Between October 21 and 25, 1914, William James Roberts (1889-1914) was killed in a shell attack in the first year of the Great War.
Just a day after arriving in Belgium in August 1914 with the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, William, a sergeant, found himself caught up in the Great Mons Retreat, marching more than 200 miles in 13 days to escape a rampaging German army after their first encounter with the British Expeditionary Force in the opening battle of the war.
He fought in the gruelling Battles of Marne and Aisne, experiencing hand-to-hand combat and the dawn of brutal trench warfare.
Of all the horrors he faced from day to day, perhaps the most difficult for him to withstand was the seemingly constant threat from and noise of field and siege artillery in action on the battlefields.
The deep boom of the shells being fired, the shriek of them moving through the air and the loud explosions resulting from them bursting over ‘vast areas of struggle’, created an ‘incessant and deafening roar’, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Ross of Bladensburg said in his book The Coldstream Guards 1914-1918.
‘The large high explosive shells striking the earth scattered death around them and excavated huge craters some 15ft to 20ft wide by 10ft deep. Never before had war been so awe-inspiring, never had weapons been so destructive. It was a veritable pandemonium upon earth, as if hell had been let loose among men. But our troops took it all with calm and stoical indifference,’ he wrote.
William had been on the Western Front for just over 70 days when he was killed by a shell in October 1914 in the First Battle of Ypres (in which more than 50,000 British soldiers were killed, wounded or listed as ‘missing’).
Fighting with his battalion in the Flanders village of Langemarck at the time of his death, his body was never found. He was just 25.
Official records state that William was killed on October 25 1914.
However, it is believed he was among dozens of soldiers reported ‘missing in action’ between October 21 and 24 and that his death was only recorded on the 25th when his battalion left the battlefield at Langemarck to move to the village of Zillebeke, near Ypres.
William is remembered on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, on Panel 11. He is one of 24 men who died in the Great War commemorated on the War Memorial at Morchard Bishop. He is also remembered on the headstone on his parents’ grave in Morchard Bishop Churchyard.
William was the son of Mark Roberts (1861-1938) and Ellen Augusta Rowe (1865-1946). Mark was the son of James Roberts (1832-1898), a brother of John Roberts (1829- 1919), my great-great grandfather who had 30 grandsons serving in the Great War.
Born on August 14, 1889 at Westway Mill, Thelbridge, William lived as a child at Little Edgeworthy Cottage, Cruwys Morchard and later at Mount Pleasant, Templeton.
How William is remembered on Morchard Bishop War Memorial.