William Henry (Harri) Roberts, my Taid (grandfather in North Wales), was born on 10 March 1889 in Blaenau Ffestiniog, the 3rd of 6 children. Most of his mother’s family had emigrated to Patagonia in the 1880’s, but she stayed behind to get married.

When only 13 years old, speaking no English, Harri became an apprentice in one of the major London stores. Having completed his apprenticeship, he got a job in 1906 in the main department store in Leamington Spa. Here he met Nellie Tarplee at Warwick St Baptist church, and they became engaged a year or two later. Aged 20, Harri decided to seek his fortune in Canada, probably to earn enough money to allow them to marry.

William Roberts (Taid) as a young man

William Roberts (Taid) as a young man

After a brief spell in Red Deer and Calgary he settled in Edmonton where he was a stenographer or clerk with the Canadian Pacific Railway. He joined the Canadian army on the day war broke out in 1914 and soon found himself in the thick of the action in France. (See main post image with Harri kneeling bottom right)

However, there is one report that soldiers were given a cup of rum before going ‘over the top’, and Harri, as a strict teetotaller, swallowed the rum and passed out! He spent three days in hospital and missed the action – at least on that occasion, he saw more than enough later on. He sent postcards home to Nellie, many of them written in shorthand.

He quickly rose through the ranks as Sergeant, Staff Sergeant and Quartermaster Sergeant. This involved a posting in England for training and in 1916 he married Nellie in Leamington. 

WH Roberts' Wedding

William Henry Roberts’ Wedding to Nellie

He was sent back to the front and in 1917 promoted to Lieutenant responsible for a battalion on motorbikes (he had started the war as a cavalryman and was later transferred to the Canadian Machine Gun Corps). The Canadian forces were prominent on the front between Mons and Amiens in August and September 1918. In the Battle of Roye Road, near Amiens, Harri led a successful charge on a German Machine Gun emplacement on 7 September, for which he was awarded the Military Cross.

Less than 3 weeks later, on 27 September, he was severely wounded when a shell destroyed a large part of his left shoulder. He was hospitalised in France (No 5 British Red Cross Hospital Wimereux) and England (2nd Eastern General Hospital) for several months, then admitted into the Canadian Officers Convalescence Hospital Matlock Bath. During this time he was allowed 2 weeks leave to attend the funeral of his father.

I have been able to obtain Taid’s military records from the Canadian Military Archives, and it has been fascinating to read about his medical care, and even to see an x-ray of his damaged shoulder!

Together with his wife and mother, Harri attended Buckingham Palace on 13 February 1919 to receive his medal from the king. They also visited Downing Street to see Lloyd George’s home. Harri’s mother was very critical of Mrs Lloyd George for not having clean curtains!

William Henry Roberts Medal

Military Cross Award to W.H. Roberts for conspicuous gallantry

Harri returned to Canada where he was joined by Nellie after demobilisation. Their first son, Gwynfor, was born there in 1920. A year or two later they returned to Leamington to take over the family greengrocers shop. It was here their other two children were born – Megan in 1929 and Emrys in 1931.

Following his experiences in the army, Harri became a committed pacifist and was very active with both Plaid Cymru and CND Cymru. He always hoped to return to Wales one day, but sadly it was a tragedy that instigated the return. His younger brother Richard was hurrying out of his house during a bombing raid on Cardiff in 1941 and fell down the stairs. He was found dead the next day. Harri and Nellie moved to Cardiff to run the newsagent shop at 106 Crwys Rd for Richard’s wife. 

William Henry Roberts Medical Card

William Henry Roberts Medical Card

It was here he spent the longest period of his varied life, living in Monthermer Rd, Cathays. He attended Minny Street Welsh Congregational Chapel, and Nellie attended Woodville Rd Baptist Church. I can still remember as a young child Taid taking us down to Roath Park Rec to play and having tinned pears and evaporated milk for tea.

In 1968 Nain (North Welsh for grandmother) and Taid moved to Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth, to be near Megan and her husband in Llannon. Nellie died in 1981, aged 91 and Harri in 1983 aged 94. He was active to the end, often busy helping the “old” ladies in the neighbouring flats (some of whom were 10 or 20 years younger than him!).

WH Roberts and his wife, Nellie

Lt. William Henry Williams and Nellie

William Henry Roberts X-Ray

William Henry Roberts X-Ray