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howard parry robertsHoward Parry Roberts was born in Ruthin, Denbighshire in 1896 and was baptised in the Parish Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd (2 miles north-east of Ruthin) on 28th September that year. He was the son of unmarried Frances Roberts (aged 22) of Acer Fer, Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd. No father’s name was recorded on the baptism records.

By the time of 1901 census Howard was living with his mother and great auntie at Quarry Bank in Brinscall near Chorley. His great auntie Margret owned the house and was living on her own means whilst his mother was working at a print works. By 1911 the trio had moved to Flash Green, Wheelton and both Howard and his mother were employed at Withnell Fold Paper Mill.

When war was declared Howard was still a month short of his 18th birthday but it wouldn’t be long before he enlisted and joined the 1/4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the number 1483, later to become 200292 when the T.F. were renumbered in 1917.

He wasn’t part of the original deployment of 1/4th Battalion soldiers to France in May 1915 and wouldn’t have been present at their first action at FEESTUBERT that June which became known as the Great Bayonet Charge, but sailed out on 8th August 1915 to reinforce the remainder of the men who had survived it.

howard parry roberts id tag

Roberts’ privately purchased Identity bracelet

In late July 1916 his division was detailed to take part in the ongoing battle of the Somme. They took their place in the line on the night of the 30th opposite the village of GUILLEMONT. The plan was to capture the village (which had proved to be a major sticking point thus far), enabling further advance. On the night of 8th August 1916, they assembled in trenches near TRONES WOOD in preparation for the attack. The attack was largely unsuccessful, the right flank being held up almost from the start. Soon the whole line began to retire. The main failing was attributed to great confusion caused by mist, and enemy smoke bombs.

Battalion account of the actions 8th August 1916

After a night in bivouacs, preparations were made to go over the ground prior to an attack on GUILLEMONT on the 8th. The Battalion returned to the line that night and assembled in trenches east and west of the road which ran south from the east corner of TRONES WOOD, C Company being details to consolidate the right of the enemy line and D Company the left on the west side of GUILLEMONT. A and B Companies acted in conjunction with the 1/4thRoyal Lancasters and the 1/8th Liverpool Regiments respectively.

The attack was not a success. The right was held up from the start by the switch line which had been reported by our patrol on the 6th, such report having been either overlooked or ignored, and the men had to fall back to the original line, though the 1/8th Liverpools went through the village on the left and D Company of our Battalion commenced to consolidate, but were driven off by the enemy coming behind them and cutting them off from the Liverpools.

Considerable confusion was caused owing to the mist and the employment by the enemy of smoke bombs, the four platoons in reserve not being called upon for this reason, though all their Officers were killed and they suffered many other casualties. The operation was a costly one. Nine other ranks were killed, 97 wounded and 107 reported missing: whilst of the Officers, Captain E.M. Rennard and Captain H Lindsay were killed, Second Lieutenants O.H. Ducksbury and J. H. Holden missing (afterwards found to be prisoners of war) and Lieutenants De Blaby and A.T.D. Evans and Second Lieutenants E.L. Fairclough and T.A. Bigger wounded. Lieutenant De Blaby died the following day.

A fellow soldier, Private Thomas Ainscough, recorded more details about this action in his diary (click here)

I was expecting them about 9pm but they could not get up the valley until it had quietened down a bit, but just before midnight on the 8th August I saw them coming up. For about two hours the Germans had been sending tear shells, and my eyes were sore and swollen. About 3am on the 9th the attack on the Germans commenced and I shall never forget bombardment that proceeded the attack, The noise was deafening and all the valley was lit up with the flashes of the guns and bursting shells.

The Germans were sending fire shells and our trench was all on fire. All at once all our wires broke, my visual station was blown to atoms and it was now they were needed most for the boys were held up in and about GUILLEMONT and were losing very heavily.

One of our boys got wounded here and has since died in hospital at Liverpool. I rushed out across DEATHS VALLEY to try and mend the wires but as fast as I mended them they broke somewhere else.

The shelling got worse and I found it was impossible to get back to the trench again so I looked round for some means of getting through to the artillery. At last my efforts were rewarded for I got through with a flag and asked for a fresh bombardment on the slopes behind GUILLEMONT for it was here that the Germans had all their machine guns which were cutting our boys down. For three days we tried to take this place but could not do so. All this time I was out in the middle of DEATHS VALLEY, and sending on the flag all day, and having nothing to eat I was fast becoming exhausted.

The smell was something awful and it was hard to hear wounded men crying for help. Time after time lads came up to me, some of them in a very bad condition and begged of me to help them but I could only bandage them up and make them as comfortable as I could, until the shelling died down a bit. One poor lad who I helped gave me some silk handkerchiefs, the poor lad died he was very badly wounded.

At last it quietened down a bit, and I managed to get back in the trench. A few minutes after I got hit in the left shoulder, but it was but a slight wound so I did not go to the dressing station. It continued to be very rough but we kept up communications.

It was after this attack at GUILLEMONT on 8th August 1916 that Private Howard Roberts was posted as missing in action and was later discovered to have been taken prisoner by the Germans. He was held in captivity for the remainder of the war until being repatriated from Danzig to Leith where he arrived on 1st December 1918 on the S.S. Russ (a Danish Hospital Ship) flanked by two British Destroyers.

He married Margaret Ann Sharples in late 1926 who the following year gave him a daughter they named Joyce.

During the second War Howard  served with the Withnell Fold Home Guard and was presented a certificate which is transcribed below.

In the years when our Country was in mortal danger


who served from 26.6.1940 to 31.12.1944 gave generously of

his time and powers to make himself ready for her defence by

force of arms and with his life if need be.

Signed George RI


H. P. Roberts. Source: Boyd Harris

Withnell Home Guard. H. P. Roberts marked. Source: Boyd Harris website

Additional information

Howard was one of 83 men who enlisted from Withnell Fold Paper Mill, fourteen of  whom were killed including  James Miller who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Howard said later that if he hadn’t been captured he would have been one of the dead. He returned home after the war to continue his career at the mill and get involved in many pursuits. He was a member of the local Withnell Fold Cricket team, Bowls team and even played in the Alban Yates Band.

In 1936 Howard was the choirmaster and wrote the words for a vesper hymn but couldn’t find a tune in the hymn book to fit the words. He asked his friend and musician Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) if she could compose a tune, which she did. Kathleen married Albert Wilson from Withnell Fold in 1935 but the marriage was not a success. However, Kathleen then started her singing career and became one of the World’s greatest contralto singers.

Howard Roberts in later life

Howard Roberts in later life

Howard Parry Roberts passed away, aged 76 years, in Chorley in 1972.

Thank you to Boyd Harris (click for website) for supplying the photographs and additional information.

Paul McCormick
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