On this day in 1915, John ‘Jack’ Roberts (1894-1915) died of wounds sustained in or after the Battle of Aubers Ridge in France in the Great War.
Jack, a private in the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, was among thousands of British troops taking part in the battle, which got under way at 5am on May 9, 1915.
The Artillery bombarded the German front line and barbed wire entanglements bordering No Man’s Land for 40 minutes.
But the pounding proved far from devastating.
For when the main assault started, infantrymen came under heavy machine gun fire and many soldiers were killed or wounded as soon as they went ‘over the top’ from front line trenches.
Hundreds of men were slaughtered by German marksmen as they ran into No Man’s Land or became trapped on barbed wire that was still intact despite being hit by a wave of shrapnel bombs in the bombardment.
When Jack and the 2nd Devons were ordered to advance, they came under unrelenting attack.
Eight of their officers and more than 200 men of other ranks were killed or wounded while moving forward from assembly to first line trenches.
The huge number of British casualties, the lack of support for soldiers reaching the German front line and a paucity of fire power to counter the enemy artillery, led to the attack being stopped and ultimately abandoned within 24 hours.
It took three days to remove the wounded from the battlefield to casualty clearing stations before many were then transferred to the large Army base hospital at Boulogne.
It is believed that Jack was among those seriously hurt on May 9 or the early hours of May 10.
He lost his fight for life at No 13 General Hospital (Boulogne) on May 30, 1915, two days before his 21st birthday.
He had been in France for just 111 days.
His death was reported in The Western Times on Monday, June 14, 1915.
The words ‘died of wounds – Roberts, Pte J. 11889’ appeared under the heading ‘latest list of casualties in county regiment’.
Jack – who joined the Devonshire Regiment on the same day as his brother, Sidney, arrived in France on February 9, 1915.
Just a month later, he fought in the three-day Battle of Neuve Chapelle in which the 2nd Devons suffered almost 300 casualties.
Jack was buried at Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.
He is also remembered on Cruwys Morchard War Memorial, which honours eight men from the parish who died during the Great War.
Jack was the son of Samuel Roberts (1864-1933) and Maria Morrish (1871-). Samuel was the seventh son of John Roberts (1829-1919), my great-great grandfather, who had 30 grandsons serving in the Great War.
Born on June 1, 1894 in Witheridge, Jack lived with his parents at Edbury Farm, on the boundaries of Pennymoor and Poughill, in 1901. Ten years later, he was working as a cattle boy at Lower Ford Farm, Cullompton.
Jack’s grave at Boulogne Eastern Cemetery. Picture by The War Graves Photographic Project.