Albert Charles Roberts
M/6356, Engine Room Artificer 4th Class, HM Submarine E30
6th January 1892, St Pancras – 22nd November 1916, off Orfordness
Panel 15, Portsmouth Naval Memorial
Lives of the First World War entry
He was the son of the gun barrel maker George John Roberts (1852, Soho – 1934, Hampstead), who was himself the son of a gun maker. In 1861 George John was living with his father George (1824, St Giles’s, Middlesex), his mother Caroline (1832, Camden Town), his three younger siblings and two lodgers at 6 Crown Court, St Anne, Strand. At St James’s the Less, Thorndike Street on 14th June 1873, George John married Albert’s mother Mary Ann Trimbey (1852, Marylebone – 1934, Hampstead). She was the daughter of a night cabman and in 1871 had been living on Little Chapel Street, Soho with her parents and siblings. All George and Mary’s recorded children were born in St Pancras district – Eliza Elizabeth (1875), John George (1876), William (1878), George (1880), Arthur Alfred (1882), Charlotte May (1884), Lily Catherine (1886) and Albert. John and Eliza were both christened as adults at St Michael’s on 16 February 1888, with their father’s occupation given as gunsmith and their parents’ address as 145 Arlington Road. By 1911 George and Mary had had eight children born alive, of which three had died by 1911. One of those to have died was Albert’s elder brother George, who died in the Boer War and is commemorated at St Michael’s by a wall plaque.
In 1881 the couple were at 134 Bayham Street with Eliza, John, William and George. By 1891 they had moved to 145 Arlington Road, with Eliza, John, George, Arthur, Charlotte and Lilly, along with two boarders (one of whom was another gun barrel maker). They were still at that address in 1901, now without the boarders and with Eliza, Arthur, Charlotte, Lillie and Albert. Mary Ann was a confirmation candidate at St Michael’s in 1891, aged 39 and still giving her address as 145 Arlington Road. Arthur Alfred also gave that address when he was a confirmation candidate in 1895, aged 13, as did Charlotte May when she was a candidate in 1897, aged 13 and Lily Catherine when she was one in 1899, aged 13. Albert Charles was a candidate himself in 1904, still at 145 Arlington Road – his entry in the register was later annotated “RIP killed in war”.
In 1911 Albert Charles was still living with his parents and siblings Eliza, Arthur and Lily, now at 36 St Augustine’s Road, Camden Town. He was working as an apprentice actioner at a gun makers – his father was a gun and barrel maker and gave his employment status as employee not employer, so George, Albert and Arthur (who had passed his apprenticeship as a gun maker’s actioner since 1901 and was now working as one) may all have been working at the same place. Arthur Alfred married Edith Mary Anderson of 43 King Henry’s Road at St Michael’s on 14th June 1913 – she was the daughter of Charles Anderson, a nurseryman. Their son Arthur John was baptised at St Michael’s on 26th December 1916, with his father’s occupation given as soldier and his parents’ address as 51 Oakwood Road, Golders Green.
Albert Charles’ naval service record survives at the National Archives (ADM 188/1030/6356), with the service number M6356. He was a fitter and turner upon joining up for 12 years on 29th July 1913. He was 5 foot 9 inches, with blue eyes and light brown hair. He spent the first few months of his service at HMS Vernon and HMS Victory II, as an Acting Engine Room Artificer 4th Class. (He may have reverted to being an acting one on 19th November 1915, though his CWGC record accords him the full rather than acting rank.)
On 21st April 1914 he was made a full Engine Room Artificer 4th Class and posted to his first ship, HMS Black Prince, where he was in charge of the torpedoes. He wrote two letters to the parish magazine on 18th July 1914 and 20th May 1915 (both published the month after they were written). These described how his ship made a stop at Jaffa, probably early in July 1914, during which he and a few others gained permission from the admiral to visit the holy land. They passed through the Plain of Sharon, seeing Samson’s tomb. There first stop in Jerusalem was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on which he commented “One can scarcely imagine the diffidence one feels at entering such a holy place (we went right into the rock) or the thrill experienced when confronted not by teachings but by visual facts”. They also visited the tomb of Rachel there, as well as going to the Church of the Nativity and the Church of St Jerome in Bethlehem – he commented about the former that “A Turkish soldier is posted at the spot where the manger was, and at each altar [of the various denominations sharing the church]”. They then returned to Jerusalem, riding on donkeys through the Golden Gate, past the Garden of Gethsemane and up the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Ascension.
A week after the stop at Jaffa, he and his ship had sailed on to Alexandria, during which stop he was able to see Cairo and the Pyramids. They then sailed on to Malta, where news of the outbreak of war was phoned down to the torpedo room by the captain at eight bells (midnight). The ship then took part in the pursuit of the battlecruiser SMS Goeben and the light cruiser SMS Breslau on 6th-7th August, failing to stop them reaching Constantinople. She then escorted several ships carrying Indian troops through the Red Sea, occasionally calling at Aden and Suez. She then became the guardship to Port Said, capturing two German ocean liners in the Red Sea. Next she was guardship to Alexandria, during which time she chased a German cruiser out of the Indian Ocean.
The Black Prince was ordered to Gibraltar on 6th November to patrol the African coast – en route she called at Malta, where Roberts hired a carriage to travel 15 miles inland to visit Ben Peach, a former member of St Michael’s, then with 19th Battalion of the London Regiment. He also found that the sentry of Peach’s camp was also “an old S. Michaelite, one of the old junior football club boys and a member of the CLB, Bobbie Barnes by name” – both Barnes and Peach had been wounded but recovered. Peach’s full name was Benjamin Joseph Peach (1895, Stoke Newington – 1977, Portsmouth, Hampshire) – he was the younger brother of Roberts’ future wife and later transferred to the Labour Corps, surviving the war.
In December Roberts’ ship joined the Grand Fleet. Just before Christmas 1914 its rudder was damaged and he was given four days’ leave. He spent the first 24 hours travelling and arrived home at 12:30 Christmas Day. He concluded his second letter by saying “Over the gales and rough weather generally which we have since encountered I will draw a veil, but anyway I will certify that although ‘Britannia rules the waves’ and there can be no doubt she does, they certainly make a most uncomfortable throne.”
On 5th June 1915 he married Jeanie Caroline Anna Peach (1892, Tottenham) at St Michael’s. She was the daughter of Charles William Peach (1867, South Hackney) and Anna Maria Purser (1861, Islington), witnessed by his brother Arthur Alfred and both Jeanie’s parents. Jeanie’s parents had married late in 1889 in Hackney district. In 1901 Jeanie was living with them and four of her younger siblings at 35 Allison Road, Hornsey. Her father was then working as a Pharmaceutical Chemist but deserted the family between 1901 and 1911, since in 1911 Anna Maria gave her marital status as “Married – Deserted”. This correlates with Jeanie’s marriage register entry, which gives her father as Deceased, which has been scored through and amended to doctor. Anna Maria had had seven children born alive by 1911, of which only one had died. A woman named Annie Peach of 323 Clatena Buildings, Great Cole Street was a confirmation candidate at St Michael’s in 1906 aged 33, though her relationship (if any) to Jeanie is as yet unclear.
In 1911 Jeanie was living with her mother (living on private means) and four younger siblings. She was also working as a library assistant for the Borough Council and living with her mother and four younger siblings at 48 Birnam Road, Finsbury Park. One of those siblings was Benjamin Joseph Peach, then working as a Junior Booking Clerk for the “Tube Railway” – the same Ben Peach who Roberts visited on Malta in 1914. The last sibling was born in 1902 in Hornsey. Jeanie was living at 277 High Street at the time of her marriage.
One of the two anonymous letters under the title ‘Extracts from Letters from the Front’ in the February 1916 parish magazine described Christmas 1915 with the “1st Cruiser Squadron” – this was Roberts’ unit and it was almost certainly written by him. It reads:
Thank you for the beautiful photograph of dear old St Michael’s. It arrived at a most opportune moment, just when I wanted cheering. For some days previous to Christmas the weather had been extremely bad, and the gale was blowing so badly that even though we were in harbour it was quite impossible for the mail trawler to get alongside. At noon on Christmas Eve we had orders for sea, and the First Cruiser Squadron was ordered to proceed to the Skaggerack to search an American steamer which was reported to be taking lard to the enemy. As soon as we got our bows outside the boom-defence we had to batten down, and no one off duty was allowed on the upper deck, which was immediately and continuously swept by huge waves. The wireless room was flooded out and the sending machine destroyed. Two of the upper deck 6-in guns were unshipped and my mess had two feet of water swishing from side to side. Breakfast on the great day (Christmas Day) consisted of a glass of water – all the fires were drowned – and a piece of bread and butter. Christmas dinner was of bread and bully beef. However, we had much for which to be thankful. One of our four ships lost five hands overboard and another lost one. When we got in, on the day after Boxing Day, the weather had abated somewhat, and a mail was waiting. Your most welcome letter was amongst my share. A glance at that photograph brought back everything. I could smell the incense, hear the Yuletide hymns and (strange flight of fancy) see Charlie Bean (RIP) and myself as young lads walking up and taking those processional candles from their sockets.
That Charlie Bean might be related to the Albert Edward Bean who married Mabel Elsie Monk at St Michael’s on 9 June 1917.
On 28th December 1915 Roberts was transferred to HMS Dolphin, a depot ship moored off Gosport in Hampshire supporting 2nd Submarine Flotilla. He was then sent to HMS Titania on 28th February 1916 – she was the depot ship for the 11th Submarine Flotilla, based at Blyth in Northumberland and supporting the Grand Fleet. On 6th September 1916 he transferred to his last ship, HMS E30, a submarine launched in November the previous year. He was “lost on duty” on 22nd November 1916, when the submarine was sunk by a mine off Orfordness, Suffolk, with no survivors. The December 1916 parish magazine carried his RIP.
Jeanie gave birth to their son Albert Charles George in 1917, registering his birth in Islington in April, May or June 1917 – he was baptised at St Michael’s on 22nd July 1917, with Jeanie’s address given as 7 Penn Road Villas, Camden Town. The May 1934 parish magazine carried a report of George John and Mary Ann Roberts’ death within a few hours of each other; the following July issue reported on their Golden wedding and stated that “before they removed from Camden Town [they] were keen supporters of St Michael’s and retained their interest in it to the end”. A double funeral was held for them at St Michael’s on 21st July 1934.