Poppy In memoriam Poppy

Private John Martin Roberts




John Martin Roberts was born on 26 May 1888 at Sommerville, Churchtown Lower, Dundrum, Dublin, the sixth of nine children of gardener, coachman, servant and labourer Thomas Roberts and his wife Amelia (nee Hayes). His father died when John was just twelve. On 17 October 1902 his mother married Robert Nixon, labourer from Downpatrick and she and her younger children, including John, moved there to live with him.

By 1911 he was living at 10 Main Street, Newcastle, and working as a groom. His mother, step-father and younger brother Edward were living at 8 Church Street, Downpatrick. Soon after he moved to Belfast and on 18 September 1912 he married Robina Crawford at St Anne's Cathedral. Their child John Hayes Roberts was born fourteen months later.

Roberts had enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Downpatrick between 17 January and 26 February 1910 (No.464 – later Corps of Hussars No.71027). He embarked for France on 17 August 1914 with A Squadron, seeing action on the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne.

Roberts remained with A Squadron throughout the war. In May 1916 A, D and E Squadrons came together to form the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to VII, XIX and then V Corps. In February and March 1918 the regiment was dismounted and converted to a cyclist unit, serving for the remainder of the war as corps cyclists to V Corps.

On 21 August 1918 Roberts, serving with one of the regiment's Lewis Gun teams, was involved in an attack on German positions on the Somme front, part of the Advance to Victory offensive. During the fighting he was killed, just north of the Bois d’Hollande on the slope running up from the Puisieux Road. He was buried where he fell (map reference 57d.R.2.c.1.2).


Where Roberts fell, looking towards the Bois d'Hollande


In 1919, men of 117 Labour Company, searching the old Somme battlefields for the bodies of British servicemen, came across Roberts' grave – unmarked – and although they could not identify him at the time, they found his North Irish Horse cap badge. A little further up the slope they found the grave of North Irish Horseman Thomas Bryson, killed in action on the same day. The bodies of the two Horsemen were taken to nearby Bucquoy, where they were laid to rest, side by side, in the Queens Cemetery, Bucquoy, Roberts in grave IV.E.18. His gravestone was marked with the regimental badge, a cross, and the inscription ‘A soldier of the Great War. North Irish Horse. Known unto God.’ His name is listed as one of the missing on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France, Memorial Panel 3.

By tracking the movements of the North Irish Horse squadrons during the war and the records of all the men whose burial place is unknown, I was able to conclude that the 'unidentified' man buried in the Queens Cemetery was Private John Martin Roberts. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission accepted my submission seeking formal recognition of Roberts' burial place, and a rededication ceremony was held there on 18 May 2022.


McVea 2

Vis-en-Artois Memorial


Gravestone before rededication


Two of John Roberts' brothers also died as a consequence of the war. Gunner William Henry Roberts died of wounds on 27 July 1916 on the Somme while serving in the Royal Field Artillery. He is buried in the Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension I.G.8. Albert Edward Roberts, a 1st Class Stoker on HMS Racoon, drowned on 9 January 1918 when it struck rocks in a blizzard off Donegal, sinking with all hands. Two years earlier he had survived when the battleship HMS King Edward VII foundered after striking a mine. The three brothers are commemorated on the Downpatrick War Memorial. Another brother, Frederick Roberts, served for twelve years in the Royal Field Artillery, mainly in India, but not during the war. He died in Belfast on 17 January 1925, and though a later newspaper article attributed his death to his 'war service', this is unlikely.


Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension


Chatham Naval Memorial


Downpatrick War Memorial


Downpatrick War Memorial


Bronze Plaque erected in St James's Church of Ireland, Antrim Road, Belfast, from Belfast Telegraph, 12 May 1920


Private Roberts' mother Amelia attended remembrance day ceremonies every year at Downpatrick and then Belfast, wearing her sons' medals. She died at Larne on 26 March 1946.


Larne Times, 14 November 1936


Larne Times, 21 November 1936



Amelia Roberts


My article on Private Roberts and the journey to find his grave and seek a re-dedication by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was published in the December 2020 Bulletin of the Western Front Association and can be viewed here. Images from the re-dedication service can be seen here. A statement on the UK Government website is here. An article from the Belfast Newsletter on the service is here.


Vis-en-Artois Memorial image kindly provided by Simon Godly. See his First World War website at www.webmatters.net. Downpatrick Memorial images sourced from the Irish War Memorials site. Last two images kindly provided by Amelia Roberts' great granddaughter Susan Bracegirdle. Images from St James's Church of Ireland and of John Martin Roberts kindly provided by Nigel Henderson, researcher at History Hub Ulster. Images 2, 3, 5 and 6 Copyright © Phillip Tardif with all rights reserved as set out in this Use of Material policy. Image 7 courtesy of Steve Rogers, Project Co-ordinator of The War Graves Photographic Project.