removed from the Order of Battle in November 1944. Those still fit to fight were posted to other units.

Lionel Queripel was one of the seven 2 RSR officers who volunteered for parachute training. He was born in Dorset in 1920 to Colonel Leslie Queripel and his wife Sybil but grew up in Tunbridge Wells, where there is a plaque on his childhood home. However, the FoTT plaque on Corner Cottage seems closer, in a way, to the man known and loved by the paratroopers whom he commanded and for whom he risked and sacrificed his life near the Wolfheze railway crossing a few miles west of Arnhem.

The Tenth was billeted in and around the village of Somerby. The Battalion officers were expected to make personal arrangements for their lodgings or quarters away from the men. A Company, of which Captain Queripel was second-in-command, was billeted in Somerby itself. About a mile due south of Somerby, just a couple of minutes by jeep, Owston was ideal although the cottage, used as a tool store, was somewhat rustic with no toilet or running water. Having survived the English public school system and the Desert War in North Africa, Lionel Queripel would not have been too bothered about having to go off into the fields with his entrenching tool to take a dump. Nor would having to melt enough frozen water to shave during the winter of 1943-1944 have phased him.

The fresh-faced young officer whom one veteran recalled as looking “like a country parson’s son” was tougher than he looked. An accomplished rugby player and boxer, Lionel Queripel also had the kind of wild side appreciated in Parachute Regiment officers by the men they command. As a 10th Para Bn veteran recalled over a beer in Somerby in the 1980s: “When we were in Italy, he sometimes woke us up by walking through the billet firing a Bren Gun through the roof. ‘Nobody gets breakfast until that roof is back on!’, he’d shout. Everyone loved him.”. This story was further confirmed by Friends of The Tenth member Phil Spring, whose late father Albert Spring, a sergeant in The Tenth, used to tell it, along with a few other stories about Captain Queripel.

One of the earlier tributes to Queripel VC was paid by The Victor, a popular weekly comic for boys. The Courage of Captain Queripel was published in the September 22nd 1962 issue as part of the The Victor’s true story series honouring war heroes. The Queripel story was drawn by comic strip artist Peter Sutherland (1922-1977). Sutherland was best-known for his version of Alf Tupper, The Tough of the Track but also drew many of the comic’s war hero stories.

Alf Tupper was one of Sutherland’s favourite characters but Lionel Queripel would have been particularly significant to him because Sutherland was Somerby born and bred. He would have met men from A Coy, 10th Para Bn when home on leave. He might even have saluted Captain Queripel whilst walking past Somerby House, on the High Street, which housed Battalion HQ and the Officers’ Mess.

The cover featured a précis of Queripel’s VC citation: “During nine hours of confused and bitter fighting at Arnhem on September 19 1944, Captain L. E. Queripel, 1stAirborne Division, displayed the greatest gallantry. Although wounded in both arms, Captain Queripel stayed behind to cover the withdrawal of his men.”.

As Sgt Lewis Read said of Lionel Queripel VC after the war: “He was one of the finest men I was privileged to serve under, always the last officer to return to his mess. His first thought was for his men. One hears of VCs being given for impulsive bravery, but not Capt. Queripel. Anyone who knew him would have expected him to do just what he did.”.

Today, Captain Lionel Queripel VC lies in the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, which is run by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and tended by local schoolchildren.

With thanks to Lt-Col (Ret’d) Philip Neame MBE, Alec Wilson of FoTT, Grahame Warner, Ron Matthews (ex-10 PARA) and Phil Spring.

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