Name: Reginald Roberts
Unit/Regiment: 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment
Service Number: 7890
Date of Death: 9 November 1914
Memorial: Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
Reginald Roberts did not feature on the St Mary’s War Memorial. However, parish priest Father Lee stated in a letter, dated 20 July 1922, that he was one of four men who died in the War who were husbands of Catholics in the parish.
Reginald was not local to the Batley. He was born in 1885 in Clophill, Bedfordshire. This small, rural village is midway between Luton and Bedford. His parents, Amos and Charlotte Roberts (née Odell), were both from the village. They married in 1880. Charlotte was Amos’ second wife. His first wife, Ellen Whittamore, died in 1877, only five years after their marriage.
The 1911 census indicates Amos and Charlotte had seven children, all of whom were still alive.1 In addition to Reginald, I have identified Helena (b1880), Harold (b. 1882), Abel (b. 1887), Maurice (b. 1891) and Roger (b. 1897). There is a possibility that the other child was Emily, whose birth was registered in 1884, although it appears she died in 1888. This does not fit with the narrative of all children still being alive. However without ordering certificates, or accessing parish registers, I have been unable to confirm.
In 1881 Amos and Charlotte, along with daughter Helena, were living at Jacques Lane, Clophill.2 At the time the Roberts family lived here, the predominant industry for men in the village was agriculture, whilst women overwhelming worked as straw plaiters. The Roberts’ were therefore a stereotypical Clophill family in terms of occupations: Amos worked as an agricultural engine driver (thrashing machine).3 This was a piece of farm equipment, used to separate grain from the straw and the chaff. Charlotte worked as a straw hat sewer. Luton, around 11 miles away, was synonymous with the hat making industry, utilising the straw in its famous boaters. It fact it was a tradition at the Clophill Sunday School for the girls to wear hats, for which there was a church collection each year.4 One pictures these being hats made from the straw plaited in the village by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers.
The Roberts family were still in Clophill 10 years later, with Amos continuing to work in agriculture as a machinist. Charlotte was described as a hat sewer.5 And Reginald, along with siblings Helena, Harold and Abel, was amongst those attending Clophill Sunday School, as confirmed in their records. He also attended the Day Schools, and in 1893 was amongst the Mixed School Standard I prize winners.6
By 1897 the family were living over the county boundary in Hertforshire, with youngest son Roger being born in the tiny hamlet of Childwickbury. This is a couple of miles north of St Albans. Looking at the Clophill Sunday School records it is likely the move took place over the winter of 1893/94. This is the period the children disappear from the registers, with Reginald and Harold’s records annotated “taken out.7
A further more local move took place by the turn of the century. The 1901 census records the Roberts family at Kenneth House, 58, Hatfield Road, St Albans.7 Amos worked as a general labourer, and no occupation is listed for Charlotte. The family also had three boarders – including two from Sweden – to supplement their income. No type of employment or schooling is indicated for 15-year-old Reginald in this census.
1911 Amos and Charlotte are still living in their nine-roomed dwelling at 58, Hatfield Road, St Albans.8 All their children had now left home, but the couple did not live alone in this larger than average house. They had three boarders, all in professional occupations. One included widow Bessie Vincent, an assistant teacher in a St Albans Catholic school. She was the household census form-filler for her landlords. Again, Charlotte has no occupation against her name, whilst Amos worked as a general labourer employed by the Co-operative stores in Luton.
By the time of this census son Reginald was in Batley. It was here, in 1909, that he married Catherine Connelly.9 In 1911 he and Catherine were living at Back Richmond Street, he working as a teamer for the railway company, and she as a rag picker in a woollen mill.11 In his private life Reginald was a highly esteemed member of the Batley Trades and Friendly Club.
Later that year the family home was recorded as being in New Street. And it was in October 1911 that their first child, John, was born. Sadly John died three months later, being buried in Batley cemetery on 16 January 1912.12 The couple’s second son, Maurice, was born on 2 March 1914.13
Five months later, normal family life came to an abrupt end. Reginald, who had served for three years as a Regular soldier, was a Reservist. As such he was called up immediately on the outbreak of war. He went to France in early August 1914, disembarking on 16 August, serving with the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment.
The original soldiers of the 1st Bedfordshires were amongst the “Old Contemptibles” – the title proudly adopted by the men of the original British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) who saw active service before 22 November 1914. They were the professional soldiers of the British Army, almost all of whom were Regular soldiers or Reservists.14
The 1st Bedfordshires were engaged at the Battle of Mons in August 1914 and fought during the stand at Le Cateau. After service during the battles of the Marne and the Aisne, they were rushed north to Flanders and were also involved in the Battle of La Bassee, followed by the First Battle of Ypres. It was in the course of this latter battle that Reginald died.
On 4 September, in a letter which was delayed in transit, Reginald wrote as follows to his wife:
We have been having it very rough this last week or two, but I think things are quietening down now. We are having some splendid weather out here….. It is a shame to see the people moving from their houses leaving everything behind, so that they can get to a place of safety before they are attacked……The only acquaintance that I have seen since I came out here is one of John Trainer’s lads, who is in the York Regiment. I saw him after we had that big battle on the 25th. It was an awful sight to witness. But I think we shall not be long before we get back to old England.15
The Batley Reporter and Guardian published a further letter from Reginald in their 16 October 1914 edition. In this letter to Catherine he wrote:
We have moved again from those trenches in which we have been lying for three or four weeks, but where we are going none of us know, for everything is kept secret. Anyone who wants to see sights should come to this part of the world. We are getting some cold nights and I don’t care how soon this job is over. We have been in five or six tight corners up to the present, but, thank God, we have pulled thorough. How did you enjoy the feast? We had ours in the trenches for eight days, so you can bet we enjoyed it.
The 1st Bedfordshire’s Unit War Diary records that at 5pm on the 6th November 1914 the Battalion moved by foot via Ypres and Hooge to trenches in wood south of the road. They relieved the 2nd Bedfordshires in the firing line. Reginald was killed in action on the 9 November 1914, three days after writing home stating that he was well.
The Unit War Diary for the 9 November states that:
Sergt Mart, assisted by Corporal Cyster succeeded in creeping up to a trench occupied by the enemy, where 2 machine guns had been previously lost. Found only about 1 German actually with guns, though adjoining trench, a few yards away in prolongation, was occupied. Sergt Mart shot the German and guns were safely brought back. 1 wounded soldier found in trench also. He also was brought back by Mart assisted by 2nd Lt Garrod and others. Mart & Garrod in turns facing enemy to keep their heads down by accurate fire at a few yards range. Battalion thanked in wire from Corps Commander.16
The Diary concludes events of the day by saying that in terms of casualties about 17 were killed and seven wounded. Subsequent Commonwealth War Graves Commission casualty records show that Reginald was one of 27 men with the 1st Bedfordshire Regiment to die that day.
In December Catherine received confirmation of her husband’s death. But this proved not the only wartime loss suffered by her, or the wider Roberts family. In November 1917 Reginald’s brother Maurice, the namesake of Reginald and Catherine’s surviving son, was another wartime casualty.17 Then in 1918, within days of the Armistice, her brother John Thomas Connolly was yet another to pay the ultimate sacrifice.18 I will write more about John in a future St Mary’s biography.
Catherine remarried in 1919. Her new husband was another St Mary’s parishioner John William Gannon. They went on to have two daughters – Catherine (known as Kathleen) in 1920, and Mary in 1923.
But the final world goes to Reginald. He was awarded the 1914 Star with Clasp, Victory Medal and British War Medal. In addition to Batley War Memorial, he is also remembered on three Memorials at St Albans – the Citizens Memorial, the Town Hall (old) Memorial and the Fleetville Memorial (Hatfield Rd Cemetery).19 He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
1. 1911 census, TNA Reference RG14/7672;
2. 1881 census, TNA Reference RG11/1633/106/2;
3. Thrashing is an older word for threshing, though some dialects do still favour the ‘a’ rather than ‘e’;
4. Kelly’s Directory of Bedfordshire. London: Kelly’s Directories, 1890.
5. 1891 census, TNA Reference RG12/1259/92/19;
6. Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 18 March 1893;
7. Clophill Sunday School (boys), Admissions, Bedfordshire & Luton Archive Services Reference P45/29/10;
8. 1901 census, TNA Reference RG13/1312/58/1;
9. 1911 census, TNA Reference RG14/7672;
10. GRO Marriage Indexes, surname spelled Connolly. Alternative spelling used in other records is Connelly or Conley. She was the daughter of John and Mary Connolly (née Rush);
11. 1911 census, TNA Reference RG14/27231;
12. Batley Cemetery Burial Register;
13. WFA WW1 Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, Reference 160/0789/ROB-ROB and 1939 Register, TNA Reference RG101/3608A/008/23 Letter Code KMEW;
14. The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War, http://bedfordregiment.org.uk/;
15. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 9 October 1914;
16. 1st Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment Unit War Diary, TNA Reference WO95/1570/1;
17. Serjeant M Roberts, Service Number 915558, “D” Bty. 317th Bde. Royal Field Artillery. Died 8 November 1917 and buried at Dunhallow A.D.S Cemetery, Belgium;
18. Sapper John Thomas Connelly, Service Number WR/600740, died on 5 November 1918 and is commemorated on the Basra Memorial;
19. Herts at War website, http://www.hertsatwar.co.uk/;
• GRO Indexes;
• Various military records, e.g. medal award rolls, soldier’s effects etc.
• Interpreting threshing machines in rural life museums, http://www.ruralmuseums.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Drums-Roll.pdf