On this day in 1917, Sidney Roberts (1889-1917) died of wounds sustained in action in the Third Battle of Ypres in the Great War.
Sidney, a rifleman in the Queen’s Westminster Rifles, fought in a place likened to ‘hell on earth’.
The landscape, a grey, battle-scarred wilderness, could not have been more desolate.
A once green and lush environment had been reduced to an apocalyptic scene dominated by shell craters, muddy ground and vast, foul-smelling muddy pools.
There was hardly a blade of grass growing anywhere.
Artillery barrages had turned thousands of trees in woodlands into blackened, lifeless splintered trunks and stumps.
There was a terrible stench that never seemed to go away – the pervasive smell of death and the whiff of high explosives, gas and stagnant water.
On August 16, 1917, Sidney fought in the Battle of Langemarck – part of the Third Ypres offensive – in the blackened remains of woodlands near Ypres.
His battalion suffered 160 casualties in the battle. One officer and 28 NCOs and men were killed and another officer died of wounds.
Four officers and 109 NCOs and men were wounded and many others were reported as missing.
Sidney died of wounds the following day – on August 17, 1917. It is not known whether he was wounded on the battlefield or in a tunnel under the Menin Road. He was 28.
Sidney was buried at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery (No 3), four miles from Ypres (now known by the Flemish name of Ieper).
He is one of 975 soldiers interred there, 852 of them British.
He is remembered on two war memorials – at the village of Oakford in Devon and at nearby Dulverton in Somerset.
He was one of three brothers who fought in the Great War.
Sidney enlisted in the Army in Tiverton, initially serving in the 2/5th (Territorial) Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment. He joined the 1/16th County of London Battalion (the Queen’s Westminster Rifles) in 1916, when he was 27.
Sidney was the son of Charles Roberts (1863-1902) and Eliza Ellen Bryant (1861-1938). Charles was the sixth son of John Roberts (1829-1919), my great-great grandfather who had 30 grandsons serving in the Great War.
Born on February 24, 1889 at Down Cottage, Cruwys Morchard, Sidney attended Cruwys Morchard School and in 1901 he was living with his family at Slade Farm in Washfield, Devon, where his father was employed as a dairyman. In 1911, aged 21 and single, Sidney was working as a groom at the George Hotel in Broad Street, South Molton, which was owned by Somerset-born Hamlet Beater Rather.
Sidney’s grave at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery (No 3) in Belgium. Picture by The War Graves Photographic Project.