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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

Month

January 2018

About this blog.

For those who have joined this blog in recent years, I feel it is worth repeating the explanatory and introductory posts from the summer of 2015, posted 100 years since my grandfather was sailing the Mediterranean to the war in the East.

Goronway Cuffin Roberts was a young Welsh soldier of the First World War. His service, after basic training, was entirely conducted in the Middle Eastern theatre of war beginning with Gallipoli campaign, throughout the conquest of Palestine and concluding in Egypt in 1919.
We, his grandson and great grandson, Matthew and Bryn Roberts have, among other memorabilia, all Goronway’s letters home to his family. These range from his first letter from a troopship en route to the East in July 1915 to his last from Egypt in 1919. Most are still in their envelopes and have most likely not been read in nearly 100 years.
Our intention on this site is to publish each of these letters, with commentary as appropriate, 100 years from the day they were written and in so doing perhaps paint a picture of a young man growing up in a world of violence where any day might be his last. They may also shine some light on social aspects of the home front as he passes comment on the news from home in the South Wales valleys. We are yet to read but a few of the first letters so this will be somewhat of a voyage of discovery in itself.
Letters home were heavily self-censored so where we can we will attempt to cross reference dates and events with regimental histories and accounts of the war in other sources. All sources will be explained in full and any comments from readers, if any, relating too their relatives experience will be recognized.

Introduction

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 Jonathan was at the time a Colliery Timekeeper (below ground) and part time student, his younger sister Mailys and younger brother Dyfan 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.

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Jan 24th 1918 In the Field

Dear Dad and Mam

Just a line again to let you know that I am as per usual in the pink and A1 hope you all at home are there same. We are having a short spell of fine weather just now between the rainy season. It is really beautiful to have weather like it. I am at present up in the line so you may guess how thankful we chaps up here are for such weather. It is lovely and quiet here too except when shells come it seems a shame that such place should be disturbed by the explosion of shells. It’s like being for a walk in the country on a summer’s day it seems so quiet. One would not think of such a thing as war being in such quiet and peace. I don’t mean that the land about here is like our country for it is not. It’s nothing but steep rocky hills where I am, but I mean the peaceful quietness is just the same when it’s not disturbed as it very often is. When this war is over I don’t want anything more than to be in a nice quiet place like Aber and be at peace with everybody and everything. I wrote to Jon yesterday and also posted a letter I had written to you a few days before and one to Nain Jones and Uncle Messach. Hope you will get it alright. I have not received the four bob that Uncle sent me but it may turn up one of these fine days for all the mails have been delayed because of the stunt. I told you in a previous letter that I had got the MM it will be a reminder of the day when the Turks tried to retake Jerusalem on December 27th. I will never forget that day for particular reasons. How is Mailys progressing with her teaching hope she is still a keen as she used to be. she must be an awful knut with her 70 pounds a year. How much does she give Dyfan on a Saturday for pocket money. Tell her to let me know. Hope Dyfan is still going strong in school hope he will pass the Matric and Senior if he goes in for it this year. Good luck to him. I sent you a sort of Xmas card one from Bethlehem and the other from Jerusalem have you received them yet. Let me know when you do. I have not had a letter from you for about a fortnight the latest one dated Dec 7th, but that’s not so bad and I hope to have mail again in a few days. That last mail was an excellent one so I don’t grumble for the more I get the merrier. A good letter bag is as good as a tonic to me and I feel like one just now. Well I hope this war will soon be over and then I will be able to come home with and talk to you as much as we want. I guess we will all have a lot to say and ask when that day comes. So roll on duration. Do you believe that this is then war predicted in the Bible. I think it remains to be seen don’t you. This is my last bit of paper I have left so I will have to scrounge for some to write to you next time I must try hard for some as paper is very scarce up here just now as the canteens have not come up yet. According to the new rate of pay I will get 2/6 per day so that won’t be so bad ay? I wonder if the Government will pay my allotment for me if they don’t I will still keep it up so you must let me know as soon as possible if any difference is made in it. Has Howel had to join up yet let me know if I am the only soldier (bar Dyfan) in the family. My address is as per usual 241261 Corpl GC Roberts 159Bde Trench Mortar Battery EEF. Well I must wind up now again hoping you are all well, Mam give Glyndwr a kiss from me please till I can give him one myself. Best of love and best wishes to you all.

Your Affectionate Son

Goronwy

I was thinking of the 23 Psalm just now it’s very true indeed in my case.

Comment

The pictures below are the Psalm book that GCR carried with him in the field and the page open at Psalm 23 to which he refers.

Jan 17th 1917. In the Field

Dear Dad and Mam

Just a line again to let you know that I am as per usual in the pink and feeling A1 once more hope you all at home can say the same. The weather has been better for the last two days and I hope it will keep up, It is not so bad here when it is fine so the longer it keeps up the better, but when it is wet it is very miserable indeed. I am at present in a village called in English Hill of God. The majority of the natives here speak some sort of English for they are nearly all Christians or supposed to be for I don’t call them Christians myself for they charge us some awful prices for oranges and figs which are the only things you can buy here. In peacetime the American Mission was here and they had an English school they have done some very good work here in that respect. The people here have crosses marked over the doors of their houses to show they are Christians some have the front of their houses plastered with crosses I don’t know if they are any better Christians for that do you think so. There is a Greek Orthodox church here and two or three others as well but I can’t say what they are. I am back here resting I came out of the line three days ago and am expecting to pay it another visit any day now. I wrote to you last week and enclosed a letter I received from the DMO in it hope you have received it by now, let me know. I met Dai Thomas who used to live with the Griffins at Aber the other day he is in the 4th Welsh. He was flabbergasted to see me with stripes and MM and so forth he has had a long spell in Blighty and was never on the peninsular, he had dysentery at Alexandria and went home from there. Some chaps are lucky in getting home, but as long as my health keeps as good as it has been I don’t think I have cause to grumble. I would very much like to get a chance of coming home to see you all but roll on duration I say and then I can come home to stay. Lew is not back with the battalion yet. Don’t know where he is I expect he will be back soon though because he only had a slight one. I was told that Jack Williams has landed in Blighty and has had his leg off he is very unfortunate. How is Mailys and Dyfan getting on hope they are both quite well. Padre Davies has gone to hospital a week or two ago run down he has had a trying time all round I think. The officers of my company with the batt congratulated me for having the MM the other day they seem quite pleased that it is the 5th Welsh got the first decoration in the divisional TMB. I don’t feel extra pleased with myself for I would not like to have the same experience again for a bucket of MMs. How is Jon, Mag and Glyndwr getting on give them my love. Hope they are in the best of health. I have no more to say just now. Best love and best wishes to you all.

I am, Your loving son,

Goronwy

For Bravery in the Field

In the Field Jan 11th 1917

Dear Dad and Mam

It gives me great pleasure again in letting you know that I received three letters by the last mail two from you and one from Ethel so you see I have been in luck these last few days few days for that makes six letters in three days four of which are from home Diolch yn fawr yn wer am dano. I received a letter from you both dated Dec 7th and the other from Mailys and Dyfan Dec 2nd. It is very good indeed of you all to write so often to me, it is like a tonic to me when I get a letter from you it beats the best pick me up any doctor could prescribe. I am very glad to hear you are all in such good health I of course am in the pink glad to hear Glyndwr is the same. I am afraid his Taid and Nain spoil him a great deal, but I expect I shall be worse when I see him. I would like to see you all very much, but I hope I will be able to in a short time for I don’t think this war can last much longer. I wrote to you on Jan 8th and told you in that I had the MM (Military Medal) I also enclosed a letter I received from the D.M.O hope you have received it please keep that letter safe for me. The officer in charge of the ———- got badly wounded and I carried on in charge of the gun section, could only use one gun and where this gun was trained on 265 dead Turks were found when we advanced again. The Turks took the hill I was on from us for a short time and I could not get the guns away so I blew two up and another chap did the same to the other. We then joined the infantry and fought along with them. It was the colonel of this battalion who recommended me. I would not like to have the same experience again for a bucket of VCs let alone MMS. Please do not tell anyone about this for I do not want any fuss made at least don’t tell anyone how I got it or I will tell the Turks who gave Dad the sugar in Cefn. Glad to hear that Jon and Mag are alright give my love to them. My address is as per usual 241261 Corpl GC Roberts MM, 159 Bde Trench Mortar Battery EEF. You say you have had some lectures on the war at the Hall. I’m glad you enjoyed them or I should say were interested in them. Dad says he took Glyndwr to one of them. Are you going to make a soldier of him Dad? Let me know. You are asking in one letter if I knew anything about Jack Williams or Lew. I see by Dyfan and Mailys’ letter that you know the former has had his leg off. Lew is only slightly wounded in his shoulder and there is no need to worry about him. He is not back with the batt yet for I was up there the other day. If I was back with the batt I could have been a sergeant again long ago but I am quite satisfied where I am and how I am. Had a rumour yesterday that Lloyd George had resigned hope it is not true let me know. Glad to hear that Jon passed his fireman’s exam alright but what were the firemen out on strike for to win the war? If they want to strike there are plenty of Huns and Turks to strike at if they only knew it. Strikes seem to be on the brain of some people in England. Well I have not got much more to say just now. Have not heard from Uncle Mesach yet. Hope to hear from you again soon. Best love and best wishes to you all.

Your Affectionate Son

Goronwy

Comment

The action described in this letter occurred during the Turkish counterattack on Jerusalem that took place 26th/27th December and was decisively beaten back. GCR destroyed the mortars by throwing a bomb down the tubes the wrong way causing them to explode. Although he jumped clear, he was completely buried in the explosion and although, from the letter, it is clear that he was able to carry on the fight, this incident contributed to the claustrophobia from which he suffered for rest of his days.

His parents did look after that letter from the DMO (Divisional Mortar Officer); it is transcribed below.

To Corpl Roberts GC 1/5 Welsh Rgt attached No 2 Battery 53rd Div LTM Batteries

I herewith beg to enclose you a piece of MM ribbon. Also I am directed by the Gen Commanding 53rd Division and the Gen Commanding the 20th Army Corps to congratulate you on your splendid work with the Trench Mortars on the 27th December. Accept my best congratulations and I hope ere this war is over, you will be able to add a bar to the medal, although of course we would all prefer the war to end as soon as possible.

EB Woolett Capt

Div Mortar Officer 53rd Div

The Military Medal (MM) was a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British Army and other services and formerly also to personnel of other Commonwealth countries, below commissioned rank, for bravery in battle on land.

The medal was established on 25 March 1916. It was the other ranks equivalent to the Military Cross (MC), which was awarded to commissioned officers and, rarely, to warrant officers. The MM ranked below the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

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