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


June 2017

June 14th 1917, In the Field. To Miss AM Roberts. The Shellal Mosaic.

Dear Mailys

I am going to write to you this time for a change or else you will stop sending me those nice long chatty letters of yours which I can tell you I like to get very much. Well to start with I am very pleased to tell you that I am still feeling in the pink hope you and all the rest are the same.I think I told you in my last that I am on a course of Stokes Gun and trench howitzers well I am still there and will be here for about a fortnight. I should like to get into a battery because it would be a fine job and it’s very interesting work I can tell you. I would be interested to see Jonny getting blown up it would be a treat for him. I hope you won’t think I am getting very blood thirsty because I feel more water thirsty very very often. There was a small stunt on a few nights ago and it turned out a great success. We were not in it though. According to the news there is fine work going on in France hope it will continue because it will shorten the war a great deal. I think myself now that it can’t last much longer now if Russia can be depended on to stick it hope she will. I saw on the news yesterday that Ramsay Mac Donald and Mrs Pankhurst and some others are going to Russia to try and get her to make peace or something of the sort. Why do the authorities be bothered with such people one round of Mark VII would save a lot of trouble. They should be shot for traitors because they are no better than that. I was glad to hear that the peace at any price crowd had a rough ……… of it  in Cardiff. That’s the stuff to give them. I don’t think that the army would like to see such a peace come not after all this time we have all lost chums and I don’t think it would be the thing to take any sort of peace. Everyone wants peace of course but let’s get the right kind of peace. I am willing to wait a bit longer and get the right kind that we want. Not far from where we are there is some mosaic pavement it’s called the holy pavement and it is very old supposed to be 657 AD. The Turks spoiled a lot of it by digging two trenches through it. There is an Australian chaplain trying to raise it and send it to some museum. There are flowers animals and …… worked in it in different coloured stones. Ask Dad had he ever heard of it and let me know I should like to get the correct particulars about it. There are plenty of almond quince and orange trees about here also grape vines but there is also plenty of desert. The weather is very hot here now from 9-11 it’s stifling and about 11 a breeze usually springs up from the sea and is a great blessing for us too. I am very glad when it comes every day. The nights are very chilly always. The best time of the day is from about 6pm on. I expect to see you all looking like robust farmers when I come home after all the work you seem to be putting on the allotment. Is it finished yet if not I will give a hand when I get home because I can turn my hand to anything almost now from darning my own socks or sewing patches my shorts so you see I am getting quite a handy man. Hope Dyfan is getting on alright and that his house is still winning my address is still 3144 Corpl GC Roberts C Coy 1/5th Welch Regt EEF. How would you like to come out to the holy land, but I am afraid you would not find any milk and honey . I wish we could find some water and I would be satisfied. Hope Dad and Mam are in the best of health. Hope to hear from you soon. Best love and best wishes to you all.

I am

Your loving brawd

XXXX A few sloppy ones, Goron


After the failure of Second Battle of Gaza, the EEf settled down to a period of trench warfare with an emphasis on the construction of improved infrastructure, rail and water, such that even in rest areas there were innumerable fatigue parties. Some reorganization took place and training in new weapon systems. The 53rd Division took over the right of the British line on May 26th. The one divisions line was 7 miles long and followed the Wadi Ghuzze.

From “How Jerusalem was Won” WT Massey. London, Constable and Company 1919

The mosaics refered to are the Shellal Mosaics and the Australian Chaplain mentioned by GCR was Rev William Maitland Woods.

The following account is from “The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine” by Lt Col C Guy Powles

“The Shellal Mosaic.

After the return of the Division to the vicinity of Shellal following upon the second battle of Gaza the top of the small conical hill upon which had been found some fragments of mosaic, was thoroughly explored under the supervision of Chaplain Maitland-Woods, an Australian padre. He was an enthusiastic archaeologist with a sound knowledge of handling ancient works of art. The mosaic was carefully uncovered and proved to be the remains of a Christian Chapel floor done in beautiful colours PAGE 115with a Greek inscription at each end. From the inscriptions it was found that this chapel had been built in the 622nd year after the Roman foundation of the city of Gaza. The Roman era of Gaza began 61 B.C., which would give the date of the chapel as 561 A.D. In the 6th century, A.D., the coast district of Palestine was an important radiating centre of Christianity. The two churches built by Constantine, the “Holy Sepulchre” and the “Nativity,” founded in 326 A.D, were the objects of the greatest veneration of all Christianity. This chapel must have stood on the road from Jerusalem to Egypt. Down this road came the Ethiopian Eunuch when he met Philip and it was just here that he was baptised. The mosaic is executed in marbles of many colours which must have been gathered from many lands and the colours to-day are as fresh as if the stones had been newly cut. “I am the True Vine; ye are the branches,” is the theme on which the mosaic is composed. The “True Vine” issues from a Greek Amphora of brilliant colouring in which is placed a cross in red marble, with a bright green glory shining from it. Above is a cage enclosing a bird symbolishing the Holy Spirit. On either side above this, is a representation of a hare escaping from a hound —the soul escaping from temptation. And all around the central idea are representations of animals, lions, tigers, PAGE 116flamingoes and peacocks in glorious colours, all doing homage to the central chalice. It may be possible that each animal and bird represents some Eastern Race which had embraced Christianity. The Shellal mosaic awaits interpretation at the hands of competent experts who will be able to give to the world the full meaning of a message delivered over a thousand years ago. After the mosaic had been fully uncovered it was carefully drawn and painted by a New Zealand sergeant with a faithful representation of its original colours, from which the Egyptian Survey Department turned out a beautiful lithograph. The padre took in hand its removal and cleverly lifted it in sections, which were, with the assistance of the engineers, securely packed in boxes and sent to Cairo. The padre had always been of the opinion that the chapel had been built to the memory of some Saint and for a long time he was inclined to believe that our Saint George was buried there. And he became greatly excited when during the removal of the mosaic it became apparent that there was a chamber under the floor; and his enthusiasm rose to bursting point when in a small cavity there were found the bones of a skeleton. His brother officers in the Division had always viewed sceptically the idea of anyone having been buried under the floor, and so the padre, hot with his discovery, rushed off to the nearest telegraph station and sent the following wire to D.H.Q.: “Have found bones of saint”! By a strange coincidence the telegram went to Cairo, where it was sent to the Records Office, Cairo, without any alteration or explanation. In due course the padre received the following: “Send full name, No. and Regiment of Trooper Saint”! The laugh was against the padre, but he eventually scored, for the London papers took up the subject of the mosaic and devoted much space to it, and a discussion as to whose bones they might be.”

The mosaics now reside in the Australian War Memorial  in Canberra but their removal has recently come under scrutiny with some suggestion that this was a war crime.

June 12th 1917, In the Field

Dear Dad and Mam

Just a line again to let you know that I am alright and feeling in the pink hope you all at home are the same. I am feeling 100 F more pinky now than I did day before yesterday because I had a slight dose of diarrhea and had to march about ten miles into the bargain and it was not very encouraging I can tell you and I am fearfully glad it’s gone. I think I told you before that I am a qualified bomber. Here is a bit more news for you I am now on a course of instruction in Stokes Gun and Trench Howitzers and it’s not a bad course so far quite interesting. What I like is to fire them there is a bit of fun in that. I fired a rifle grenade for the first time last week it’s not a bad game. Ask Dyfan how he would like to do it. So you see I am getting quite a jack of all trades and master of some of them too. Lewis Morgan was alright when I left him a few days ago and wishes to be remembered to you. Now for some more news. I had a good feed yesterday some tin peaches in milk, cake and sausage, what do you think of this. I bought it in the YMCA canteen so you see the YMCA follows the everywhere. I can tell you they are very popular out in the desert. Well how is Jon Mag and Glyn getting on? Hope Jon is quite alright now hope he feels in the pink like myself and he won’t be far wrong. Hope Mag has lost her catarrh by now. Now for his Majesty Glyn how is he hope he is pinky also I guess he will be toddling about by when I come home I shall be quite frightened of him he might boss me about one never knows. I should like to see him very much being my one and only nephew. The weather here is very hot now particularly before noon but with all the heat I don’t seem to be getting any thinner it’s fatter I am getting all the time. There was a chap came back to the batt a few months ago from Blighty who went back from the Penninsula and he would not believe that the sergeant he was then speaking to was the small youngster he left behind a small hayrick wounded. So you see I am none the worse for wear and tear. Two years from Blighty will be up next month on the 17th. Time is going on don’t you think so. Roll on duration. Best love and best wishes to you all.

I am Your loving Son


June 7th  1917, In the Field

Dear Dad and Mam

I am very pleased to be able to tell you that I received your letters dated May 14th one from Mam one Mailys also one from Dyfan. I can tell you I was very very pleased to get them. I am very glad to hear that you are all in the best of health I am feeling and looking in the pink. I don’t seem able to reduce my weight in the least in fact I seem to get fatter all the time at least the chaps here tell me so. So you see I don’t worry myself much about anything for you know that worry is supposed to be a great weight reducer. The weather is very hot out here now. we never wear tunics in the day time and have not worn long trousers since I have been in Egypt not even last winter. How would Dyfan like to have to go out in the winter in football nicks, not of course there is a great difference in the winter here and at home. I was out in a bit of a village this morning or what used to be one and there were several almond nut trees and plenty of nuts on the too, big ones. They were alright, there were also fig trees and grape vines there but there was no fruit on them. The worst of this place is that either it is very hot and sultry or if there is a breeze there is plenty of dust flying about with it. You are asking about the parcel in your latter, yes it arrived alright as I told you in a letter I wrote as soon as I got back to the batt, Diolch yn fawr am dano (Welch). That was what Mam wrote after a bit of Welsh she put in her letter. Hope I have spelt this Welsh right. You must still keep excusing my writing as my thumb is still sore. The amount of iodine put on the sore and around it has burnt all the skin on my thumb and causing it all to peel. I was very sorry indeed to hear of poor Mrs Davies (barber) very hard lines indeed. Lewis Morgan had the account in a letter he had from Ben Hughes. Lew is alright he wishes to be remembered to you. He had a parcel with the last mail with two writing pads in it he gave me one and I am writing on it now. it was just what I wanted or else I would be writing to you on cigarette paper or cardboard next letter or two. Very glad to hear that Glyndwr is getting on so fine I wish I could see him, by Dyfan’s account of him he will be in his cricket team shortly. Now for a bit from Mam’s letter, you needn’t fear that I will make myself miserable I know how chaps are who make themselves miserable. I know that this war can’t last for ever and there’s a silver lining to every cloud and I also know that I have a good home to come back to perhaps many have not got that. So you see I should not have anything to be down hearted about. I hope the time is not far off when I can come home and be a bit of help to you. I won’t say again for I was no help then only a rotten worry. Sorry that Mailys can’t go to college this year perhaps she will have a chance next year instead. It’s pretty hard lines Dyfan can’t start to teach just because he is a few weeks too young. Does Mailys wallop the youngsters in school much hope she still remembers the time when she was liable to get a tanning from the teacher. Hope Dyfan’s House will win the league. I was doing some bombing with rifle bombs today but only practice mind. We are still in the reserve had a good spell. My address is still 3144 Corpl GC Roberts C Coy 1/5th Welsh Regt EEF. Give my love to Jon Mag and Glyn hope the handkerchief will arrive alright I must wind up now will write again soon. Best love and best wishes to you all. I am Your loving Son,


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