Thomas (Tom) Henry Roberts was born on 14th September, 1877 at Gwern-y-Glyn, Leeswood, N Mold and baptised on 12th November, 1877 at Pontblyddyn Parish Church. He was the fourth of seven children to Peter Roberts and Annie (Roberts).
Peter was born in Mold and Annie in Bodfari and they were married on 7th July, 1872 at the Ebenezer Chapel, Northop. Peter was a blacksmith at an ironworks and Annie was described on the marriage certificate as a House Steward’s daughter.
Tom attended the VP School in Leeswood from 29th September, 1880 until 5th February, 1881 and the family at this time were residing at No 3, Gwern y Glyn, Leeswood. By the 1891 census they had moved to 42, Feathers Street, Flint, and Peter was described as a retired blacksmith.
His mother, Annie, died on 23rd November, 1897, aged 56, at New Western Terrace, Oakenholt and was buried in the Northop Road, Cemetery.
On 4th February, 1901 Tom enlisted with the Flintshire Territorials in Wrexham giving his age as 20 years and 4 months when he was actually 23 years and 4 months. His occupation was a platelayer.
He served in the South African Campaign (Boer War 1899-1902) with the “E” Company, 2nd Volunteer Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers from 20th February, 1901 until 30th May, 1902, and was demobbed on 28th June, 1902. His name is commemorated on the South African War Obelisk in Flint Town.
On his return he gained employment at the Hawarden Bridge Ironworks where he worked in the closing and healing department.
Tom married Ada Ellis on the 20th July, 1903 at St John’s Parish Church, Chester. She was the daughter of Thomas and Margaret Ellis of 4, Duke Street, Flint. Tom and Ada lived at 46, Mumforth Street and were to have five children.
He re-enlisted in the Army at Wrexham on the 1st September, 1914 giving his age as 33 exactly when he was in fact almost 37. He was 5ft 5 ½ ins, weighed 134 lbs, chest 37 ins, fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He stated he had previously served with the 5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers for seven years.
He was posted to France on 11th November, 1914 and while there he sent numerous letters home of which the following, and other stories about him, were published by the County Herald and Flintshire Observer and have been edited by the author.
On Christmas Eve and New Years Eve of 1914 Tom wrote letters to his wife and family. He forwarded the King’s and Queen’s Christmas Cards, which bore the photographs of their Majesty’s, and on the back of the card was inscribed “With our best wishes for Christmas, 1914. May God protect you and bring you home safe. Mary R., George R. I.” He also sent home the Christmas Card he received from “Lady Rawlinson and the friends of the 4th Corps;” and the card conveying the “New year’s Greetings” from Coombe Hill, Barton. On the Christmas Eve he stated he was writing his letter whilst he was in the trenches, and his hands were very cold. He stated that he had not received a parcel which was said to have been sent to him from Flint; but he also stated that he was going to hang his stocking up that night, and he would “like to find the Kaiser in it in the morning.” Two comrades named Frank Thomas and Charlie Williams were with him in the trenches. Writing on New Years Eve he stated that he had still not received the Christmas parcel which was said to have been sent him from home. Speaking of enjoying Christmas, he says, “God help everybody if they didn’t have a better Christmas than us, up to our knees in water; and it is now freezing hard. I don’t know if I have any feet or not.” They were supplied with cigarettes, but they would like a few chocolates and “black lumps” to chew at night. He concludes this letter with the words, “If you saw us now you would not know us. We are like a lot of polar bears.”
He forwarded to his brother Mr Wm Roberts of 5, Marsh Lane, Flint, a stirring letter under date of February 23rd 1915 stating:- “It gives me great pleasure in writing you these few lines, hoping they will find you all at home in good health, as it leaves me at present in the pink. You must excuse me for keeping you so long without my writing. As you know, we are not home out here, and it takes me all my time to write home. Some people carry the idea that we can write any time, but it is not very pleasant writing when we are up to out neck in mud and water, week after week. We have a short time out of the trenches, and then we take the opportunity of dropping a few lines to our dear ones at home. I have been under fire since the first day I came out here, and have not jibbed at anything yet. Last week we had a hell of a fight, and came out top-dogs as usual. You can be proud to have a brother who has fought in two wars, not by force work, but by his own free will, and if I have the luck to come out of this lot I will fight again for my home and country. Well, I don’t think I have any more to tell you this time, so I must draw to a close, hoping to be home soon.”
A week later William received another letter from Tom stating he was writing in the trenches amidst the roaring of the guns to which they were getting quite accustomed. He says that from the 7th Division they got bad news, because when they undertook to do anything it was never left until it was well finished. The 7th Division had got a good name. In one engagement the Germans must have thought they had got a lot of young hands on the job to deal with, and they kept up a heavy fire all night, but by morning they slackened down. No doubt by now the Germans knew that they had got the right stuff in front of them.
Tom, writing under date of March 17th, to his wife and family stated:- “We have been in action for the last ten days; and no doubt you have seen it in the papers that we have been engaged in the general advance all along the line. All the Flint boys are all right so far, that is in the 1st Battalion, but I don’t know about the 2nd Battalion, as we are not near them. I can’t tell you how we felt during the bombardment. The earth was shaking under us. We had 300 big guns playing on the Germans for 24 hours without a stop. Our men advanced into the German trenches, after heavy fighting, and captured them, finding them full of dead and wounded.”
And on March 24th William received a brief letter from Tom. The letter was dated the 19th instant, and he stated:- “As you will see by the papers, we have been engaged in the big battle, and I think it has been the biggest advance made in the country so far; but we mean to make it bigger yet. The bombardment started on March 10th at 7.30 a.m., and the earth was shaking under us. Our troops advanced, and, taking the Germans by surprise, captured the trenches, taking many prisoners. The Germans lost heavily, and they didn’t seem to know what was coming off. They know that they are completely beaten, and I think most of them would surrender if they had their own way. I am very glad to tell you that all the Flint men in the 1st Battalion are all right so far, thank God; but I cannot tell you anything about the men in the 2nd Battalion, as we are a long way from them. I couldn’t tell you all if I were writing for a week.”
Another letter from Tom to William was received on April 7th. The Corporal has already witnessed a great deal of the fighting, and his date of writing was April 3rd. The letter was stamped by the Field Post Office on the 5th instant. He states that he has seen in the papers there was a lot of “striking” going on in the old country; and the people who went on strike in time of war ought to be sent out to the war, and allow the soldiers to return home to take up the strikers’ places. People who went on strike in a time like this were in a sense helping the enemy to beat us, and they deserved to be shot. Continuing, he said:- “Things are a little quiet out here these last few days, but as the old saying is, calm before the storm; and I believe there is a big move coming on which I think will bring things to a close, and I hope to be home by Whit.”
The Corporal sent his brother a printed copy of the notice issued by Lieutenant General H Rawlinson, Commanding 4th Corps, from the Headquarters of the Corps early in March, stating that the attack which was about to be undertaken was of the first importance to the Allies’ cause; and the Army and the nation were watching the result; and that Sir John French was confident that every individual in the 4th Corps would do his duty and inflict a crushing defeat on the German 7th Corps which was opposed to them. He also enclosed in the letter the printed extract from the 4th Corps Orders dated March 14th, by Lieutenant General Sir H Rawlinson. It refers to the brilliant success which the troops of the 4th Corps had achieved in the capture of Neuve Chapelle and which was of the first importance to the Allied cause, especially at that period of the war. The heroism and gallantry of the regimental officers and men, and the assistance afforded them by the artillery units, was deserving of the highest praise; and the Corps Commander desired to congratulate them on the severe defeat they had inflicted on the enemy, whose losses amounted to not less than 4,000 men in killed and prisoners alone. The magnificent behaviour of the infantry units was deserving of the highest commendation, and in deploring the loss of those gallant comrades who had given their lives for their King and country, Sir Henry Rawlinson hoped that all officers and men fully realized that what they had accomplished, in breaking through the German line, was an achievement of which they should all feel justly proud.
Tom, writing from the trenches under date April 18th, stated:- “We are now in Flanders, and we have just come out of the trenches for a short time. We have been in a place only 80 yards from the Germans. We could hear them speaking quite plainly, and some of them speak very good English. We didn’t lose many in the trenches this time; but I am sure the Germans must have lost heavily. I am very sorry to tell you that we have lost one of our officers and he comes from Hawarden.- Mr Gladstone, the young squire. He has not been out here long, and I think it was the first time for him to be in the trenches; but I suppose it is what is to be will be. Our motto here is, “Keep your pecker up and your napper down.”…….. I have not much news to tell you this time, only that we are looking forward for peace, as I believe the Kaiser has offered some terms of peace; but we are not letting him have his own way.”
Tom was killed in action on the 16th May, 1915 at the battle of Festubert, along with fellow Flint soldiers Private Thomas Ferguson and Lance Corporal Charles Videon Williams.
A letter conveying the news of the death of Corporal Tom Roberts was received by Mr Williams, of Oakenholt Post office, from Private John Jones, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Private Jones wrote :- “I am sorry to inform you of the news that Tom Roberts has been killed in action, and Sergt. Jones, Sidney Street, Flint was wounded on the same day.”
Sergeant Jones was a postman on the Flint Mountain, stationed at Flint, and being a reservist, was called to the colours at the commencement of the war. “We lost” (Private Jones proceeds) “a great many men, but the victory was great. We lost the greater part of our officers. The General said afterwards on parade that the 7th Division broke through with great success, and he said the gallant Royal Welsh Fusiliers charged the trenches like one man, with severe loss, but great victory.” He speaks of the horrible sights on the battlefield, and continues: “The enemy, as a nation, are a barbarous lot. I thought there was only a certain class of them inhuman, but they are all tied to the same stick. We captured hundreds of prisoners. They looked scanty, poorly clad, and war worn.” Private Jones adds that the weather was very warm and quite a treat. He continued “We made a gallant charge last Sunday, and took three lines of trenches. You should have seen the Germans running away. They put the white flag up, and as soon as we got close to them they started shooting us down. Well, that drove us mad, and we were all thinking of the Lusitania at the same time. Thank God I came through safe, for bullets were whizzing past my ears and the big guns were roaring.” He adds that he does not know where Corporal Tom Roberts or Charlie Williams are, but he was told they were killed. “I am the only one left of the four of us that came out. Every regiment out here gives the 1st RWF a grand name for the way we charged.”
On the morning of Wednesday June 2nd information was received from the War Office to the effect that Corporal Tom Roberts had been killed in action on 16th May accompanied by a Royal message of sympathy as follows:-
“The King commands me to assure you of the true sympathy of His Majesty and the Queen in your sorrow.- Kitchener.”
Mrs Robert B Jones, 57, Sydney Street, received a letter from her brother, Private J Jones, 1st Royal Welch Fusiliers, on Monday afternoon, in which he says that he is quite well. He had been unable to gain any news of Corporal T Roberts. “It is hard for me here,” he adds, “without my chums, but I am still keeping my heart up, and I don’t mean to let it down. I have sent a few of the German pigs to their last resting place, and I hope to do a few more of them to avenge poor Tom and Charlie. It won’t do for me to meet a German after this war – that is if I am spared – for the things that have been done out here is awful. I am sorry I have not got any fresh news, but I hope to tell you more next time. Tell them to keep their heart up.”
Mrs Roberts, on learning of the report of the death of her husband, wrote to a non-commissioned officer of the regiment seeking information respecting her husband. On Sunday morning she received a letter in response from Company Quartermaster Sergeant F Robinson, who wrote under date of the previous Friday. He states that he is sorry to inform her that her husband is reported missing; that he had made full enquiries of all the other poor chaps who were missing after the battle, and no one seemed to know anything about the Corporal. If Mrs Roberts would let him know who told her that her husband was dead, he would make full enquiries. He had been with Corporal Roberts all the time, and knew him well as a straight, good man. Just before writing his letter he had made other enquiries, amongst the men, and no one seemed to have seen him; and he knew he was not buried. He hoped and trusted that he was only wounded, and safe.
In view of what Company Sergeant Major Robinson States, it must be borne in mind that the War Office forwarded the official intimation to Mrs Roberts, who received it on Wednesday morning last week, of the death of her husband. Three weeks have elapsed since any letters were received by Mrs Roberts from her husband, and the like remark applies in the case of Mrs Williams, whose husband Lance Corporal C Williams, has been also reported by the War Office to have been killed in the same battle. Roberts and Williams were always together in the trenches, and the statement is believed now that they fell together in the battle. Had the men been made prisoners or were wounded and in a hospital they would have had opportunities, unless situated under very extraordinary circumstances, of writing to their homes, as they had been accustomed to do regularly each week.
Company-Sergeant-Major F Robinson, of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, writing from the Front, and under date of the 11th instant, to Mrs Roberts, of 19, Mumforth Street, Flint, in reply to a further letter in reference to the death of her husband, Corporal Tom Roberts, states that he has made careful enquiries and is unable to obtain further information for her. As she had stated she had been notified from Shrewsbury, she could take it for granted that the news of the Corporal’s death was true. The Battalion left the field on the night of the battle, and the Corporal’s body might have been picked up by another regiment and buried after the Welsh Fusiliers left. All the Corporal’s books would be returned to Shrewsbury, and that was how the authorities were able to inform her of the death. He could assure her that all the men who were left of the Battalion sent their deepest sympathy. The Corporal was a good man who stood with them all the winter, which was very trying. They were sorry to lose him, but he had died for a glorious cause and a gallant regiment. The comrades and himself wished Mrs Roberts and her children the best of health.
On Sunday morning a large detachment of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers under the command of Lieutenant Allen (vice-chairman of the Flintshire County Council) attended Divine Service in the Parish Church, when the Rev Canon W Llewhelyn Nicholas (Rector), who is the Lieutenant Colonel Chaplain of the 5th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Territorials), preached on the Gospel of the day, “The search for the lost piece of silver.” In the course of his remarks he mentioned what transpired to be an extraordinary and painful circumstance in connection with the present horrible war. The incident is supported by documentary evidence. The Canon’s nephew is a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, and in a letter which he forwarded to the Canon he states that he had returned from the trenches to the bivouac. He adds that on the 20th May he picked up in the advance trench a pocket copy of one of the Gospels, and on the inside of the cover of the book there was written, “Tom Roberts. My home address is Flint.” This remarkable “find” at once attracted great interest, and knowing that his uncle, the Canon, was the Rector of Flint, he decided immediately to make the communication. Unfortunately, in the turmoil, he had mislaid the book, but he intended to search for it. The book evidently was the property of Corporal Tom Roberts, of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, whose home is in Mumforth Street, Flint, and who was killed in the charge made by the Welsh Fusiliers on Sunday, the 16th May. Canon Nicholas has informed the bereaved widow of the incident, and he has written to his nephew with the hope that the book has been found, and for it to be forwarded him in order that he might place it in the possession of Mrs Roberts.
Corporal Roberts was buried at Woburn Abbey Cemetery, Cuinchy, France (Plot IV, Row B, Grave 20) and is remembered on two war memorials – St David’s Parish Church, Oakenholt and probably the Oddfellows Hall, Flint, where someone entered his name incorrectly as Robt H Roberts.
He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.
Ada married Samuel Parry on 12th February, 1916 at the Holywell Register Office. She was widowed again when Samuel died on 3rd February, 1933 aged 53.
She died of cancer, aged 63, at the North Wales Hospital, Denbigh on 22nd February, 1945 and was buried in Hawarden Cemetery.
Tom’s father, Peter, died on 29th January, 1924 aged 79, at New Western Terrace, Oakenholt and is buried with his wife in an unmarked grave. His obituary stated he was for many years foreman blacksmith at the old Flint Chemical Works and in later years was employed by the North Wales Paper Co, Ltd, Oakenholt. He was a member of the old Mold Band and was a well known and highly respected resident.
Farewell Father, Brothers and sisters dear,
I am not dead but sleeping here;
Mourn not for me, nor sorrow take,
But love my friends for my sake.
A sudden change: I in a moment fell,
I had not time to bid my friends farewell;
Think nothing strange – death happens unto all;
My lot to-day; to-morrow you may fall.
One year has gone, but my heart still sore,
As time rolls on I miss him more;
Only those who have lost one are able to tell
How great is the loss of him we loved well.
Gone, but not forgotten.
Father and Sister Maggie.
(County Herald 19th May, 1916)
A loving husband, a father dear,
A faithful friend when he was here;
For all of us he did his best,
May God grant him eternal rest.
From Wife and Children, 19, Mumforth Street, Flint.
(County Herald 19th May, 1916)
He marched away so bravely, his head so proudly held,
His footsteps never faltered, his courage never failed,
Do not ask if we miss him, there is such a vacant place,
He fought and died for Britain, and the honour of his race.
Gone, but not forgotten.
Father and Sister MAGGIE
New Western Terrace, Oakenholt, Flint.
(County Herald 18th May, 1917)
He sleeps beside his comrades,
In a grave we may never see.
But as long as life and memory lasts
We will remember thee.
Father and Sister Maggie.
(County Herald 17th May, 1918)