Roberts William John Pte 4457717

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Personnel Entry

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Name Roberts William John
Army number 4457717
Rank Private.
Decorations Awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal - gazetted 4/11/1941.
Date of birth Not yet known.
Age (At time of death).
Unit Enlisted in the Durham Light Infantry - enlistment date to be identified but probably Summer/Autumn 1939. Posted to 8th Battalion. Served with the B.E.F. in France. Taken Prisoner of War at Arras 21/5/1940. Escaped. Subsequently posted to the Infantry Training Centre at Brancepeth. Relegated to Army Reserve. Re-joined 8th Battalion DLI after the War until disbandment in 1967.
Company/Battery Not yet known.
Platoon or other sub-unit Not yet known.
Task or role Not yet ascertained for 8th Battalion but subsequently worked as a Fieldcraft Instructor.
Joined Brigade Uncertain as to date but probably mid-1941 although it appears he did not join the Brigade in Iceland but was detached to work at No. 4 I.T.C. Brancepeth. This assumption is based on a photograph showing him wearing 70th Brigade insignia. That illustration features in his biography associated with his DCM award, held within the DLI Collection.
Promotions None known.
Wounded Not so far as is known.
Prisoner of War Yes.
Died/Killed in action Died 3/10/1994.
Home address Born and lived his early life in Tonypandy, Wales. Married at St Patrick's Church, Langley Moor on 12/6/1943 to Theresa J Farthing. On demobilisation, worked at St Luke's bakery, then the Refuge Insurance Company and finally with HM Prison Service at Durham Gaol from 1960 until retirement in 1982.
Source table

Private Roberts was interviewed by Harry Moses for the Imperial War Museum's Oral History Project but unfortunately the extensive recordings cease at the point of repatriation. It is thought that he may have been transferred to the 11th Battalion but this has yet to be confirmed. The interview can be accessed here.

The Citation for his DCM is as follows:-

D.L.I., Escaped Prisoner of War: (fellow escaper Cpl R Bainbridge DLI. was also awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for this escape.) Captured Arras 21 May 40; taken to Stalag XX A (Thorn) 9 June 40. Escaped Konitz (Poland) 21 September 40. Left Moscow 30 July 41. Arrived United Kingdom II August 41.

Recommendation for the Distinguished Conduct Medal based on interrogation report dated 13 August 1941, as follows:- "These soldiers were captured during May 1940 near Arras and taken first to the prison camp at Thorn and from there to a working camp at Konitz. They escaped together on 21st September by forcing a window, the sentries being partly drunk, and for seven days travelled south. At Tuchel they were spotted and surrounded by the police, but managed to get away. At Schwetz they were given civilian clothes and a compass by an American Pole, who also got them a boat to cross the Vistula. They went on through Wabreszno to Rypin, where they met an anti-German organisation. The Poles gave them shelter, food, clothing and money, but eventually they had to leave on their own, and making their way through Mlawa and Makow they crossed the frontier into Russia near Outrow on 24th February, 1941. They were then captured by the Russians and were imprisoned until their final release on 8th July."

According to the account of this escape, written by Reverend Rawson, a former Officer with 8th Durham Light Infantry, Roberts asserted that the reason for their decorations being awarded had to remain secret for fear of exposing the Polish helpers to reprisals, and this secrecy was maintained until 1988.