Roland Roberts was born in September 1896, one of three children – all boys – to Albert and Minnie Roberts.
Minnie, who was originally from Yeovil, had married Walter Shury, a Londoner, in 1874, and the couple had six children together. Walter then went on to have four children with Alice Norwood, and the couple married in 1898. Minnie, meanwhile, had met Albert Roberts, who was from Dundalk in Ireland, and, while no marriage seems to be confirmed, the couple had three boys, including Roland. (It is pure speculation, but as Minnie’s maiden was also Roberts, this might have provided a good enough cover for any divorce or re-marriage.)
Albert had been a Band Sergeant in the 4th Hussars, and continued that passion by becoming a music teacher Travel was also definitely in his blood: the couple’s first child, Willie, was born in South London, Roland was born in Somerset, and his younger sibling, Glencoe, was born in Penzance, Cornwall. Albert’s musical success led him to become bandmaster for the Penzance Town Band. Sadly, it was not all positive for him; in 1901, Minnie passed away, and in the same year, Willie also died, at the tender age of six.
It was the military that drew Roland in, and, in 1910, aged just 14 years old, he enlisted in the Coldstream Guards. According to the following year’s census, he was stationed at the Ramillies Barracks in Aldershot, and held the rank of Boy.
Differing from the naval rank of the same name, lads of 14 or over could serve in any regiment as musicians, drummers, tailors, shoemakers, artificers or clerks, and all were ranked as boys. It seems likely, therefore, that his father’s enthusiasm for music served him well.
When war broke out, he was of fighting age, and, as part of the “Old Contemptibles”, he was involved in the Battle of Mons, the first major confrontation for the British Expeditionary Force.
During the war, Private Roberts took part in some of the most severe fighting on the Western Front, was wounded three times, as well as being gassed. He was also recommended for the DCM for gallantry in action.
He transferred to the Labour Corps, and spent time doing land work in Somerset. It was here that Roland met and married Gladys Pyne, whose family was from Bridgwater, and the couple tied the knot in March 1918.
Sadly, it was during this war service that Private Roberts contracted influenza and pneumonia and he passed away as his in-laws’ home on 10th November 1918, the day before the Armistice was signed. He was just 22 years old.
The local newspaper reported on Roland’s continued gallantry in its article on his funeral:
[Roland] held the medal of the Royal Humane Society for saving a woman’s life.
He was also the hero of an incident that occurred in Bridgwater a few weeks ago, when he succeeded in checking the career of an infuriated bull through pluckily catching the animal by its horns.
His disposition was always most cheerful, and although suffering from his [war] wounds a good deal, he never complained.The Cornishman: Wednesday 27th November 1918
Roland Roberts lies at rest in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in his adopted home town of Bridgwater, Somerset.