1914-2014: Abergele & District Commemorations: John Roberts

Private 7017 John Roberts, Somerset Light Infantry, 1st Battalion, ‘A’ Company, 11th Brigade, 4th Division. Killed in Action 21 October 1914, Attack on La Gheer, Battle of Armentières, First Battle of Ypres.

Listed as ‘John Roberts, Towyn’ on the Abergele War Memorial. Born Conwy, enlisted Swansea, lived Manchester Cottages, Towyn. No known grave, Panel 3, Ploegsteert Memorial, Berks Cemetery Extension, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium. Abergele War Memorial. Abergele Town Memorial. Towyn War Memorial.

John arrived in France 11 September 1914 as a reinforcement for the 1st Somerset Light Infantry which had landed 22 August 1914. The 1st Somerset Light Infantry moved from Armentieres to Ploegsteert on 20 October 1914. The following morning they marched to the north-east corner of Ploegsteert Wood and took part in an attack on La Gheer.

La Gheer was a hamlet in the British 12th Brigade area, astride an important crossroads at the south-east tip of Ploegsteert wood. At 5.15 a.m., 21 October 1914 a strong attack on the British 12th Brigade by eight battalions of the German XIX (Saxon) Corps was launched. The 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, holding La Gheer, were forced backwards losing many men as prisoners of war in the process.

Its posession by the Germans threatened British control of the entire wood and allowed them to enfilade British positions both north and south. It was vital that La Gheer was retaken quickly and the task was assigned to a mixed force of four battalions from 12th and 11th Brigades, including the 1st Somerset Light Infantry. The attack involved John’s A Company, supported by B Company, advancing from the eastern edge of the wood and turning southwards. The assault required a bayonet charge on German positions in the hamlet of La Gheer. The hamlet was soon cleared and taken.

The attack had been a great success and captured 143 German prisoners as well as releasing 45 Inniskilling Fusiliers who had been captured in the initial German advance. The cost of the success was 1 Officer and 7 men killed, including Private John Roberts of Towyn.

John’s body was either not recovered, not identified or buried in a grave that was subsequently lost, and his name is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial.

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