Robert Hartley (Hartley) ROACH

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ROACH, Robert Hartley

Service Number: 5475
Enlisted: 28 January 1916, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 6th Infantry Battalion
Born: Moonta, South Australia, 21 April 1891
Home Town: White Hills, Bendigo, Victoria
Schooling: White Hills State School
Occupation: Labourer
Died: Died of wounds, Belgium, 16 September 1917, aged 26 years
Cemetery: Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, White Hills Arch of Triumph
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World War 1 Service

28 Jan 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 5475, Melbourne, Victoria
4 Apr 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 5475, 6th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
4 Apr 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 5475, 6th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Euripides, Melbourne
16 Sep 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, SN 5475, 6th Infantry Battalion, Third Ypres, GSW (buttock)

Help us honour Robert Hartley Roach's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Jack Coyne

Hartley Roach - Died of Wounds in Belgium

Receiving word of your son’s death must have been the most heartbreaking experience for loving parents and family members back in White Hills.

The War office provided scant details usually, the standard telegram of ‘We regret to inform you, your son’s name written in the space provided and that he had been killed on a particular date. If you were lucky you may have been told where he was buried, in many cases on the western front this information could not be provided.

In Hartley Roach’s case there appears to be no official telegram of his death in his war record. Local newspapers were quick to pick up on news of local lad making the ultimate sacrifice or being wounded taken prisoner or declared missing.

One of the most difficult tasks for the young junior officers was corresponding to the grieving parents. Published in the ‘Bendigo Independent’ is a letter from Lieutenant S.Thomson of the Number 8 Platoon, 6th Battalion who writes to Hartley’s parents William and Grace from the front in France on September 29, 1917. — just two weeks after Hartley’s death;

Dear Mr Roach,                                                                               

I have to offer you my deep sympathy in the loss of your son, Pte. R. H. Roach. He was badly wounded on the way up to the line by a piece of shell case from H.E shrapnel and died at the No.3 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. I cannot speak too highly of his soldierly qualities, and being of such a genial disposition his friends in the platoon were many. Before going, into the line he volunteered for a raiding party, and was selected as one of the company representatives. - Always willing, and a good worker, his loss is felt very much in the platoon. Again tendering my sympathy, believe me.  

Yours sincerely, S. A. Thomson. Lieut. No. 8 Platoon.

In the same article an even more heartfelt letter is written by a Canadian Nursing sister at the No.3 Canadian Clearing Station who attended Hartley on the day he died. She writes to Hartley's mother;

Dear Mrs Roach,

It has today been my very great privilege to be with your son Pte. R H Roach 5475, 6th Batt. A.I.F, during his last hours. You have my deepest sympathy in your lonely hours of heartache. He was a brave laddie, and a real soldier, I am proud to have had him as a patient. He arrived here about 2.30 (Sunday afternoon). We knew the end was near as his wounds were severe. Medicine was given which relieved the pain, but did not produce unconsciousness. He was perfectly clear until the end at 4.40. Almost his first words to me were "Sister, will I reach Australia?" I told him as easily as I could that he might not (it breaks my heart to tell the brave boys they are going) . He was simply wonderful, his first thought was for you. "Oh, sister," he said, "if I die it will break my mother's heart. She worries a lot about me.”     

Anyway then, the Padre came and talked with him. Such faith and beautiful thoughtfulness. I have never seen a life end more peacefully and calm. He wanted to go to sleep and die that way, and he did. His last words were, "Sister you will write my mother and tell her I am alright.” The Padre will write you also, which I am sure will be a comfort to you. Once he asked if I were a Canadian. When I told him yes, a colonial like himself, he smiled and seemed pleased and said, "They are alright, aren't they?" I am telling all, as I know each word helps the heartache, somewhat. Be brave, lean on the everlasting arms, and may the Father above comfort and keep you and the other members of your family.

In haste, sincerely yours, L. E. Denton, Nursing Sister - (Nursing Sister Luella Euphemia Denton from Toronto, Canada, aged 28 at time of writing) Photo taken with wounded Australian soldiers is attached. She left behind a wonderful collection of letters - Link attached) 

The Red Cross also provided an invaluable service to families during and after the First World War. These records provided eyewitness accounts by the men who knew the soldier or by statements by men who served in the same unit or the same action. The Red Cross records on the circumstances of Hartley Roach’s death contain 8 different raw accounts by fellow 6th Battalion soldiers & Canadian Medical staff. (See link to documnet)

Witness - Sergeant Reuben Webster 4933 said;

"I knew Roach, he was killed at Dickie Bush on September 16, (1917) from Shrapnel. There is a large cemetery there and he is buried in it. I have seen his grave and there is a cross-erected on it. He died about a half hour after being hit. Soldier’s Description – Comes from Bendigo, about 23, short and fair."

Another witness, Herbert Charles Nott 228 also of the 6th Battalion, B Company originally from Rutherglen provides contradicting information to the Liuet Thomson's account above;

"I was told Roach was killed by the Nose Cap of one of our anti aircraft guns while a areoplane was being strafed. He was proceeding up to lines at Dickebusch and was taken away by the stretcher bearers."   

Robert HARTLEY ROACH

Hartley Roach enlisted on January 28, 1916. An article in the Bendigo Independent informs us that the 24 year old Hartley needed to go to Melbourne to enlist having tried several times in Bendigo. After a short period in camp he sailed with the Seventh Reinforcements in early April with the Seventh Reinforcements attached to the 6th Battalion AIF. After only a short stopover in Alexandria Egypt, Hartley's next voyage took him to Plymouth in England in mid June 1916.

Two months later he was in France and arrives at the AIF staging base at Estaples with the front not far away in Northern France and just over the Belgium border. 

Hartley would see Christmas 1916 and New Year of 1917 in hospital with Influenza being discharged back to his unit at the end of January. 

In 1917, Hartley’s 6th Battalion participated in the operations that followed-up the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, and then returned to Belgium to join the great offensive launched to the east of Ypres. Given the timing of Hartley’s death on the 16th of September, 1917, it most likely that he was killed during the battle of Menin Road in August and September 1917.

The Battle of Menin Road was an offensive operation, part of the Third Battle of Ypres on the Western Front, undertaken by the British Second Army in an attempt to take sections of the curving ridge, east of Ypres, which the Menin Road crossed. This action saw the first involvement of Australian units (1st and 2nd Divisions AIF) in the Third Battle of Ypres. The attack was successful along its entire front, though the advancing troops had to overcome formidable entrenched German defensive positions which included mutually supporting concrete pill-box strongpoints and also resist fierce German counter-attacks. The two AIF Divisions sustained 5,013 casualties in the action.

Although the circumstances of Hartley’s death are unclear, was it a Gun shot wound to the buttocks as the Army record states, or was it shrapnel or a friendly fire from an anti aircraft gun, we will possibly never know. Regardless the wound was to prove more sinister with the Canadian Army doctor informing that shrapnel had penetrated his abdomen. As we learn from the caring Canadian Sister Denton Hartley died the same day. 

His army record states he is buried at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery near Poperinge in Belgium, quite close to Menin gate and Ypres and just a few miles from the French border. 

Hartley is remembered by the people of White Hills. The names of local lads who sacrificed their lives and those that were fortunate to return from the Great War are shown on the embossed copper plaques on the White Hills Arch of Triumph, at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens.

 

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