Harold Roberts was the son of William, a miner, and his wife, Sarah. He was their youngest son and had been born in 1896. By 1911 the couple had had six children, one of whom had died in childhood. Harold had an older brother, Herbert, and a younger brother, William. He also had three sisters, Elsie, Hilda and Ethel. The 1911 census records Harold as a ‘labourer underground’ aged 15.
In 1901 the family resided at 49, Station Road, Biddulph and had moved to 14, Well Street by 1911. At the time of Harold’s death, William and Sarah lived at 82, Craig Side.
Harold received numerous mentions in the local press. The Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel of June 12th 1915 reported “Harold Roberts, youngest son of Mr. Wm. Roberts, Well Street and James Bailey, joined the Manchester Pals last week.” On July 8th 1916, the Chronicle informed readers that Mrs. Roberts, of 23 Tunstall Road had received a letter from her son, “Private Roberts is a member of the Roberts family, whose fame in the musical world is proverbial in North Staffordshire.” The Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel of June 24th 1916 reported “Harold Roberts, second son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Roberts of 23, Tunstall Road, is in France. He joined the Manchester Pals on May 21st and had previously worked at Victoria Pits – Black Bull.”
Harold enlisted at Congleton on June 3rd 1915, although local newspapers give this date as May 21st. He joined the Manchester Regiment, to serve in the 19th Battalion (4th City). This battalion had trained at Heaton Park, Belton Park, Grantham and then Lark Hill, Salisbury Plain for their final intensive instruction before leaving for France on November 6th 1915. Harold was not with the original unit as he joined the battalion in the field on April 8th 1916 after crossing the English Channel aboard the SS Princess Victoria and moving to Etaples soon after in a reinforcement draft.
Although his service records have survived, parts are damaged and cannot be easily read. The 19th Battalion was attached to the 21st Brigade, 30th Division which had already seen action on the Western Front. The first major action after Harold’s draft joined was to be the Battle of the Somme. Preparations for the battle kept the troops busy and the seven day artillery barrage was halted for the attack on July 1st 1916. In the south of the Somme battle line between Maricourt and Montauban, the 19th Manchesters attacked.
After a bitter fight and by 10 o’clock, Montauban would be taken from the enemy and the division then went on to attack Trones Wood but not before Harold had received gunshot wounds in both legs. It soon became apparent that the barrage had not succeeded and the enemy had emerged from their deep strongholds to open up with deadly machine gun fire on the battalion. His wounds were serious and initially treated in a front line dressing post before he was eventually taken back to the no. 2 Stationery Military Hospital at Abbeville on July 4th. Two days later Harold was transferred to blighty aboard the hospital ship St. Denis.
Back in England, Harold was taken to the Stepping Hill Military Hospital at Hazel Grove, Stockport. His detailed service records show that he was to spend over a year in this hospital undergoing surgery and recuperation before being discharged in August 1917. This was followed by a stay in the Military Convalescent Hospital at Eastbourne. A ten day home leave followed. For some reason his furlough form mentions the 21st battalion. Unable to return to active service due to his poor health, on September 20th 1917 he was transferred to a home base unit, the 3rd Reserve Battalion, Manchester Regiment. This was a depot and training unit used for supplying replacement drafts for overseas battalions. The battalion also took a role in the defence of the Humber and therefore Harold was now based at Cleethorpes.
Harold, on light duties, continued his role in the army with this new battalion, however his condition and health gave further concern at the beginning of 1918. By July he was admitted again to Stepping Hill Military Hospital where he became gravely ill as a result of the wounds he had received in July 1916. He was treated in hospital but on August 15th 1918, at the age of 23, Harold Roberts sadly died in hospital from pulmonary tuberculosis. Harold was taken home to his family in Biddulph to be buried at St. Lawrence Church.
His death was reported in the Weekly Sentinel, “Official news was received by Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Roberts, Tunstall Road, Biddulph, on Thursday week, of the death of their youngest son, Private Harold Roberts, in hospital at Hazlehurst, following on an illness of nearly two years from the result of wounds received while on active service in France. Private Harold Roberts, whose age was 23 years, enlisted early in 1915, joining the Manchester Pals. He went on active service in March, 1916, and was wounded on the following July 1st. In October 1917, he was again detailed for overseas duty, but his health gave way, and since then he has been in hospital. Prior to enlisting he worked at the Victoria Pit, Black Bull.
The funeral took place at Biddulph Churchyard on Monday afternoon, and was largely attended. The cortege was preceded by the members of the Crown Lodge of Free Gardeners, of which the deceased was a member. As the coffin, covered with the Union Jack, was borne into the Wesleyan Chapel, the organist, (Mrs. Copeland) played ‘O rest in the Lord’. The service was conducted by by the pastor, the Rev. J.A. Grindell, who gave a touching address, and appropriate hymns were sung. Among the many beautiful floral tributes were the following, from Nurse Davenport, members of the Free Gardeners, teachers and scholars at Wesley Hall and Station-road Wesleyan Men’s Bible Class.”
Harold is remembered on all the Biddulph memorials.
Michael Turnock and Elaine Heathcote.