Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

John William Roberts

John William Roberts :

John William Roberts : Allied Victory Medal

Allied Victory Medal

John was born between January and March 1890 in Ruthin in Denbighshire, North Wales. His father was called John Thomas and his mother was Ellen. He was their oldest child, and had two younger sisters, Anne E. and Mary Elizabeth. Anne was born in 1891, but sadly died between 1901 and 1911.

John Thomas worked as a corn miller. In 1891 the family lived at Helin Meredith Cottages in Ruthin. Ten years later in 1901 they had moved to St Asaph in Flintshire, also in North Wales. Here they lived at Mill House. This was still their address in 1911. By this year both surviving children had begun to work. Mary was an apprentice dressmaker and John worked as a grocer's assistant.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and John joined the Army on the 7th June 1915. He enlisted in Manchester, joining the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Territorial Force based in the Hulme area of the city. John's parents still lived at Mill House.

John was working as a grocer for Messers J. Seymour Mead and Company when he enlisted. They were based in St George's Hall in Manchester. We don't know when he had moved to Manchester. He was 5 feet 6 inches tall. He was given the service number 3663.

The original 6th Battalion (renamed the 1/6th) had been sent overseas in September 1914, so new recruits like John were used to form a second 6th Battalion (2/6th) and later a third 6th Battalion (3/6th). John joined the 3/6th and trained with them in the Manchester area.

The 1/6th Battalion fought in Gallipoli between May and December 1915. They took heavy casualties during this campaign, despite receiving several drafts of reinforcements. After they left Gallipoli they were sent back to Egypt. They still needed men to bring them back to full strength; and so on the 13th January 1916 John set sail from Devonport near Plymouth. He was a member of either the 5th or the 6th reinforcement draft to be sent out.

John and his comrades joined the 1/6th Battalion in Egypt on the 8th February. Their role here was to defend the Suez Canal against a Turkish attack, as well as to train. Both of these involved spending a lot of time living in primitive conditions amongst the sand dunes of the Sinai Desert. The Turks were driven out of the Sinai during fighting which began in August 1916. The 1/6th Battalion took part in some of this, but was soon withdrawn. It was being sent to the Western Front.

On the 1st March 1917 John sailed from Alexandria. He arrived in Marseilles in France on the 8th, and then travelled north to take his place at the front. At around this time soldiers serving in units of the Territorial Force were given new service numbers. The 6th Battalion was allocated the range 250001 to 275000. John's number became 251133.

During the summer of 1917 the 1/6th Battalion served around Epehy and Havrincourt. John was able to return to the UK for 10 days leave between the 13th and the 25th July.

In late August the battalion moved north to the Ypres area of Belgium. They played a small part in the Passchendaele Offensive that was fought there during the autumn and then held the front line at Nieuwpoort, or Nieuport, on the North Sea coast.

During mid October the battalion was in the rear. As well as training, many of the soldiers were attached to units of the Royal Engineers to help them with construction projects. John was attached to the 427th or the 429th Field Company during this period.

John and the 1/6th Battalion left Belgium during November and by early December he was stationed near Givenchy in France. After serving in the front lines during January 1918 the battalion spent February in the rear, training and resting.

On the 21st March 1918 the German Army launched a huge offensive against the British and French Armies. They hoped to win the war before too many American troops could arrive to fight them. At first the attack was extremely successful. Many Allied units were cut off and forced to retreat.

At the time the 1/6th Battalion was in reserve, but they were quickly transported to the front. They took part in the desperate fighting that stopped the German advance during March and April.

Once the advance had been stopped, the front lines stabilised. They were still dangerous places to be though, and on the 15th May John was wounded. He was hit in the left chest, either by a bullet or by shell shrapnel.

Whatever hit it, John's left lung was punctured. This was a serious wound. After being treated at the 1/2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance and Number 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital John was evacuated back to the UK for treatment. He was admitted to St Luke's War Hospital in Halifax, Yorkshire, on the 27th. He needed 52 days or treatment and was discharged on the 19th July. During his time in hospital an operation was carried out to remove a 'foreign body' from his wound.

On the 29th John joined a Command Depot in Heaton Park, Manchester. These were centres where wounded soldiers who no longer needed medical treatment could complete their recovery, and retrain.

On the 16th November, 5 days after the end of the war, John was posted to the 8th (Reserve) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, at Filey on the Yorkshire coast. He served with them until the 21st February 1919, when he was discharged from the Army.

John was 'no longer physically fit for war service'. He was awarded a Silver War Badge, with serial number 452429, to show that his discharge was honourable.

After his discharge John was awarded a pension of 5 shillings and 6 pence (5/6) per week. This was temporary, until he could be assessed by a Medical Board.

This assessment took place on the 2nd September 1919. John still 'gets pains in chest when he exerts himself'. His scars were 'well healed' although 'slightly tender'.

Other than this, John was in good health. His heart and lungs were both 'normal', his physical condition was 'good', and he was 'well nourished'. He weighed 126 pounds in 'trousers and boots'. The Board decided that he was 'less than 20%' disabled.

After his Board John's pension was increased to 8 shillings (8/-) per week until the 28th October. It was then reduced back to 5/6. John would receive this for a year, and then be assessed again.

After another Medical Board on the 18th September 1920 John's pension was kept the same for another year. We don't know whether he continued to receive anything after this.

John's life after the war remains a mystery. We know his parents still lived at Mill House in 1919. At some point during this period John lived at 88 Cornbrook Street in Old Trafford, Manchester. He later moved to 7 Chapel Lane in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

John's medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 1997. As well as his Allied Victory Medal, John was also awarded the British War Medal for his Army service.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council