Walter James ‘Rattler’ Roman was born in July 1880, one of six children to George and Betsy Roman. George was a labourer in a brickyard, and the family lived in Bridgwater in Somerset.
Walter’s passion was rugby football, and he made the Bridgwater & Albion first team at the age of 15. Two years later had reached county level, and was playing for Somerset.
Walter enlisted in the army in around 1897, joining the Somerset Light Infantry. He spent several years abroad, serving as a Private in India and South Africa and fighting at Cawnpore and in the Second Boer War.
When Walter’s service ended, he returned to England, and continued his rugby career. He was a regular for the Bridgwater and Somerset teams, gaining the nickname ‘Rattler’, before being signed up by Rochdale Hornets in 1910.
Walter married Henriette Washer in Bridgwater in April 1911, and the couple had two children, Edna – born in 1912 – and Leonard – who was born a year later.
Continuing with rugby union, Walter was called to county level, where he joined Lancashire for a number of games. Walter also played for England, receiving a cap in the international match against Wales in February 1914, and he toured Australia and New Zealand the same year.
War broke out, and Private Roman was re-enlisted, one of twenty-five Hornets players to enlist. He served on the Western Front with the 1st Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry and was caught up in the engagements at Ypres and Armentieres. Fighting at in the Battle of the Somme, he went over the top at Beaumont-Hamel at the start or fighting, on 1st July 1916 – his 36th birthday.
In that initial charge, he was shot several times, in both arms, a leg and the torso. Initially treated at a local field hospital, he was evacuated to England and admitted to the Voluntary Aid Hospital in Cheltenham. His condition initially improved, and he wrote letters to Henrietta, who was living back in Rochdale.
Sadly, Walter’s contracted sepsis and his health deteriorated; Henrietta was called to the hospital in Cheltenham on 27th July 1916. It is likely that she didn’t make it in time, as Walter passed away at 1pm the following day. He was just 36 years old.
Walter James Roman lies at rest in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater, Somerset, one of may sporting heroes to perish in the First World War.
Walter was one of 25 Rochdale Hornets players to enlist when war broke out. Of those men, five did not return: Private Walter Roman; Sergeant John Twigg; Private Archie Field; Private Tom West and Private CJ Burton.