I think we can now say with confidence that we have found Ernie Roper! Ernie was first mentioned by Tom in his diary of his journey home from a three-year spell on the Indian sub-continent on board the Orient Line troopship SS Orontes early in 1945.
Towards the end of February that year, after several days in Port Said because of a smallpox case on board, the ship set sail again and Tom records that he met up with another Whitby man, Ernie Roper with whom he had been friends before the war. From then on he and Ernie regularly met up in “Ernie’s cabin” for a chinwag and a beer or two. The pair last got together on board on March 11th for a game of darts before the Orontes docked at Liverpool.
There was no clue as to who Ernie was because so far this was the first mention of him in Tom’s wartime diaries yet their relationship was far from casual. His daughter Jill believes a relative of Ernie’s was a bridesmaid at Tom’s marriage to Mabel in Whitby back in 1938 so it seems unlikely he was anywhere near Tom in India. Surely, they would have got together there if that had been the case.
There is specific mention that he had a cabin so was he a member of the crew of the Orontes? If he wasn’t then he must have been among the hundreds of men who were being repatriated.
Thanks to facebook friends and some extra research, it now seems that Ernie was in fact Mr E.W.Roper a Whitby hairdresser and one time publican who was born in the town in 1904, son of Ernest Roper Senior and his wife Mary Anne. According to the 1911 census (when Ernest’s second name wasn’t recorded) he had two sisters, Doris Mary who was born in 1901 and Adelina born six years later. The family lived in Ward’s Yard, off Baxtergate.
Ernie was married at St Hilda’s Church, Whitby, in November 1931 to Ana Cornforth and the bridesmaids were his two sisters, Doris Mary and Adeline who by then was known simply as Lena. Ernie was living on Golden Lion Bank and according to Mark Edwards his name is on the deeds of 3 Golden Lion Bank, which Mr Edward ran as the Choc Box from 1987 to 2004 and several of Mr Edwards’ customers remembered Ernie being there.
“Apparently he did hair at the back of the shop and his wife sold sweets at the front,” says Mr Edwards.
This matches a recollection by Tom’s daughter, Jill, that when she was tiny they used to visit the Ropers at a house which had a view of the harbour, and is confirmed by a small scrap of lined paper she has now found in Tom’s papers. The only words on it were 3 Golden Lion Bank.
In 1932 Ana gave birth to the couple’s daughter Joan and later had a son.
It becomes clear that Ernie Roper and E.W.Roper are the same person because in June 1939 in a report of the wedding of Ernie’s sister Doris Mary, at St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Church, Whitby, it says the bride was “given away by her brother Mr E.W.Roper”
The same year a pre-war emergency census records an Ernest Roper (born 17.01.1904, no middle initial) at 1 Skinner St, a master hairdresser, ARP warden Whitby. Also listed is his wife Ana (born 15.06.1910). For reasons unknown there is a redacted entry, suggesting someone else living at the address – perhaps daughter Joan.
So far we still haven’t solved the mystery of why Ernie was aboard SS Orontes. Obviously he must have joined the forces, or been conscripted or was a member of the ship’s crew.
At some stage Ernie must have moved his business to Flowergate because in 1950 a notice appeared in the Whitby Gazette advising readers that Mr E.W.Roper, Gentlemen’s Hairdresser, had disposed of his business at 3 Flowergate to Mr G.Garnett.
The Roper family appear again in the pages of the Whitby Gazette in December 1954 when Mrs Ana Roper gave evidence in a fraud trial at Whitby Court – it seems she was running a guest house at number 16 Crescent Avenue, and a man had stayed without paying his bill. There was a further reference in 1958 when the licence of the Granby Hotel, in Skinner Street, Whitby, was transferred to a Mr E.W.Roper.
Sadly, Ernie died when still in harness at the Granby in 1962 aged 58. (His age matches the birth date, 1904, of plain Ernest). He left a wife Ana and two children Joan and Peter. Perhaps Joan and Peter, or their families are still around and can shed more light on Ernie’s war years.
If you are related to Ernie or can provide any more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org