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An abandoned German trench in Delville Wood, September 1916
Abandoned German trench in Delville Wood
image: Imperial War Musem catalogue number Q 4267
Map of Delville Wood, 31 July 1916
Delville Wood, 31 July 1916
image: Paths of Glory
Serre Road Cemetery No.2
Serre Road Cemetery No.2
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Roberts, Robert Charles

Robert Charles Roberts
1914-1915 Star
1914/15 Star
Victory Medal
Victory Medal
British War Medal
British War Medal
Private Robert Charles Roberts (16392)
Killed in Action on Wednesday 19th July 1916
Delville Wood, aged 29
Son of Henry & Charlotte Roberts
Father's occupation: Agricultural Labourer
Born 16th May 1888 at Hurst
2 sisters, 6 brothers, position in family: 8
Relatives: Brother of 15873 Pte Frederick Walter Roberts & 9860 Pte Reginald Roberts
Infant School:Hurst Infants
Senior School:Hurst Boys
Admitted:11th May 1896
Age on admission:7
Left school:Monday 22nd April 1901
Age at leaving:12
Local address: Rose Cottage, Hurst.
Enlisted:Wokingham, Saturday 9th January 1915
Regiment:Royal Berkshire
Battalion:6th Bn.
Division:18th (Eastern)
Went overseas:Friday 3rd September 1915
Wounded:& Missing
Died:Wednesday 19th July 1916
Cause:Killed in Action
Action:Delville Wood
Battalion at:Longueval
Commemorated:Grave at Serre Road Cemetery No.2

Robert Roberts was born in Hurst on 16th May 1888 to Henry and Charlotte Roberts. He was their youngest child and had five brothers and two sisters. Robert's father was an agricultural labourer and by 1891 Robert was living with his family in Hogmoor Lane, Hurst. Robert attended Hurst Infants School and at the age of seven he became a pupil in Hurst Boys School, leaving at the age of twelve.

Robert was living in Twyford when he enlisted into the army at Wokingham on 15th January 1915. After initial training he was assigned to 6th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment and joined them in France on 3rd September 1915. 6th Battalion had been training at Colchester when Robert enlisted and then spent two months at Codford St. Mary in Wiltshire before embarking for France on 21st July 1915.

The Battalion was serving in the trenches on the Somme just south of Albert and had been relieved to billets at Bray when Robert joined them. This provided an opportunity to train new reinforcements such as Robert in the arts of fighting, bayoneting and bombing before the next stint on the front line. The following eight months were spent in and out of the front line trenches in the Somme sector, before the Battalion was withdrawn on 29th April 1916 to undertake training for the long anticipated Somme offensive.

One of their first tasks was to dig a set of model trenches at Poulainville that were used for subsequent rehearsals of the forthcoming attack. In late May and through most of June the Battalion had spells in the trenches at Carnoy punctuated by further training for the imminent attack. The preliminary bombardment began on 25th June and over the next few days 6th Battalion completed its preparations and moved forward to the jumping off point for its first major engagement - the First Day of the Somme.

Their attack was in the southern sector of the advance where, in contrast to the futile slaughter further north, events went more according to plan. This was partly because 18th Division pre-empted zero hour and had men already lying out ahead of the line in No Man's Land. They were able to advance quickly as the bombardment lifted and overcame the enemy before they could re-establish their positions.

Unfortunately being out in No Man's Land also caused some casualties because a huge mine was exploded under the German strongpoint at Casino Point just before zero hour, and a few of 6th Battalion were injured by flying debris. However the effect on the Germans was much more devastating and the survivors surrendered to the Battalion in droves. 18th Division was one of the few to attain all of their first day objectives and 6th Battalion advanced over one and a half miles.

The Battalion's second engagement was at Delville Wood on the 19th July 1916 where they served as part of the 9th (Scottish) Division. The South African Brigade had previously been driven out of the wood and the objective of the operation was to re-take the wood and seize Longueval village. The 8th Norfolks were to lead the attack and, once they had cleared the southern half of Delville Wood, the plan was for 6th Battalion to press forward with 10th Essex and complete the job. The Battalion War Diary describes the events of the day:

Wednesday 19th July 1916France, Longueval
3.30 a.m. Battalion arrived at S22d Valley. C.O. rejoined with orders which were read and explained. Battalion ready to move off at 4 a.m.
5.14 a.m. Norfolks report Zero time to be 6.15 a.m.
5.40 a.m. Norfolks commence to move off towards LONGUEVAL which was over a mile off. Enemy shell road to LONGUEVAL with field guns. Long halts cause delay and congestion in road.
7.05 a.m. No. 13 Platoon D Company Berks moves off as leading Platoon of the Battalion. Enemy shelling road heavily with guns of all calibre. Many casualties from shell fire. Norfolks not yet attacked though barrage lifted.
9 a.m. Entrance to village reached.
9.49 a.m. B9 stating Barrage will lift at 11 a.m. received.
10.50 a.m. BM12 stating Barrage will lift at 11 a.m. by 50 yards a minute received.
11.40 a.m. Norfolks report S portion of wood clear. Battalion starts to move on to wood.
11.55 a.m. Battalion in position in S portion of wood and in touch with Essex on right but very weak owing to heavy losses from shell fire. Machine gun opened fire on to the leading Platoons of D Company from the NW corner of the Southern half of wood. This gun had not been reported by Norfolks.
NOON — C.O. arranged for re-bombardment to start at 1 p.m. for 30 minutes and for assault to take place after.
1 p.m. Heavies falling short among our own men. Shrapnel bursting short.
1.30 p.m. Barrage lifted. It was impossible to tell that a bombardment was on as the rate of fire was so slow and Companies had to be informed that it was time to attack. Germans brought heavy barrage on PRINCES ST line and opened with machine guns on advancing troops. D Company unable to advance owing to machine gun from a house somewhere on their left. C & B advanced about 150yds but suffered heavy casualties and were finally forced to drop back to the lines PRINCES ST where they started to dig in.
1.50 p.m. Owing to heavy fire on working parties A, C & B Companies forced to retire to original line - about 80 yds S of PRINCES ST.
2.15 p.m. Companies ordered to consolidate on the line they hold. Brigade calls for situation - reported verbally, see back of message B729.
2.36 p.m. Situation explained to Suffolks and Stokes Gun asked for but not received.
3.05 p.m. Situation explained to Brigade. Machine guns sent into the line proposed to hold. 4 guns under 2nd Lt. Gilbert.
3.37 p.m. Situation sent to Brigade - work of consolidation of the line 120yds S of PRINCES ST complete. Efforts being made to deepen the line 40yds S of PRINCES ST.
4.10 p.m. Preparations complete for further effort to advance on our left but owing to inability to get in touch with Suffolks on left advance was impossible. Reported to Brigade.
4.45 p.m. Our heavies dropping short and causing casualties among our own men. Reported to Brigade.
5.30 p.m. Situation reported to Brigade.
6.45 p.m. Casualties reported to Brigade.
8.40 p.m. Situation reported to Brigade.
9.40 p.m. 2nd Lt. GC Hollis arrived with details of arrangements for attack by RW Fusiliers at dawn - circulated to other Battalions for information.
9.50 p.m. Germans counter attacked on left edge of wood and in the village - rifle and machine gun fire for ten minutes - attack apparently driven off.
10.40 p.m. Details of new attack received from Brigade.
10.45 p.m. Details of change in dispositions received from Norfolks and arrangements made to comply with this.
10.50 p.m. BM45 received from Brigade and timed at 8.45pm. As Norfolks message was later and after conference with Essex it was decided to act on the Norfolks information. Wires to Brigade all broken.
11.50 p.m. Heavy shelling by Germans.

The attack ended in failure with heavy casualties; 6th Battalion lost 27 men killed, 127 wounded and 30 missing. Many of the casualties were incurred as the Battalion moved up in daylight and became trapped on a sunken road with enemy shellfire raining in from three sides. A subsequent debrief highlighted poor preparation, insufficient training and communications difficulties as major factors in the failure of the attack.

Robert Roberts was one of those killed in action on 19th July 1916; he was twenty-nine years of age. Robert now rests in the Serre Road Cemetery, ten miles from where he fell near Longueval. He had served in France for just nine months. Those at home had a long wait to learn of Robert's death. In the Berkshire Chronicle of 12th January 1917 he was still being reported as wounded and missing.


Robert Roberts at Serre Road Cemetery No.2
Serre Road Cemetery No.2

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in morning
We will remember them.
Lawrence Binyon