A mystery over what happened to a book which saved the life of Devonshire soldier Sam Roberts in the Great War has been solved.
Sam, of Rackenford, Devon, was shot in the chest just before Christmas 1914 as he charged at a German trench in northern France.
The bullet, fired from an enemy rifle, should have killed him. But he lived to fight another day because a book he kept in his breast pocket took the full force of the blast.
Sam, a private in the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, was critically injured, spending many weeks in intensive care in hospital in London.
But, a year later, he returned to the front line – this time as a corporal in the 8th Devons.
He was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916 and he was buried at the Devonshire Cemetery at Mametz.
His near miraculous escape from death in 1914 was reported in local newspapers, but it was never revealed what had happened to the book that saved his life.
It has now emerged that the book – a Soldier’s Pay Book with a hole all the way through it – was given to Samuel’s younger brother, Charles.
He later gave it to his son, Gerald Roberts – but, sadly, the book was lost a number of years ago.
Gerald, now 88 and who still lives in Devon, revealed the story of the book as we talked for the first time this week.
A Soldiers’ Pay Book was issued to all those serving in the Great War. It served as a log book and had to be carried at all times.
It recorded a soldier’s earnings and details of next of kin, vaccinations, inoculations and eye prescriptions. It also included regimental numbers, dates of enlistment, ranks, awards and space for a will.
Sam – Gerald’s uncle – was one of 30 grandsons of John Roberts, of Witheridge in Devon who served in the Great War.
Seven of John’s grandsons died in the war – three were killed in action on the Western Front, three died from wounds sustained in action in France and Flanders and one died from heart disease in Mesopotamia.
An oak memorial cross for John Roberts – who was buried in an unmarked grave in 1919 – is to be dedicated at Witheridge Churchyard on October 4.
A John Roberts Family Reunion is to be held in Devon on October 13. About 100 descendants of John – including Gerald – will be attending the event.
These events have been inspired by the publication of History Maker, a book which tells the story of John and his grandsons who went to war.
The picture shows Sam (middle row - second left) among 21 children at Rackenford School with a perfect attendance record. The picture (provided by Sarah Child) was taken in 1906, when he was 11. He was killed 10 years later on the Somme.