Roberts, John Tydwal

John Tydwal Roberts was born in New Tredegar, Monmouthshire in 1895. His father, the Reverend Ellis Maelor Roberts, was the minister in the town’s Welsh Congregational Chapel.

Ellis was a native of Flintshire having been born in Hope in 1865. By the time he was twenty five he was already a congregational minister. His ministry was in St Asaph where he boarded with the Wynne family in Bronwylfa Square. In the summer of 1894 he married Anne Roberts who was originally from Cwm near Dyserth. They were both twenty eight.

Chapel ministers are required to change their location every few years so, soon after they were married, Ellis and Anne went to New Tredegar in Monmouthshire. It was here that they started their family; first John Tydwal in 1895 shortly followed by his brother, Ellis. Around this time their father’s ministry in New Tredegar came to an end and the family moved to Llandovery in Camarthenshire. It was here in about 1900 that a third son, Thomas, was born.

The National Library of Wales holds a document, an illuminated address in Welsh, presented by members of the Welsh Congregational Chapel at New Tredegar, to the Reverend Ellis Maelor Roberts, on his departure from the church in 1897.

The 1901 census shows Ellis and Anne – both 36 – living in Noyadd, Llanfair ar y Bryn, Llandovery, Camarthenshire. It would seem that their little boys – 5, 3and 1 years old – could only speak Welsh whereas the parents were bilingual. The census also shows they had a 13 year old servant – a local girl called Adeline Jones.

A tragedy then befell the family because in 1903 Ellis died. Thirty seven year old Anne – now a widow – was expecting a baby. She gave birth to another son sometime in 1904. He was born in Pentretygwyn, Camarthenshire and she named him after his father, William Maelor.

By 1911 Anne had moved back to Dyserth. Perhaps she needed the support of family as life must have been difficult for a young widow with four children. She was living in Llys Iorweth with John Tydwal – now 15 – and seven year old Willie Maelor. I have not been able to trace the other two children.

In 1915 John enlisted in Coventry and joined the Motor Machine Gun Service (MMGS) which was originally administered by the Royal Artillery. Later it became the Machine Gun Corps ( Motors). John was a gunner and rose to the rank of corporal. I was puzzled by the fact that he had enlisted in Coventry. The reason could be that men were found from volunteers or by special enlistment of men known to be actively interested in motorcycles (such as cycle club members). The Coventry offices of the enthusiasts’ magazine “Motor Cycle” was listed as a recruiting office for the MMGS.

Motor cycle despatch riders and armoured cars were used from the earliest days of the war. When the Army went to war in 1914 both the infantry battalions and cavalry regiments had a machine gun section of only two guns each. This was added to in November 1914 by the formation of the Motor Machine Gun Service consisting of motor cycle mounted machine gun batteries.

After a year on the Western Front it was apparent that to be fully effective, machine guns must be used in larger units and operated by specially trained men. Thus the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) was authorized in October 1915 with infantry, cavalry, motor and in early 1916, a heavy branch.

The Infantry Branch was by far the largest and initially formed by the battalion machine gun sections transferring to the MGC, and grouping into Brigade Machine Gun Companies. Further companies were raised as the war progressed.

The Cavalry Branch consisted of Brigade Machine Gun Squadrons.

The Motors Branch – in which John served – after absorbing the MMGS formed several types of units i.e. motor cycle batteries, light armoured motor batteries (LAMB) and light car patrols. A battery included 18 cycle/sidecar combinations, carrying 6 Vickers machine guns with ammunition and spare equipment; 8 motorcycles without sidecars; 2 or 3 wagons or cars; and a sidecar combination for the officer commanding. The troops wore a uniform with leather gaiters in place of puttees, and with goggles, gauntlets and weatherproof garments for use while riding. As well as motor cycles other vehicles used included Rolls Royce and Model T Ford cars. In 1915 there were about 3000 men.

The Heavy Section was formed in March 1916, becoming the Heavy Branch in November of that year. Men of this branch crewed the first tanks in action at Flers, during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916. In July 1917 the Heavy Branch separated from the MGC to become the Tank Corps. In its short history the MGC gained an enviable record as a front line fighting force, seeing action in all the main theatres of war. At the end of hostilities the MGC was again re-organised in a smaller form as many of its soldiers returned to civilian life. However, the Corps continued to see active service in the post war campaigns of Russia, India and Afghanistan until being disbanded in 1922 as a cost cutting measure.


By January 1918 the 15th Battery of the MGC was with 1st (Peshawar) Division of the Indian Army in India. This was a Regular Division of the British Indian Army and it was formed after the Kitchener reforms of the Indian Army in 1903. During World War 1 it remained in India for local defence but it was mobilised for action on the North West Frontier on several occasions during the war.

The Division was in the Northern Army, later called Northern Command. In 1919, the Division was mobilised for operations in Afghanistan during the Third Afghan War. Typical of all Indian Army formations, it contained a mixture of British and Indian units and unlike British Divisions it contained a mixture of cavalry and infantry components (Wikipedia)

John Tydwal Roberts saw action on the Somme, in North West India and Afghanistan which culminated in his death on the 1st of June 1919 at the Khyber Pass. He would have been 24 years old. He was buried in India in the Peshawar Left British Cemetery and his name is on the Delhi Memorial.

For his mother and brothers this was yet another loss for them to bear. The Register of Soldier’s Effects shows that between his wages and the War Gratuity John left £102/15/1 (one hundred and two pounds, fifteen shillings and one penny) which was paid to his mother. As well as the British War Medal and Victory Medal he was awarded the India General Service Medal and Afghanistan, North West Frontier 1919 Clasp. Like his contemporaries he would not have known this as the medals were awarded posthumously.

Some 170,500 officers and men served in the MGC with 62,049 becoming casualties including 12,498 being killed. ( all information regarding the MGC is from the Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades Association website)

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