A1 and in the Pink – 100 years on

WWI as seen in the letters of Sgt GC Roberts MM of the 1/5th Welsh Regiment


July 2015

July 28th 1915

This first letter from Goronway (GCR) was written on a transport ship somewhere in the Mediterranean probably just after passing the Island of Malta (We deduce this by reference to the diary of another Welsh soldier, Bryn Davies, of the 4th Battalion which sailed one day ahead of the 5th). The 5th Battalion was on the SS Huntsgreen.

“SS Huntsgreen was orginally a German ship called the DERFLINGER. She was a 9060 gross ton ship, length 463ft x beam 57.7ft, one funnel, two masts, twin screw, speed 14 knot. Accommodation for 104-1st, 104-2nd and 1,919-3rd class passengers. Built by F. Schichau, Danzig, she was launched on 9th Nov.1907 for North German Lloyd, Bremen and started her maiden voyage from Bremen to New York on 9th May 1908. After this voyage, she was used on the Bremen – Suez – Far East service until 1914 when she was captured by the British at Port Said. Renamed HUNTSGREEN and operated as a troopship.

The Welch/Welsh Regiment embarked at Devonport under “sealed orders” sailing east to Alexandria aboard “SS Huntsgreen” The voyage east was uneventful, with the exception perhaps, of the list which developed as a result of being so hurriedly despatched as to allow no time for the cargo to be properly stowed.


Also sailing on the Huntsgreen were 50 nurses from the No. 3 Australian General Hospital; before long these nurses were to play a role in GCR’s story.


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Mediterranean Exped Force

July 28th 1915


Dear Dad and Mam

Just a line to let you know that I am alright. I have written to you once before this hope you have received it alright also one to Jon. Has Dad returned from his holidays yet hope he enjoyed himself. Did Nain Jones come down with him let me know. This is all the address I am allowed to write down but as you know my regiment you will be able to write to me alright hope to hear from you soon.

We are having lovely weather and the sea is like a mill pond. I feel in the pink hope you are all the same. Give my love to Mailys and Dyfan. I have seen a bit of the world already and it is wonderful how fine everything looks. It proves that there is a Supreme Hand over everything. I am not allowed to tell you where we have been or to let you know our destination.

I have no more to say at present. Give my love to Nain Jones also my kind regards to Mrs Davies and Jim, hope Tom is still alright. I will write to you at every chance I have. Mind you don’t keep worrying about me because if I knew that it would be no encouragement for me. I must now close hope you are all in the best of health.

I am

Your loving Son


July 27th, 1915

This first letter was written by John Roberts and was sent to Goronway, his son, while he was sailing to the Middle East; it seems to be the only one that Goronway kept with him.

I am writing this letter in the hope that it will find you somewhere, and that you will be alive, and well, and cheerful.(J. Roberts July 27th) 

John Roberts was a Baptist minister in South Wales and was married to Margaret, Goronway’s mother. Because of his role as a minister, he was known as “John the God”.

He tells Goronway that he is current back on holiday at the old family home in Ruabon, North Wales staying with Nain (Grandma) and that everything is good. He of course was aware of Goronway’s travels across the Mediterranean and he asks Goronway to use use very chance he has to write. John is thrilled about the sights that his son will get to see and suggests that he should keep a record of his travels but of course soldiers could only write letters and not keep diaries. John is glad to have the correct address to which to send letters and that his son’s letters and a photo taken during training in Bedford had been received in good shape.

 “I hope that you are keeping well, and that you did not suffer over much with sea sickness during the voyage. I am taking it for granted that you have arrived safe, and that God has answered my prayer as he done a great many times, more than I can count. You have gone into a very classical portion of this globe. I have had a desire to visited the Mediterranean sea and its shores for many years. It would be very interesting and instructive if you kept a diary. Put down every day, what you have seen, and what you have done.(J. Roberts July 27th)

His letter to his son does show his understanding of the conditions that his son will endure, and that he gives comfort by telling him of his prayers and his hopes for him.

Your duty will lead you know doubt and many difficult places. Mind for the right thing that you put your trust completely in God, do that alright, it will help you not forgot your training and use your common sense. Two essentials for a soldier are caution and courage. Oliver Cromwell told his men, ‘Trust in god and keep your powder dry’. Look after your health, don’t neglect the little things. You know what I like you to do.

(J. Roberts July 27th)

John lets his son know that everyone at home is joined together in their hopes, wishes, and loving regards for him.

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John the God

(John the God)

The 53rd (Welsh) Division

The 53rd (Welsh) Division before and at the outset of the First World War was the original Welsh territorial division and was at camp on August 4th 1914 the day Great Britain declared war on Germany (and the lamps went out allover Europe). A general order for mobilization was issued on August 5th. The next few months saw various battalions leave and join the Division so that eventually one of the Brigades (160th) had lost its Welsh flavour, comprising as it did of Home Counties battalions. The 158 and 159th however retained their Welsh and Borders character.
Much of the Divisions pre-deployment training took place in the East of England with the 4th and 5th Battalions, the Welsh Regiment based at Bedford. On 3rd July 1915 the Divisional Commander was ordered to prepare the 53rd for service in the Mediterranean. Embarkation was complete by July 19th and a fleet of eight transport ships sailed.

Reference: “History of the 53rd (Welsh) Division (T.F.) 1914-1918”. Major CH Dudley Ward DSO, MC. The Naval and Military Press. 1927


Goronway Cuffin Roberts (GCR) was born on 18th October 1896, the son of John and Margaret Roberts, in Cefn Mawr, Denbighshire in North Wales. It was a God fearing family, his grandfather had reportedly died on his knees at the age of 30, praying on the kitchen floor. His father John had initially worked as a model maker in the clay works in Ruabon but subsequently trained as a Welsh Baptist Minister being ordained at the age of 30 in 1898. Apparently he had a vision which he interpreted as a vision from on high to go and preach to the sinners in the valleys of South Wales. The census of 1911 shows the family living in the Rhymney valley at 15 The Green, Abertysswg, Monmouthshire; the address to which the majority of GCR’s letters are sent.
GCR himself in the census appears as the second of four children (another four had died). His older brother was at the time a Colliery Timekeeper (below ground) and part time student, his younger sister and brother were at school; GCR himself is at this time recorded as an apprentice draper. According to one story he was not entirely satisfied with this as a career and at 15, presumably in search of adventure, attempted to run away to join the Navy. He was however too young and was sent back home. Two years later he was to set out on the adventure of a lifetime.
Goronway Roberts enlisted on 15th October 1914 into the 5th Battalion the Welsh Regiment three days before his 18th birthday.

cropped-cropped-cropped-gc-roberts.jpgGoronway Roberts Early in the War

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