CHARLES ROBERTS 1882-1915
It was 1912. They were desperately in love. Charles Roberts and Maud Neale had to get married – she was five months pregnant. They received little support from her family, who were all strongly religious Primitive Methodists and thoroughly disapproved of Maud’s sinful behaviour. Charles’ family were scattered around the country and he was on his own in Rugby, working as a printer for Robert Frost & Co.
The problem was that while Charles was 30, Maud was only 16 and already five months pregnant. Here the marriage certificate tells an interesting story. Maud’s full name was Ethel Maud Neale, but she was known as Maud. The certificate shows they married in a register office after licence; she gave her age as 21 while he gave his as 26, and it was witnessed by a couple whose names do not ring a bell with anyone in the family – perhaps they were brought in off the street! All this sounds rather hasty and done without parental consent.
Nevertheless, they were very happy together and there is an apocryphal tale that when Maud was 18 she got drunk and danced the can-can on the table… it was a fun-filled marriage in which she produced two baby girls in 18 months.
Charles heard the call to fight for his country in 1914 and enlisted in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. His daughter Kathy remembers him sweeping her up in his arms to say goodbye, and feeling the rough cloth of his uniform.
He sent his little daughter a birthday postcard addressed to
Miss K.M. Roberts, 7, Newbold Road, Rugby, Warwickshire:
(Kathy was two years old on October 28, 1914)
Dear little kid,
Only a wish for your birthday, that I was with you, and that your dear little self may have all that is possible to make you happy, for all time.
From Daddy to his little Duck – Kathy.
A Christmas card arrived from
1243 9th Battn, “A” Coy, KRR Corps, Petworth:
Just a sincere wish to you, and although you may not receive this letter before Christmas, still I trust the latter part of the wish will be realised. I go to Aldershot on Monday next, and probably by the following Monday I shall be having my 8 days furlough. Living in hopes of soon seeing you all in the best of spirits
Yours ever loving Charl
Charles did get his furlough, and went to Bournemouth to see his sister, May Marinier, and his wife who travelled from Rugby to be with him.
Then he was off to France with his regiment and sent postcards home from the battle front.
Thought perhaps this would be of interest to you, the tower of the church still remains but the place itself is one mass of ruins. I’ll send you an occasional PC and will write you at the earliest opportunity. I could not thank you on a field pc for your present which you may guess is very acceptable, and I now hasten to apologise for delay in thanking you. Did you think photo of Kathleen “May” good? The one you have of me is a poor one as now I am dark as a nigger. Remember me to Tony and your chicks.
I’m keeping photo in my “will” book. Shall be going in the trenches tomorrow night – great fun!! Charl
Still at it “somewhere in Belgium”. OK up to now, been in the trenches, (firing line) the worst part is getting in them and coming out. Have been watching the huns’ shells bursting near us – not over us, though near enough – about 100 yds off. This pc will give you an idea of what results from a shell. Hope to get time to write a letter soon. Let me know if you have moved yet. What do you think of my little girl? Having a presentday photo soon. Love to all. Hope to see you sometime. Charl
Notes from Charles’ war diary , 1915.
Watch no: 516549
Height 5’7 1/2”
Moved from Aldershot to Petworth (Sussex) on 23rd Nov (1914) In billets Mrs Bronhams, White Hall.
January 6th Wed Finished firing, With field practice
7th Thurs Returned to Petworth to join Battn
8th Fri On Pass . Xmas leave to Bournemouth via Portsmouth
9th Sat Arr Bmth 1am
13th Wed Photo taken with M.R.
14th Thurs Returned off Pass. Left Bmth 4pm arr Petworth 9.30. Letter from Frost, Rugby.
15 Fri Attached to new draft of Recruits, as instructor
16 Sat Birthday Mrs Roberts
19 Tues M.R. left Bmth for Rugby
21 Thurs March to Whitney Common, 14 miles for the night. Mud mud mud. Thank goodness don’t stay.
22 Fri Snowing, march 4 miles for review. K of K stood 2 hrs in snowstorm, no greatcoats on. 4 miles back to barracks, then marched to Petworth. Snow all day. Half dead.
23 Sat No Parade. Up at 10am.
25th Mon Recruits with ‘Coy’ in Park gathering snow.
26 Tues Nothing doing
29 Fri Pay day
4 Thurs Birthday. Parcel from Rugby, mitts etc.
9 Tues For “office” made full Corporal
10 Wed Returned to duty with coy.
11 Thurs Battn training in park
12 Fri Battle with Rifle Brigade 7.30-2.30
13 Sat Wet. 1 hr drill in town hall
14 Sun Ch Parade
15 Mon Battle with Rifle Brigade 8-3 o’c
25 Thurs Left Petworth for South Camp. ?Talaocra Bike
26 Fri Buff marker for 2nd Recruits
1 Mon Started firing. Trained soldiers course
9 Wed Grouping 8th 20 pts
8 Mon Finished firing course. Total 115 points Total 105 for 1st cl. shot. Inoculated.
9 Tues Off Parade
10 Wed Off Parade
11 Thurs Squad Drill. Transferred to Sec 2
16 Tues Inoculated 1st time
28 Sun Inoculated 2nd time
29 Mon Recommended for sick leave 5 days
5 Mon Returned off pass
6 Tues Coy office
12 Mon Field firing. 3 days free pass
15 Thurs Returned off pass
29 Thurs Promoted to Lce/Sgt
1 Sat Photo taken of Battn Sgts
5 Wed Review by Lord K of K Laffens Plain. March past of 42 Brigade
10 Mon Handed in all spare clothes &c Coy office
13 Thurs 1st lesson Revolver practice. 24 rnds 30 yds. – Appointed Coy Range Finder
via “Battn Orders”
14 Fri 2nd lesson Revolver practice 90 pts of poss 96
16 Sun Orderly Sgt
27 Thurs Marched to Cassell. Billetted at St Silvestre
30 Sun Left for Dickebusch
31 Mon Went out making trenches
1 Tues Germs. shelled position of trenches
2 Wed Much shelling in the district of Dickebusch where we go out tonight
7 Mon To Reminghelst
8 Tues In the trenches, at the firing line
9 Wed Ernie Tomlinson shot in forehead; seriously. B. Bint shot
10 Thurs Returned to Reminghelst midnight
12 Sat Back to Ouderdom
14 Mon To Vlamerteighe
15 Tues In trenches. Terrible bombardment, at Ypres. Captured 3 trenches
16 Wed In trenches. Relieved m.n.
17 Thurs Parcel from home
19 Sat Off to “Dug outs” as supports
20 Sun Fatigue to Ox & Bks with ammunition
21 Mon Fatigue party 11pm-3am. m.n sand bags & bbd wire racks to R.B’s
22 Tues Fatigues to Ox & Bks with rations & water, much casualty by shell.
2 killed, 7 injured
23 Wed Fatigue Ox & Bks with rations
24 Thurs Leave m.n for rest camp
25 Fri via Poperinghe
29 Thurs Shelling Poperinghe
30 Wed Fatigue to trenches via Ypres by motor-bus
4 Sun Fatigue to trenches
5 Mon Serious trouble. CO offence resulting from wrong & misleading messages. Reprimand
8 Thurs Go to trenches
12 Mon Firing line. NE of Ypres
There are no further entries
ROBERTS. C.. Sergt. It is with the keenest regret that we have to record the death of Charlie Roberts, who was killed in action on July 30th. We deeply sympathise with his young widow and two small children. The sad news, coming as it did so quickly after the news of Redfearn’s death, was staggering, and it was some time before we could realise that he had really “gone”. We print below a letter received by Mrs.Roberts from his platoon sergeant, which not only clearly shows how Roberts died, but also pays the highest tribute to his memory that it is possible for a soldier to do. He died a noble death. We are all very proud of this. We knew he was game by the way that he got up from a sick bed to join, when he learned that Kitchener’s Army was taking married men. He was advised not to go, but he was determined to do his “bit” at any cost. That his heart was in his job is proved by the fact of his rapid promotion to the rank of sergeant.
Roberts joined us in December 1909 and was a first-class printer – one of the best men we had. He was very popular, and his death will be felt as a personal loss by everyone here.
And on 5th August, Maud received the letter everyone dreaded:
Dear Mrs Roberts,
I regret very much having to write to tell you that your husband, Sgt C Roberts, was killed in action on Friday July 30th /15.
I am taking this opportunity of writing to you, in the absence of his Officer, to tell you how very much we appreciated the help and support that Sgt Roberts always gave us, and express our sincere sympathy for you in so great a trouble. Although not actually with him at the time of his death, I understand that he had no pain whatever. He was attempting to get an important message across an open field which was swept by the murderous fire of the enemy, when the bullet caught him and brought about his untimely end.
His platoon join with me in the heartfelt sincerity which we have tried to express in this letter.
I should like to tell you that Sgt Roberts died a noble death, upholding to the last the tradition of his Regiment.
He died the death of a soldier.
Again sympathising with you in your great sorrow.
Sgt H Dyson
Maud was left with two small children, Kathy and Rene.
She wrote to May Marinier, her sister in law, asking for details of Charles’ birth for official purposes. She received this reply from
15 Barnfield Road
18th August 1915
In answer to yours of last night I believe you will have to write up to Somerset House for a copy of the birth certificate of poor dear Charles; you must state that he was born in 1882 at Wimborne, Dorset, his father having been a Chemist of Shaftesbury Dorset.
I might as well tell you that owing to unfortunate business speculations, my poor father’s circumstances became very indifferent a few years after he married my mother, and while Charlie was but a baby our beautiful home had to be sold up. This ruined my dear mother’s health, and things only got worse. Then my father came to London and took another business somewhere, but he took a cold which turned into pneumonia and only lived a few weeks.
Owing to all this sad trouble my brothers were never educated in the way they should have been, nor brought up in the positions their birth would have befitted. But no doubt Charlie has told you this – or he may not have done so, thinking it useless. One thing I am certain of – our parents would be happy if they knew, or could know, that their youngest has died an unselfish hero.
Do not hesitate to ask me anything; for his sake, and because I love and respect the memory of my parents I am pleased to do anything I can.
You have received my letter I hope, and I am waiting to know whether I may come and fetch little Kathy next Sunday. I hope you will soon feel better and more able to bear your burden; be brave for the sake of his little ones.
Yours very sincerely
There are tear stains on the letter. Maud took Charles’ death very hard and grieved bitterly for him. Later, on Armistice Day, she would take her young daughters and weep at the memorial gates at theentrance to the park on Hillmorton Road. The children, too young to understand, wept in sympathy.
On 16th March 1920, Maud received a letter from the Record Office, Winchester:
I am directed to transmit to you the accompanying 1914/15 Star which
would have been conferred upon R/1243 L/Sergt C Roberts KRRifC
had he lived, in memory of his services with the British Forces during the Great War.
In forwarding the Decoration I am commanded by the King to assure you of His Majesty’s high appreciation of the services rendered.
I am to request that you will be so good as to acknowledge the receipt of the Decoration on the attached form.
Your obedient servant,
A R Davies
Major i/c Records
(This article was compiled by Janet Turnbull a relative of the subject)
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM