Roberts, Frederick Josiah E (I38654)

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Frederick Josiah E Roberts 
17 Nov 1889 – 5 Nov 1916
Corporal Frederick Josiah (Joseph) Roberts
Corporal Frederick Josiah (Joseph) Roberts
Other names Joseph
Nationality  Australian
Born 17 Nov 1889
Long Plains, South Australia
Died 5 Nov 1916
Battlefield in France
Genealogy Data
Person ID I38654
Birth Family
Roberts Family (F37994)
Father Josiah Roberts
(24 Jan 1850 - 08 Jun 1912)
Mother Martha Ann Dean
(1852 - 1928)
Military service
Died November 5, 1916(1916-11-05) (aged 26)
Killed in action, Guedecourt, France
Buried at Resting place not known
Allegiance  Australia
Service/branch 1st Australian Imperial Force
Years of service 1915–1916
Rank Corporal
Service no. 680
Unit 23px 27th Battalion 'C' Company

First World War

Awards 1914 Star BAR.svg 1914–15 Star
British War Medal BAR.svg British War Medal
Victory Medal ribbon bar.svg Victory Medal 1914–18

Frederick Josiah (or Joseph) E Roberts was born at Long Plains on 17th November 1889, the fifth son of Josiah and Martha Roberts.

Military Enlistment

On the outbreak of the Great War, as an unmarried 25 year old, Frederick answered the call to enlist in the army. He was given the regimental number 680 in the 27th Infantry Battalion, 7th Brigade, 2nd Division of the Australian Imperial Forces.

His battalion assembled and marched into the camp at Mitcham on 1st April 1915 for eight weeks of basic training. On 31st May it was taken by train to Outer Harbour and embarked on the Geelong for Western Australia, where the ship picked up more troops, then sailed for Suez. Arriving there on July 6th, the battalion travelled to Cairo by train and entered camp for a further two months training.

South Australian members of the Third Expeditionary Force march down Pulteney Street, Adelaide, on 8 May 1915.
The men from Mitcham Camp were entertained at luncheon in the Exhibition Building on North Terrace by the Cheer Up Society. The Third Expeditionary force included the 27th Infantry Battalion, infantry reinforcements, Light Horse reinforcements, 4th Light Horse Brigade Train, 7th Light Horse Brigade Ambulance and 4th Field Ambulance.


On the 4th September, the battalion boarded the Cunard liner Ivernia for Lemnos, then slipped out of that harbour at 5 pm on the 12th, and in the early hours of the morning silently took over garrison duty in the trenches on Gallipoli.

On 18 November 2015, Frederick became ill and on 20 November he was admitted to the 5th Field Ambulance with pyrexia (fever) of unknown origin. The same day he was transferred to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station at ANZAC Cove. Five days later, on the 26th he was transferred to the Hospital Ship Delta which evacuated sick and wounded soldiers to Alexandria. There Frederick was admitted to the 19th British General Hospital with a severe Enteric (intestinal) illness.

On the 4th December he was then transferred to the No. 2 Australian General Hospital, which was located in the Ghezireh (Gezira) Palace in Cairo from June 1915. 500 soldiers were being treated there at the time. Frederick was only there for five days before being transferred once again, this time to the No. 1 Australian General Hospital in Heliopolis. Two days later, on the 11th December, he was transferred to the No. 1 Auxiliary Hospital. By now, he appears to have been convalescing but news travelled slowly and he was reported as being still seriously ill in 121st South Australian Casualty List in the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper published on the 18th December 1915.[1] By the following week in Adelaide, the 124th South Australian Casualty List published on Christmas Day, reported Frederick as having a downgraded status of being in hospital (no longer seriously sick).[2]

From Frederick's Army records, it can be seen that his mother had been informed of his illness by at least the 3rd December, as on that day she sent a telegram to the Army Records Office in Melbourne enquiring into his progress.[3]

Meanwhile, on the 12th December after three months of intense strain, Frederick's battalion took part in the stealthy general evacuation of Gallipoli successfully carried out without the knowledge of the Turks. The Osmania took them to a rest camp on the shore at Lemnos where they enjoyed a good Christmas. On 8th January 1916 the battalion embarked on the Minnewaska for their camp in Alexandria, and a month later, it was taken by train to Ismalia where they dug trenches on the Sinai bank of the Suez Canal. After another month, they marched to Moascar to prepare for France. They were entrained for Alexandria on 14th March; there boarded the Northland and sailed for Marseilles.

Frederick had re-joined the Battalion on the 5th March, and disembarked at Marseilles on the 21st March 1916.

5th Australian Field Ambulance, Rest Gully, Gallipoli, 1915 (AWM)
5th Field Ambulance, Rest Gully, Gallipoli, 1915 (AWM) 
1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station
Tents of the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station near the beach north of Anzac Cove, 2015 (AWM) 
Hospital Ship Delta
Hospital Ship Delta (AWM) 
No 19 British General Hospital at Alexandria
No 19 British General Hospital at Alexandria (AWM) 
Gallipoli patients at Heliopolis, near Cairo, in 1915
Gallipoli patients in the Auxiliary Hospital forming part of the No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis, near Cairo, in 1915. 
Australian Army Medical Corps ambulance vehicles parked outside No 1 Australian General Hospital, 1914.
Australian Army Medical Corps ambulance vehicles parked outside No 1 Australian General Hospital, 1914. 

Western Front

On arriving at the port of Marseilles, the soldiers were confined to the ship until midnight on the 21st, then marched straight to the train for a journey of 3 days the length of France. They were then marched into quarters in Morbecque, near Hazebrouck and close to the Belgian border.

On the 4th April 1916, the 7th Brigade (25th Qld Bn, 26th Qld/Tas, 27th SA, 28th WA) marched forward to take its place in the trenches, and on the 7th April they became the first Australians in the front line in Europe. The Brigade HQ was in Armentieres, and the Brigade front was about one mile long as it straddled the Armentieres-Lille railway line. Each half was held by a pair of the battalions alternating between front-line and reserve in turnabouts of ten to twelve days, 27/25 on the left and 28/26 on the right. After two months, they were relieved by the 5th Brigade.


The Brigade moved into Belgium on the 16th June. The 25th & 26th Bns went into the front line to be met by a concentrated gas attack which caused very heavy casualties. Some of the men from the 27th were allocated 10 days leave in England until June 26th when the battalion relieved the 25th in the front line for the next 11 days. The men were billeted in Neuve Eglise, while spare time was usually spent in the nearby town of Bailleul.

The Somme

Another big push on the Somme was planned for July 23rd, so from July 8th the 27th Battalion made its way, marching and by train, back through Hazebrouck and down to a camp on the outskirts of Amiens. On the 20th they set out to march through Villiers-Bocage, Toutencourt and Harponville to Warloy-Baillon. They bivouaced at Albert on the 26th July, and took part in an evening attack on the heights above Pozieres near Mouquet Farm on the 28th. On August 4th they attacked again, this time successfully, then were relieved, and returned to bivouac in Warloy-Baillon.


Sergeant Sydney Clezy Stockham, C Company, 27th Battalion (c1915)[notes 1]

Frederick was promoted from Private to Corporal on 6th August 1916, upon Corporal Sydney Clezy Stockham being promoted to Sergeant.

Back to Belgium

Sanctuary Wood, Ypres Area, Belgium, 1917 (AWM).
In the background is the highest point on Mount Sorel Ridge, occupied by the 27th Battalion in October 1916.

The battalion marched to La Vicogne on August 11th, to Montrelet on the 16th and to Rubempre on the 20th . They took over the front line from the 19th Battalion from August 27th until September 1st, when they were relieved by the Canadian 1st Battalion and marched back through Albert to Warloy-Baillon.

On September 3rd they marched to Harponville where they paraded before General Birdwood, from whom some men received medals. They then made their way by train and marching back to regular training at Sternwoorde on the Belgian border. On October 5th they were taken by train to barracks in Ypres where they relieved the 19th Battalion in the trenches of a relatively quiet sector just south of Zillebeke, which included Hill 60 and Mt Sorrell. Some of the men joined Brigade parties in raids on October 12th & 15th.

After being relieved on October 16th, the 27th Battalion made its way back to the Somme in stages until it reached Ailly on the 27th October, and was taken in motor lorries to billets in Dernancourt.

Back to the Somme - Battle of Flers (5 November 1916)

(The text in this section was developed from a history of the Battalion and the official Australian war history.)[4][5]
The "Switch Trench" showing infantry in rest. Troops were withdrawn to this reserve line for a few days of rest from the conditions in the front line which were almost beyond endurance. (23 November 1916; AWM)
Plan of Flers Operation 5 November 1916[4]
Battle of Flers, Plan of Attack, 5 November 1916[5]

At 11 a.m. on the morning of November 3rd, the Battalion, under the command of Major F. R. Jeffrey, moved forward to "Switch Trench", near High Wood, and remained there until evening. They then, again, moved forward and relieved the 53rd Battalion in the front line. "C" and "D" Companies, under the command of Captain J. D. Elder and Captain E. A. Warren, took over the right and left of their front line respectively. Portions of "A" and "B" Companies, under the command of Captain VI. P. Devonshire, D.S.O., and Captain J. S. Malpas, took over the support and reserve lines. The remainder of "A" and "B" Companies were attached to the artillery assisting in carrying shells to the batteries in the vicinity of Flers village.

At 2 p.m. on the 4th, orders were received that an attack would be carried out by the 7th Brigade on November 5th at 9.10 a.m., the objective being "Bayonet Trench", "The Maze", and "Gird Trench".

From right to left of the Brigade front the attacking units were the 27th, 25th, and 28th Battalions. On the right flank of the 27th Battalion were the 6th Brigade who were to remaining in their trenches and provide a covering fire during the advance and incidentally protect the flank.

During the night of the 4th/5th, the detached portions of "A" and "B" Companies rejoined the Battalion from fatigue duties, unfortunately receiving very little rest prior to the battle and no opportunity whatever to view the sector and the nature of the ground over which they had to advance.

The trenches were in a deplorable condition - the sides falling in from time to time - and the earth became churned up practically knee deep. The ground to be crossed was ploughed up by shell fire, the extra large shell-holes being half-filled with water. To enable the attacking troops to clamber out of the trenches, which in parts had been rendered deep by the constant throwing out of mud, 600 scaling ladders were to be provided. At noon on November 4th these ladders were only beginning to reach the Longueval area, and General M'Cay was faced by the certainty that they would not arrive in time unless drastic measures were taken. He accordingly authorised one of his staff officers, Major King, to requisition the horses of the field ambulances and to have the ladders carried forward on the sledges which were to have brought back the wounded. In spite of the protests of its commander, all the horses of the 6th Field Ambulance at the advanced dressing-station were then commandeered, as well as twenty from the 7th Field Ambulance. Before dawn the animals were worn out, and many of the sledges broken, but the ladders had been delivered at the front, though in some parts too late for distribution.[5]

Montauban Camp, July 1916 (AWM)
Montauban Camp, July 1916 (AWM) 
Soldiers moving along a support line known as 'Cheese Road', a sunken lane forming the support line in front of Flers. November 1916 (AWM).
Soldiers moving along a support line known as 'Cheese Road', a sunken lane forming the support line in front of Flers. November 1916 (AWM). 
An Australian transport struggling along a muddy track leading to the camp located off the Mametz-Montauban Road, December 1916 (AWM)
An Australian transport struggling along a muddy track leading to the camp located off the Mametz-Montauban Road, December 1916 (AWM) 
Biscuit Trench, December 1916 (AWM)
The recently improved "Biscuit Trench", December 1916 (AWM) 
A fatigue party of the 22nd Battalion, road mending between Montauban and Mametz, having their midday meal by the roadside, December 1916 (AWM)
A fatigue party of the 22nd Battalion, road mending between Montauban and Mametz, having their midday meal by the roadside, December 1916 (AWM) 
Australian pioneers constructing a duckwalk across the trenches of "The Maze". These trenches had just been vacated by German troops. February 1917 (AWM)
Australian pioneers constructing a duckwalk across the trenches of "The Maze". These trenches had just been vacated by German troops. February 1917 (AWM) 
A general view of "The Maze" showing the old German trenches and no man's land, February 1917 (AWM).
A general view of "The Maze" showing the old German trenches and no man's land, February 1917 (AWM). 
Yellow Cut road crossing the German trenches on "The Maze", February 1917 (AWM).
Yellow Cut road crossing the German trenches on "The Maze", February 1917 (AWM). 
Looking east from "The Maze" support trench over what was previously a German road known as Yellow Cut, March 1917 (AWM)
Looking east from "The Maze" support trench over what was previously a German road known as Yellow Cut, March 1917 (AWM) 

The enemy's line was very strongly held, with well-sited machine gun posts particularly on the left flank, where a position conventionally termed "The Maze" afforded a commanding field of fire. Collective intelligence reported that "Bayonet Trench" was being held by the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Guards Reserve Division (Prussian Guards), who possessed a splendid reputation as first-class assault troops.

The Australian troops were to be in position during the dark, so that there would be no preliminary movement in daylight to give warning to the enemy. As the 25th Battalion, which was to assault the projecting triangle known as "The Maze" had not arrived, shortly before dawn General Paton determined to substitute for it the reserve companies of his two flanking Battalions (27th and 28th) and one company from his reserve (26th), forming them into a composite battalion.

To help the troops cross No-Man’s Land, a barrage starting at 9.10 a.m. was to lie for three minutes in No-Man’s Land, 150 yards short of the German line. The infantry would leave their trenches at 9.10 and would have three minutes in which to catch up to this barrage before the guns advanced their fire fifty yards a minute and the infantry moved behind the barrage to attack the German line. Erroneously, the actual order which reached at least part of the infantry was that they should not move until 9.13. The extent that word of this fatal error spread is not known.

Although the going in No-Man’s Land was better than was expected, the infantry in this attack were far distant from their barrage. When, after clambering from slippery trenches and threading their way through stubble between the shell-holes, they caught sight of the German trench for which they were eagerly watching, the few grey helmets which marked it appeared to be still 150 or even 200 yards distant, and the shells of the barrage were already bursting farther ahead. Other grey helmets quickly appeared in growing numbers as the German sentries warned the garrisons. In "The Maze" opposite the Australian centre, clusters of the enemy could from the first be seen firing with all their energy into the advancing lines on either side of them.

Captain C E W Bean, Official War Correspondent, knee deep in mud in "Gird Trench", near Gueudecourt in France, during the winter of 1916-1917. (AWM)

The left battalion (28th) was enfiladed but continued to advance, although the enemy's front line ("Gird Trench") was now crowded with Germans, who, some of them standing on the parapet, poured in heavy rifle-fire. When several machine-guns began to appear, the Australians, dropping into shell-holes, at first shot down the gunners; but others took their places, and within a few minutes the enemy had beaten down this opposition, and thenceforward deadly machine-gun fire pinned the 28th to the crater-field, fifty to a hundred yards in front of the German line.

The right Australian battalion (27th) had, like the rest, first seen the Germans 200 yards away busily preparing to resist. On its left about The Maze the enemy was thick, and throughout the advance machine-guns fired from there and from a distant trench on the left front ("Bite Trench"), but from the right, where the 6th Brigade had pushed out some Lewis guns into No-Man’s Land to cover that flank, there came little interference, and the centre company of the 27th under Captain Elder, screened from the worst of the fire on its left, succeeded in rushing several hundred yards of "Bayonet Trench". This appeared to be merely a line of connected shell-holes, and was garrisoned by a series of posts with bombs but without rifles.

Battle of Flers, Extent of temporary advance, 5 November 1916[5]

Lieut. W. Dickens, with "B" Company, entered the enemy trench at "The Maze", and fought the occupants to a standstill. Included in this party were several 26th Battalion troops, whose efforts proved of invaluable assistance.

Part of the companies on either flank also reached this trench, and for an hour and a half Elder's "C" Company men dug solidly to improve the position. All was thought to be well, but he had not succeeded in establishing firm touch with the flanking companies when, about 10.30, bombing was heard on the right and he found that the Germans were attacking his trench. Stick bombs could be seen flying, and a file of enemy bombers reinforcing along the bank of a half-sunken road ("Yellow Cut") on his right, fully exposed and offering a splendid target. However, rifles were mostly blocked with mud and hardly a shot could be fired. Elder’s men, after finishing their own bombs, used German stick grenades, of which a large number lay about.

A pigeon message was sent, and this duly arrived at the 'loft' of the army corps; but before action could be taken the handful of the 27th-driven in, now, from left as well as right, and with its bombs running short-began to break from the trench. Elder and "C" Company were eventually forced out and, after lying all day in a shell-hole near the German wire, returned to the Australian line at night with a remnant of his company. Part of the composite battalion, however, had succeeded in penetrating "The Maze", and, being reinforced with bombs, held on despite all efforts of the enemy.

On the left, the party of "B" Company, with two Lewis guns, one of which was out of action, held grimly to the captured trench, breaking up every determined effort of the enemy to retake the position, bombing with enemy ammunition as well as their own. Many daring and heroic deeds were performed by this gallant party during the twenty-seven hours it held the position.

When darkness set in many of the soldiers, some of whom were wounded, made their way back to their own lines. Despite the consistency of enemy machine gun fire, the work of rescuing the wounded was carried on until dawn. The next morning the casualties were found to be extremely heavy, with only three company officers remaining.

During the morning advanced parties of the 17th Battalion,arrived, and at 10.30 p.m. relief of the 27th Battalion was effected. The battalion moved back to Montauban Camp, where hot meals and a well-earned rest awaited them.

During the battle the Australians captured 25 prisoners, and a roll call revealed the following casualties:

  Killed Wounded Missing
Officers 5 5 -
Other ranks 72 136 75
Total 77 141 75

A medical inspection revealed the fact that 90% of the men were suffering from cramp and trench feet, the worst cases being evacuated to hospital.

The attempt to advance in this sector - though no vital object was to be gained and the effort had already four times failed - was, through some process of mind extremely difficult to understand, at once ordered by the Fourth Army to be repeated at the earliest suitable moment. But November 7th was a day of drenching rain and wild gale, and - partly in consequence of the concentration of energy upon works needed for the next attack - the conditions became so appalling that this operation, at first fixed for the 9th, was eventually postponed until the 14th. Indeed, the attacks of November 4-5th and 14th and the interval between them formed the most trying period ever experienced by the A.I.F. on any front.[5]

Another attack was launched against "The Maze" by the 5th and 7th Brigades on the morning of 17 November, it also succeeded in capturing a portion of the German trenches, but a surprise attack two days later returned this to the enemy.[6]

On the Western Front, between the 1st of July and 19th of November 1916, the British lost 463,000 men and the Germans opposite lost 218,000 men.[5] General Haig was convinced, upon the assurances of his intelligence staff, that the process of wearing down the enemy was proceeding satisfactorily - German losses on the Somme were incorrectly estimated as being 630,000. It is inconceivable that Haig would have persisted in his offensive on the Somme had he realised, even approximately, how much lighter than his own was his enemy's loss; nor would the Government, which at the end of July 1916 showed marked anxiety concerning the casualties, have permitted him to do so.[5]

Missing/Killed in Action

Australian soldiers at the 'Maze' searching the ground for personal identity discs and pay books of men killed in the early advance of 5 November 1916. (1 March 2017; AWM)
Frederick Joseph Roberts' name is located at panel 111 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial

After the numerous failed attempts at capturing "The Maze" and "Bayonet Trench", many men had been lost and their bodies were inaccessible in No Man's Land. There was an account of one man of the 27th Battalion lying in No-Man’s Land for five days with a smashed leg, until being eventually brought to the trenches by stretcher-bearers under a white flag.[5] Burial parties from both sides did retrieve some of the wounded and bodies, but many bodies stayed where they lay. It was not until early March 1917, after the Germans had left their trenches, that bodies could be searched for and some recovered.

There are multiple reports of the burials. Most reports state that the men were buried where they lay in shell holes. These reports also state that there was "...a collection of 50 graves, with one cross erected in the middle bearing all the names." A battlefield cemetery was created nearby called 'Bayonet Trench Cemetery' (all of those buried in this cemetery after the war were moved to Grevillers British Cemetery). Less than half of the bodies of the men missing in action were recovered. The ground had been extremely disrupted from the offensive and defensive artillery barrages from both sides that occurred during the various battles. Bodies could have been obliterated by shells, or buried in the mud.

Frederick Roberts was one of these. At the conclusion of the "minor operation" on Sunday 5 November 1916, he was one of the 835 casualties of the 7th Brigade that day. He was missing in action and his body never recovered. To this day he, like many others, is classed as having an unknown grave. They are remembered on the walls at Villers-Bretonneux, France and Canberra, Australia. On occasions when the remains of an unknown casualty were found, they were buried in the nearest war cemetery with the headstone reading simply "An Unknown Soldier of the Great War - Known Unto God".

Frederick had travelled half-way round the world to die in France, within 200 km of the English coastal town of Seaford from which the family of his late father had migrated to South Australia. He has no known grave; his name is officially commemorated by an inscription on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial to the Missing in France.

Frederick Joseph Roberts' name is located at panel 111 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial (as indicated by the poppy on the plan).


Next of Kin plaque for Sydney Clezy Stockham of 27th Battalion AIF

Between 1920 and 1922, Frederick's mother received service medals that Frederick was awarded posthumously, plus a memorial plaque presumably similar to the one shown at far right.[3]

1914 Star BAR.svg British War Medal BAR.svg Victory Medal ribbon bar.svg

1914 Star BAR.svg 1914–15 Star
British War Medal BAR.svg British War Medal
Victory Medal ribbon bar.svg Victory Medal 1914–18


Researched by Ron Roberts and Peter Roberts


  1. The Australian War Memorial holds a Diary, 1915-1918; post card and letters, 1916-1918 of Lieutenant Sydney Clezy Stockham written during the First World War. Other items are: transcripts of letters from family and friends; typed transcripts of the diary entries 1915-1918; a postcard, from 4303 Private (George) William Stockham, Sydney's brother to his parents depicting SS Demosthenes;and a posthumous certificate of commission awarded to Sydney Stockham as Second Lieutenant, dated 16 October 1918. Some correspondence deals with Lt Stockham's search for information about the grave of his brother, Pte (George) William Stockham of 5 Battalion who died at Bullecourt 10 May 1917. Other letters from family members express grief felt by them after receiving notification of the death of Lt Sydney Stockham while serving with 131 United States Regiment, 18 August 1918. Lt Stockham saw action at Gallipoli 1915, at Armentieres, France, in 1916 where cover at times was supplied by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), Belgium, 1916, and at Pozieres, 1917. Lt Sydney Stockham took leave in England in early 1918.


  1. "AUSTRALIANS IN ACTION.". Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 18 December 1915. p. 42. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  2. "124th CASUALTY LIST.". Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 25 December 1915. p. 39. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "ROBERTS Frederick Joseph : Service Number - 680 : Place of Birth - Gawler SA : Place of Enlistment - Keswick SA : Next of Kin - (Mother) ROBERTS Martha Ann". National Archives of Australia. 9 April 2005. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Dollman, W.; Skinner, H.M (1921). The Blue and Brown Diamond: A History of the 27th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, 1915–1919. Adelaide, South Australia: Lonnen & Cope. OCLC 15142545. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Bean, C. E. W. (Charles Edwin Woodrow) (1941), The official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Vol.3, Chapter XXV, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916; Flers. The Somme Battle Ends (12th ed ed.), Angus & Robertson, retrieved 11 November 2014 
  6. "Battle of Flers". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 

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