Official documentation produced three years before the start of the Great War provides a poignant and powerful insight into how lives would change so dramatically in the years ahead.
The 1911 Census return for Newland Farm, Witheridge in Devon shows three generations of the Roberts family living under one roof.
John Roberts – who had 30 grandsons serving in the Great War – was living at Newland. Aged 81 at the time, he was strangely described as a ‘boarder’ and ‘old age pensioner’.
He was living with his 41-year-old farmer son, Thomas, daughter-in-law Mary Ann and their eight children.
At least three of Thomas and Mary Ann’s sons would serve in the Great War – Frank, Thomas Jnr and Albert.
At the time of the 1911 Census, Frank, aged 18, was a farrier on the farm. Sons Thomas Jnr, 17 and Albert, 15, were working there as a carter and cattleman.
The youngest children were John, 13, Ivy, aged nine, Reuben, aged seven, Beatrice Mary, aged four, and Courtney, aged two.
Frank, who had joined the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry in 1912, sailed with them to Gallipoli in 1915. In December 1917, he was shot in the head, near Jerusalem. He survived – and later married and had his own family.
Thomas Jnr followed in his brother Frank’s footsteps in joining the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry, in 1913. He was discharged as medically unfit on August 5, 1914, a year and 169 days after he had joined, and before he had an opportunity to see active duty in the war.
Almost four years later, on June 26, 1918, he joined the Devonshire Regiment. At that stage, he was regarded as ‘fit for despatching overseas’, and was posted to Italy in November 1918, just after the war ended. He served with the Devonshire and Warwickshire Regiments, before arriving home in April 1919. He married in 1923.
Albert lost his life three days before his 20th birthday – and just 71 days after he had sailed to France with the 8th (Service) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, hoping for a ‘great adventure’ in Europe. He died from wounds sustained in or after the Battle of Loos.
Thomas Snr and Mary’s son John almost certainly served in the Yeomanry. However, there are no records to confirm this. Reuben and Courtney were too young to fight, although Courtney went on to serve as a Royal Artillery gunner in the 1939-45 War.
The stories of John Roberts and his grandsons who went to war are told in the new book, History Maker.
The picture shows Frank Roberts, in about 1945.