William was born in 1889 in Wain Lee, an area between Harriseahead and Brown Lees. He was the second son of John Roberts and Sarah Jane Oakes. His mother was from Buglawton in Cheshire. Father John was born in Hanley but in 1881 is living in Brindley Ford with his widowed father. John married Sarah Jane in 1884 at St. Paul’s church in Burslem.
1n the 1891 census the young family are living at Brindley Ford, near to the New Vine Inn, with sons Ernest and William aged two also with three of Sarah’s brothers and sisters, Isaiah Oakes 11, Jemima 18 and Emma 20. Father John is 37 and working as an ironworker shingler.
By 1901 the family has grown to include two more brothers David nine, Tom six and young sister Betsy, just four. Maternal grandmother Harriet Oakes, age 52 is also living with the family. She had been a widow since 1880 following the death of her husband Josiah. William Percy is now 12 and still at school.
In the 1911 census William Percy is listed as Percy Roberts age 22 and is employed as a labourer in the iron trade. He is still living with parents John and Sarah. The family include David 19, Thomas Leadbeater 16, Betsy 14, Alfred Edward nine, Frank four, Nellie four and Sam one. The family are now living at the High Street in Brindley Ford.
On August 12th 1912 William Percy Roberts, aged 23, bachelor miner of Brindley Ford, married Alice Webster, age 17, also of Brindley Ford, at St. Bartholomew’s Church in the parish of Norton-in-the-Moors. She is the daughter of William Thomas Webster and the witnesses are William’s brother David and Mary Jane Mansell.
The couple have two children; daughter Marion born in 1913 and son Harold born on July 26th in 1914.
With the outbreak of war on August 4th 1914, William is one of the first men to enlist on September 8th at Tunstall, with the 3rd Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment. His service number was 9921. This was a home based unit stationed at Lichfield-Crownhill-Davenport. He gained promotion to Lance Sergeant on February 23rd 1915 and further promotion to Sergeant in March. On April 29th, William was transferred to the York and Lancaster Regiment - initially in the 3rd battalion, another home based unit. A few days later he reverted to Lance Sergeant and was posted to the 1st Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment.
William embarked for a channel crossing, landing in France on May 4th 1915 where he joined his new battalion who were attached to 83th Brigade 28th Division. This division had been in France since January 1915.They had fought in the second battle of Ypres in April and were to see their next major action in the Battle of Loos in September. In October 1915 the 1st York and Lancasters were ordered with their division to Salonika arriving in January 1916. However the service records of William, although a little confusing, state that he was posted to the 2nd Battalion attached to 6th Division who were also serving in France and so William remained in France.
William continued his duties with 2nd Battalion in the Ypres salient seeing actions at Hooge through the wet cold winter into 1916. On February 23rd he became ill with NVD (vomiting and diarrhoea) and was taken out of line and treated initially in the 2nd Field Ambulance before being transferred to the 167th Field Ambulance and then being admitted to the 1st Canadian General Hospital, at Etaples, on the coast. Within days William was moved again to the no. 9 Stationary Hospital at Le Havre. By May 25th 1916, although not completely fit, he had recovered enough to return to the front with his battalion who were still in the Ypres Salient.
The 6th Division were soon to fight in the battle of the Somme but not until September, when the men of 2nd Battalion were involved in heavy fighting at Flers-Courcelette. However, before this, William became ill again on August 19th 1916 and was treated at 16th Field Ambulance. On August 24th he was taken to the 44th Casualty Clearing Station and then passed on to the 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospital at Boulogne. His condition this time was PUO, which becomes trench fever, a more serious condition. So on September 2nd William was transferred by the Hospital Ship Newhaven to England for more intensive treatment.
Part of his stay was at the Northampton War Hospital Dunston and with care his condition improved and he was no doubt allowed home leave. Whilst in England, bizarrely, William, deserted his duty on December 26th 1916. No reason or account has been found. It was Christmas time which may have had some bearing on the incident. However he was demoted to private and no doubt served time for the way he behaved. It appears from correspondence in his service records that the COs of various battalions of York and Lancaster Regiment were themselves unaware of the circumstance of this incident.
In February 1917 William returned to the battlefield. He was posted to 14th Battalion and sailed from Folkestone crossing to Boulogne on February 13th and the following day he joined his unit in the field. The 14th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, known as 2nd Barnsley Pals were attached to 94th Brigade 31st Division. In April the pals were ordered to fight in the Arras Offensive, with a major action in May, the third Battle of Scarpe their objective and in late June they captured Oppy Wood. This area was full of enemy machine gun and mortar posts, with many observation lookouts and despite heavy enemy shelling the attack was a complete success, although the action resulted in the sad loss of thirty brave men including Private William Percy Roberts on June 30th 1917 at the age of 28.
Following his death on June 30th, among various papers is a list of his possessions which included, “disc, letters, photos, postcards, prayer card, new testament, gold ring (broken).”
Another form requests details of living relatives. These included mother Jane Roberts of 6, Victoria Street, Brindley Ford, wife Alice Roberts of The Schoolhouse, Brindley Ford with children Marion and Harold, brothers Ernest, David, Thomas, Edward, Frank and Samuel and sisters Betsy and Nellie. Also two nephews, John Raymond Roberts aged three and Percy Roberts aged one of Bourne Street, Brindley Ford.
William has no known grave and is remembered on the Arras Memorial in Pas-de-Calais, France. Also his name is found on the Brindley Ford Memorial as Percy Roberts.
His widow Alice Roberts remarried in 1920.
Michael Turnock and Kathleen Walton.