Roberts, William

William Roberts was born in the December quarter of 1913, his birth registered at Hawarden, Flintshire., (Hawarden Vol. 11b Page 373), the first son of Joseph Gibbon & Annie Roberts (nee Stevenson), who had married at Hope Parish Church in 1911, 6 days after the 1911 census, on the 8th April 1911.    Joseph Gibbon Roberts was 31, a bachelor and a Labourer, his address was Hope and his father was Joseph Roberts, Labourer.   Annie Stevenson was also 31 and a spinster, her address was S. James, Wrexham, her father, Simon Stevenson, was a Farmer.   Their witnesses were William F. Maddock and Mary Roberts.

The 1911 census shows Joseph living at Hope Village, Nr. Mold, Flintshire, living with his widowed mother Sarah Roberts, age 67 and  his sister Mary Roberts, age 33,  single and an Elementary School Teacher.   Joseph Roberts was 31, single and a Labourer at the Brewery.   All had been born in Hope, Flintshire.

Annie Stevenson, before her marriage, on the 1911 census, was living at 36, Cunliffe Street, Wrexham, Denbighshire, in the household of Samuel JONES, his wife Jane and daughter Elsie Carrie JONES, and boarder Henry T. JOHNSTON.   Annie STEVENSON, described as “Help”, age 31, Single and  “General Domestic”, born Baslow.

By the 1921 census, taken on the 19th June, 1921, the family were living at Church House, Cymau*, Wrexham.   This gives us the first snap-shot of the family.    Joseph G. Roberts was 41, married and a Miner, his wife, Annie Roberts, was also 41 and doing “Home Duties.”   Mona Roberts, their daughter, was 9 years, 8 months old, their son, Willie Roberts was 7 years, 8 months old and both were at school “Whole Time.”  They had all been born in Hope Parish.   Joseph Harold, their youngest child was 1 month old and had been born in the Parish of LLaffynydd.

* – Cymau

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – Cymau is a small village situated in the community of Llanfynydd, Flintshire on the edge of the mountains of north-east Wales.[1][2] Its name is derived from the Welsh word cymau, an old form of the plural for cwm, “valley” or “hollow”.

The village is located on the side of Hope Mountain, a land feature that can be seen for miles around. Neighbouring villages include Ffrith to the west and Brymbo to the south. The nearest towns are Wrexham to the south-east and Mold towards the north-west.

By the 1939 National Register, which was taken on the 29th September 1939, they were living at 9 Hawarden Road, Hope, Caer Estyn, Hawarden R.D., Flintshire, Wales.   This source gives us the dates of birth – Joseph Roberts had been born on the 6th June 1879 and was a Grave Digger, his wife Annie Roberts, had been born on the 18th February 1880 and as most women on this Register who did not have a job, was described as doing “Household Duties.”   William Roberts, had been born on the 14th September 1913 and was a Builder’s Labourer.   Harold Roberts, born on the 26th March 1921 was a Joiner’s Apprentice.   There is a redacted or Closed Record, but I don’t know who that was.*

* For individual people, records remain closed for a century after their birth (the 100-year rule), unless it can be proven that they passed away before this milestone.

William enlisted, according to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Enlistment Registers – 1920-1946 Book 25, on the 13th June 1940.   He then found himself in the midst of the war, the websites below may help give a flavour of what he went through:-

Second World War; Regular Army

The regiment was awarded 27 battle honours for World War II, with more than 1,200 fusiliers killed in action or died of wounds.[63]

Men of the 1st Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers celebrate St David’s Day, 1 March 1940

During the Second World War, the 1st Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers was a Regular Army unit and part of the 6th Infantry Brigade, assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division. It served in France in 1940 with the British Expeditionary Force.[64] The battalion fought in the short but fierce battles of France and Belgium and was forced to retreat and be evacuated during the Dunkirk evacuation. After two years spent in the United Kingdom, waiting and preparing for the invasion that never came (Operation Sea Lion), the 1st RWF and the rest of 2nd Division were sent to British India to fight the Imperial Japanese Army after a string of defeats inflicted upon the British and Indian troops. The battalion was involved in the Burma Campaign, particularly the Battle of Kohima, nicknamed Stalingrad of the East due to the ferocity of fighting on both sides, that helped to turn the tide of the campaign in the South East Asian theatre.[65]

THE BRITISH ARMY IN BURMA 1944 – Photographs

Troops at a Christmas dinner in Burma, 18 December 1944.

The 1st Battalion fought in North West Europe in 1940. Overwhelmed by the Germans, and with their Commanding Officer killed, three officers and eighty men were evacuated from Dunkirk. The Battalion had suffered 759 casualties. Meanwhile, a commando company, with a significant number of Royal Welchmen, participated in the Norway campaign in May 1940.

In 1942 the 2nd Battalion took part in the capture of the naval base in Madagascar from the Vichy French. In early 1943 it moved to India, thus joining the 1st Battalion which had arrived in the previous year. The latter first saw action against the Japanese at Donbaik in Burma in March 1943. In a battle which, according to General Slim, should never have been fought, he said that “….The last and final assault… was led by the Royal Welch Fusiliers and on that day they showed valour which I think has rarely been surpassed…”. The Battalion casualties amounted to thirteen officers and 149 other ranks. It returned to India but in April and May 1944 it fought in the bloody battle for the relief of Kohima, in Assam. It went on to Burma when it was engaged until the end of the war.

The 2nd Battalion operated in North Arakan during the first half of 1944 and the 1st Battalion went to Northern Burma where it was engaged in clearing the ‘Railway Corridor’.

The Regiment’s casualties during the war included over 1,200 killed. In addition to the two Regular, three Territorial and one Parachute battalion, there were five Home Service and twenty-six Home Guard battalions, all of which bore the Regiment’s name and wore the Flash.

 The Battle of Kohima – Last updated: 24 November 2005

 Harold Jones from Welshpool saw his first action against the Japanese in 1943. He went on to fight in the Battle of Kohima, one of the most violent struggles of the war in Burma.

Excerpt from the above, many thanks to Harold Jones, who gives us an insight what the conditions were like that William had to endure:-

“In March 1943, we landed up at a place called Donbaik and that was our first official experience of fighting the Japanese.  Sadly to say, the 1st Batallion was cut up rather bad. I think there were about 130 casualties of killed, wounded and missing men. Anyway, I got through that alright and we were brought out. 

The Japanese got behind us and we had to fight our way out along the coast. Eventually, we got back to where we started from – a place called Maungdaw. Then we were pulled out of Burma and we went into jungle training in central India – a place called Belgaum – and we were training there for a few months. In 1944, the Japanese had broken through over the Chindin in Burma and were approaching the towns of Imphal and Kohima. 

About 13 miles away was the supply depot of Dimapur which was a huge supply depot for that area and the Japanese were trying to get it for supplies. We went by train, the Royal Welsh. We were part of the 6th brigade, 2nd division and we arrived up at Dimapur in April ’44.

Then we went on up to Kohima. By then, the Japanese were at the bottom end of Kohima (the Dimapur side) and after a few skirmishes, we eventually got to Kohima. I was there about 10 days. It was a terrible place. 

When we first got off, we were taken by Bren Gun carriers.  We jumped off the Bren Gun Carriers and ran up this hill which was rather steep. The shells and bullets were flying everywhere. I got down behind a chap there and it was only after about five minutes that I realised it was a dead Japanese with a notice on him saying, ‘don’t touch it’s a booby trap’. They used to plant grenades like that and if you moved him, up you’d go.

Anyway, we fought our way up. We were on a hill called Garrison Hill but the battle of Kohima took place on a lot of features, small hills and there were such places as Kukis Piquet, Garrison Hill, Summerhouse Hill and different places like that. 

On the night of May 2nd, the Indian Airforce came over to strap the Japanese positions and we were that close to one another, that they strapped the British instead and I was wounded by the aircraft. Looking back, I was fortunate because I went out the following day and the chap who took my place – a chap from Blackburn – he was killed and it could well have been me. 

The night I was wounded, they put me in a trench on my own and, of course, my arm was in a sling. I was rather incapacitated but the Japanese broke into our area and it was the worst night I ever spent because I had no arms and no way to defend myself. Fortunately, they never came near me and our chaps did drive them out eventually. 

William is mentioned in the Casualty List (Page 2) as being Killed in Action on the 5th May 1944, he was one of 6 soldiers, listed on that particular Casualty List, who died that day from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.  His body was never found, so he is remembered on the Rangoon Memorial.

The Chester Chronicle dated the 3rd June 1944 tells us that the family had received news that William had been killed in Burma and that he had been in the forces for 4 years, which fits with the Royal Welsh Enlistment Register.

Sadly William’s father Joseph Gibbon Roberts died the 7th January 1946, nearly two years after William was killed.   I do hope that he was still alive when the WW2 Plaques were unveiled in St Cynfarch’s Church, Hope.   It would have been a comfort to him and William’s family.

Back to top