Vyvyan Vavasour Pope was born on the 30th of September 1891 the only son of James Pope and Blanche Holmwood (nee Langdale) Pope.
He was educated at Ascham St Vincent School in Eastbourne and at Lancing College where he was in Seconds House from September 1906 to December 1910. He was a member of the Football XI in 1910 and was a Sergeant in the Officer Training Corps. He was appointed as a House Captain in 1910.
On the 8th of March 1911 he was commissioned as a probationary 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion Prince of Wales’ (North Staffordshire) Regiment, Special Reserve being confirmed in that rank on the 24th of October 1911. In October 1912 he was successful in the Competitive Examination of Officers of the Special Reserve, Militia, and Territorial Forces and entered the regular army being posted to the 1st Battalion of his regiment on the 4th of December 1912.
Following the outbreak of the Great War he landed in France on the 10th of September 1914 and was promoted to Lieutenant on the 22nd of October.
On the 16th of December his battalion entered the trenches in the Rue du Bois area and they were there on Christmas Eve when Pope’s Company Sergeant Major approached him with the news that the Germans were sitting in the open on their parapet. On his own initiative he went out in to no man’s land and negotiated with a German officer to allow the burial of both sides dead at 10am the following morning. On Christmas Day both sides buried their dead and spent the rest of the day exchanging souvenirs before returning to their respective trenches. The truce continued up until New Year’s Day.
On the 12th of March 1915, at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle, Pope led a Company into action to capture and hold the hamlet of L’Epinnette and drove off a German counterattack later in the day.
For his actions that day he was awarded the Military Cross which was announced by the War Office on the 27th of March 1915 and was presented by the King later that year .
The citation read:-
“For the gallantry, skill, and dash with which he led his Company in the attack on the German position at Lepinnette (sic), on the night of the llth-12th instant.”
He was appointed as Adjutant of the Battalion on the 14th of February 1916 and was promoted to Captain on the 24th of March 1916.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for actions near Wolverghem during a gas attack on the 29th/30th of April 1916
The award was announced in the London Gazette of the 30th of May 1916 and the citation read:-
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When a party of the enemy broke
into our trench, he at once organised a counter-attack, drove them out, and, although himself wounded in two places, remained at the point of danger till all was
quiet. He then had his wounds dressed, but refused to leave his duties.”
During the action he was accidently shot in the chest by a Private of the East Surrey Regiment who mistook him for a German in the poor light. His life was saved by a cigarette case which turned the bullet.
In the summer of 1916 he took part in the Battle of the Somme during which his battalion lost 16 officers and 374 men during four weeks of fighting. In February 1917 he accepted a junior position on the Staff but, unable to stay away from action he often went to the front where he ventured into no man’s land on several occasions.
On the 7th of June 1917 he went forward with the attacking troops and on the 10th of June he was shot by a bullet which passed through his body and wounded him in the arm. Whilst waiting to return to duty he received news that both the Colonel and the second in command of his old battalion had been killed by the same shell. A few days later their successor met the same fate and Pope was promoted to Acting Lieutenant Colonel and became officer commanding the 1st Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment at the age of 25.
He led the battalion through the carnage of the Battle of Passchendaele and, thoroughly exhausted, was sent home on leave for a month in December 1917.
He was promoted to Brevet Major on the 1st of January 1918 and on his return from leave found that the battalion had a new commander. On the 5th of March 1918 he resumed command of the battalion when they were in positions to the north of St Quentin.
At 4.40am on the 21st of March 1918 the Germans launched their long awaited spring offensive. Pope was awake and despite being slightly affected by gas managed to return to his dugout and burn his papers before making his way to the front line trench. He had been told that there was another battalion which had moved up on his right but due to heavy mist Pope had seen nothing of them and at mid morning he moved off to find them himself. Through the mist he saw three figures and a glance through his field glasses revealed them to be advancing Germans. He shot and killed one with his rifle but another fired back striking him in the right elbow shattering the bone. He managed to escape and was evacuated back to Rouen where it was found that gas gangrene had set in and the arm was removed. He spent three months recovering and was attempting to get a posting back to France when the war ended.
In 1919 he was posted to Russia and was given command of a Russian Disciplinary Company made up of former prisoners from the jail in Archangel. He saw action with them and returned to the UK, rejoining his old regiment on the 30th of January 1920.
In all he was wounded three times and was mentioned in despatches five times during the Great War, one of these was in Field Marshall Haig’s despatch of the 30th of April 1916 and twice more for his service in Russia in 1919.
On the 20th of May 1920 he was seconded for service to the Tank Corps and was posted to 4th Battalion in Ireland based in Dublin. Among his duties was the collection of the battalion’s pay from a bank in the city every Friday. One afternoon he was in the bank when machine gun fire shattered the windows and he went to the door of the building to investigate. A pistol was placed to his head by a Republican but when the trigger was pulled by his assailant the weapon failed to go off. The attacker made good his escape and Pope was deeply hurt by suggestions in the papers that night that the IRA had spared his life due to his disability.
While in Ireland he was promoted to Temporary Major on the 8th of January 1921 when he took command of the 5th Armoured Car Company.
In 1922 he was transferred to the 3rd Armoured Car Company in Egypt arriving there in March. Here he gained the experience of desert operations which would serve him so well in future operations with the Desert Rats during World War Two.
He relinquished the rank of Major on the 16th of December 1922 when he left the battalion. He returned to the UK and transferred from his regiment to join the Royal Tank Corps on its formation on the 1st of September 1923. He was granted the rank of Captain in the new unit on the 22nd of August 1932 with seniority from the 24th of March 1916 and was posted to the 4th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment based at Wareham. On the 21st of January 1924 he was sent to the Staff College at Camberley where he graduated on the 21st of January 1926, and was posted to the 5th Battalion Royal Tank Corps.
At this time he married Sybil (nee Moore), of Fittleworth, Sussex who he had met while he was at Staff College and they later had a son.
In April 1926 he came straight from honeymoon to Bovington where he had been appointed as Brigade Major to the Royal Tank Corps Centre on the 16th of April. He was promoted to Major on the 1st of October 1927. On the 30th of June 1928 he joined the Staff at Southern Command as a General Staff Officer Grade 2 until the 16th of April 1930. On the 21st of December 1930 he was seconded to the War Office as a General Staff Officer Grade 2 and was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel on the 1st of January 1931. In 1933 he was sent on a course at the Imperial Defence College from which he graduated in 1934. He left the War Office on the 16th of January 1934 and rejoined his regiment on the 1st of April.
In 1935 he was transferred to India as Officer Commanding 5th Armoured Car Company and later that year, following continued Italian aggression in Abyssinia, he was posted to Egypt where he became Commanding Officer of the Royal Tank Corps and the Mobile Force there. He was granted the rank of Temporary Colonel on the 28th of December 1935 while in Egypt and relinquished that rank on the cessation of his appointment on the 29th of May 1936.
In June 1936 he returned to London and was promoted to Colonel on the 25th of June, with seniority from the 1st of January 1935, becoming a General Staff Officer Grade 1 to the War Office in the Directorate of Military Training. He was promoted to Brigadier on the 25th of March 1938 and was posted to the General Staff of 2nd Corps, Southern Command with whom he was serving on the outbreak of war in September 1939.
Pope crossed to France on the 29th of September landing at Cherbourg from where he made his way to 2nd Corps who were on the French/German border. In December 1939 he returned to the UK where he was appointed as Commander of the 3rd Armoured Brigade based in East Anglia. In April 1940 he was appointed as Inspector of Royal Armoured Corps and was Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles at the War Office.
When the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries on the 10th May 1940, Pope was recalled to France, arriving there on the 12th of May. He served at GHQ for the British Expeditionary Force in France and was promoted to Acting Major General on the 24th of June 1940. During this period he spent much time in personal reconnaissance at great personal risk and played a considerable part in the Battle of Arras. With the German advance proving irresistible Pope was ordered back to England and left France from La Panne on the 28th of May. That evening he was back at the War Office in London.
On the 5th of June he was appointed as the First Military Member of the Tank Board.
He was made CBE on the 11th of July for “distinguished services in the field” and was confirmed in the rank of Major General on the 26th of October 1940.During the Battle of Britain he was tireless in preparing the Tank Corps for the expected German invasion.
On the 25th of September 1941 he landed in Cairo where he worked for General Wavell and acted as an adviser for the Royal Armoured Corps at GHQ in the Middle East as Acting Lieutenant General and was General Officer Commanding XXX Corps. On the 5th of October 1941 he was called to the first 8th Army conference to be held by General Cunningham and he boarded a Hudson aircraft of 267 Squadron Royal Air Force for the journey, along with members of his staff. The aircraft crashed into the Mocattan Hills in Egypt, the probable cause being engine failure. Lieutenant General Pope was 50 years old.
He was laid to rest in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, Plot Ref: K161
Lewin, Ronald (1976). Man of armour: a study of Lieut-General Vyvyan Pope and the development of armoured warfare. (London: Leo Cooper)
The Lancing College War Memorial