James Eric Riepenhausen 1912-1940


The Riepenhausen story begins when grandfather Charles Riepenhausen, a master mariner, moved from the Hanoverian area of Germany to settle in Aberdeenshire and married a local woman, Maria Preston, on 16th August 1859. Eventually, on 8th October 1877, Charles became a naturalised British subject after taking the necessary oath before a Home Office official.

It isn’t difficult to imagine the problems which the couple may have had to contend with at the time but Charles continued to carve out his career as a ship’s master and it would appear that he became a respected member of the local community.

Their son James who also trained to become a master mariner met and married Helen Mollinson and they had two children, James and Constance. James continued as a ship’s master, spending time at sea but of course in 1914 war was declared between Britain and Germany.

The reality of the matter was that James, born and brought up in the UK was fully British and his only links to the German empire dated back some 37 years at which time his father had given up his nationality and chosen to become a British citizen. Protocol did not readily accept this however and there were considerable difficulties when James was not given confidential information and instructions relating to his work which was undoubtedly of vital importance to the well being of Britain.

Hansard records questions in Parliament on James’ behalf with the only reasons offered for the non provision of vital information to him being his father’s origins and the inflexibility of Government policy. Thankfully, this was eventually overcome and James continued to do service for Britain.

By now the family had moved to Birkenhead and they lived at 48 Tollemache Road and it was at this address that James senior died in October 1924 aged just 53 leaving his wife Helen with 2 young children.

It was James junior’s decision to join the RAF at the outbreak of World War 2 and having trained as a pilot officer, he was stationed at Abingdon, Oxfordshire undertaking night flying training with fellow officers when around 11 pm on 11th October 1940, the Armstrong Whitworth craft in which he, together with five others was training, crashed close to the aerodrome. Investigations revealed that part of the fabric covering on the craft had stripped leaving the plane unstable. All six men on board were killed and James was brought to Flaybrick to rest with his father.

A fellow officer, wireless operator Frederick Phoenix, who perished in the same crash, was also buried on the same day in grave CE10/304A; his grave is literally across from that of James on the other side of the footpath and is marked with a CWGC headstone.