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George Dodd Roberts (1889-1935)

School teacher from Tow Law served as lieutenant with 6th DLI

Even though he was wounded twice and taken prisoner of war, George Dodd Roberts survived the war and returned to his career as a school teacher in Pelton.

George Dodd Roberts was born in Tow Law on 17 August 1889. His parents were Charles and Annie Roberts and he had a younger brother, Angus. According to the 1901 census, the family home was the paperhanger’s shop in the Dan’s Castle area of Tow Law. Charles Roberts, George’s father, originally hailed from Scotland and worked as a painter. His mother was born Annie Dodd in Tow Law and her mother, Tamar, was living with the family at the time of the 1901 census.

George must have shown academic promise as a boy because he won a place at Bishop Auckland Grammar School. From there, he went on to be a pupil teacher at Tow Law Church of England School and enrolled as a “day student” at Bede College, Durham University’s teacher training college. As a day student he would have lived outside of college, possibly even still living at home in Tow Law.

In 1910 George finished his studies and became a teacher at Pelton Council Boys’ School. On the 1911 census he is recorded as boarding with the Davison family at 3 Adelaide Terrace, Chester le Street. Both he and John Ernest Davison are listed as being elementary school teachers, and it seems likely that John was a colleague or possibly a friend from Bede College.

As inspection report of Pelton Council Boys’ School that can be found in the school’s log book entry for September 1914, makes it seem like conditions might well have been rather challenging for a young teacher:

“The school is uncomfortably full, the accommodation being 300, and the number on the books 323, of which 314 were present [at the time of the inspection] … there was not enough seats for the children present…”

The log book also records that George took a couple of days off in November 1915:

“1 November – Mr Geo D Roberts absent – seeing principal of his college re enlisting.

3 November – Mr Geo D Roberts absent – interview re joining OTC [Officer Training Corps].”

A few days later George actually takes over writing the log book, noting that the Headmaster is absent as his wife is ill with diphtheria and it was thought it best to quarantine himself as a precaution. On 11 November 1915 he writes:

“I was absent today, getting attested by the Military Authorities prior to enlisting.”

Nothing more was recorded in the log book about George until his return to teaching in 1919. However, his “Record of Services” which can be found as part of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) collection at Durham County Record Office show that he was accepted as part of the Durham University OTC. The London Gazette of 19 January 1916 records that George was commissioned from the OTC into the 6th Battalion DLI as a second lieutenant. However, it would be some time before he made it to the front. It seems that for most of 1916 he was with 3rd/6th DLI, a home battalion that was employed in training and coastal defences. In May and June, he was sent for training at the First Northern Command School of Instruction in Brocton, Staffordshire.

According the 1st/6th DLI official war diary, Second Lieutenant GD Roberts joined the battalion in Warloy, in the Somme area of France, on 17 December 1916 and he was posted to W Company. At this point the battalion do not seem to have been in the front line and most of the activity that is recorded in the war diary consists of drill, training and exercises. An entry of 22 December 1916 reads:

“Arrangements made for daily feet inspection and for men to be inspected by their platoon commanders every time they go to the baths.”

So, it is likely that one of George’s jobs was to check his men’s feet for signs of trench foot!

George is mentioned again at the end of December as accompanying 40 men to a training camp at Baizieux while the rest of the battalion proceeded to billets at Albert.

George doesn’t seem to be directly mentioned in the written record again until April 1917. His name appears in the war diary as one of those wounded at the Battle of Arras. A letter written to one of his former students in County Durham, and now in the custody of Durham County Record Office, describes his experience of the preparations for the battle, his wounding and how he was evacuated back to England. In particular he talks about being billeted in the chalk mines near Arras:

“We pushed on and marched through Arras which showed signs of having been badly bombarded to our billets for the night which was a chalk mine about a mile beyond at a place called Ronville. We were not sorry when we reached it. As everybody was tired. In the chalk mine [—-] now disused, was a wonderful place, having accommodation for several thousands of troops and was fitted with electric light, wash places, latrines etc. One at least felt safe from the Boshe shells there.”

His letter also provides astonishing detail of the chain of evacuation, a system that was devised by the Royal Army Medical Corps in order to get troops away from the battlefield and to the appropriate care for their needs. At each “link” of the chain a man could be assessed and either passed further up the chain (and further away from the battlefield) or, if deemed fit enough, returned to the fighting. He mentions each link of the chain: he first visits the Medical Officer at battalion aid post; is passed onto the 96th Field Ambulance dressing station, which was in an underground cellar at Arras; he is then transferred to the 20th Casualty Clearing Station; a 20th General hospital in France; and finally back to England for specialist treatment at 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester. After treatment George was sent for recuperation at John Leigh Hospital, Altrincham.

George’s record of services show that he was back in service on 13 November 1917, again with a battalion stationed in England. He was finally shipped out to France to join his old regiment on 14 April 1918. Less than six weeks later, on 27 May 1918, George was wounded and captured at Craonne, Chemins des Dames. According to International Red Cross records he was held for most of his captivity at Kamstigall prisoner of war camp. He wrote of his experiences in the camp and the effect of the Armistice in an article that was published in the Bede Magazine in 1919 (see Supporting Materials). He was repatriated in December 1918 and landed in Leith, Scotland.

Back at George’s school at Pelton the log book notes on 11 November 1918: “News of the signing of the Armistice arrived. Work disorganised in the afternoon. The Master gave a short address and patriotic songs were sung.” The entry for 13 November records that the education authority had decided to close the schools in the county for the rest of the week on account of the “victorious position of the Allied Armies…”

On 17 March 1919 the log book observes “Mr GD Roberts CA resumes duties after a stay in the Army of over 3 1/2 years.” George continued teaching and taught at several schools in Pelton until 1925 when he became headmaster of Annfield Plain Council Boys’ School. After ten years as headmaster, he was suddenly taken ill and died in 1935. A newspaper obituary emphasised his standing in the community which was evidenced by the large attendance at his memorial service. There were representatives of the local schools, churches, Annfield Plain Urban District Council, local Mason Lodges, local British Legion, Boys Brigade and even Annfield Plain Bowling Club present.

As well as detailing his teaching career, the newspaper obituary describes George’s war service, noting that the wounds that he received were thought to have contributed to his early death. The newspaper paints a poignant pen portrait:

“Two relics of war days have been kept in his study. They are a helmet and a pair of scissors, which on each occasion on which Mr Roberts was wounded served to impede the passage of the bullets.”

Great War Forum, threat discussing the location of Kamstigall.

International Red Cross prisoners of war database, page for George Dodd Roberts:

Durham County Record Office
E/NC 24 Pelton Council Boys’ School, Log Book
D/DLI 1/10/1(91) Record of services (Army Form B.199) of Lieutenant George Dodd Roberts, 6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, 18 February 1919
D/DLI 7/946/1 Letter written by George Dodd Roberts, 6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, to Thomas Pyle, a former pupil, 6 June 1917
E/HB 2/235 Students’ record sheets, giving details of date of birth, address, previous career, examination results, September 1906 – 1910
Stanley News, 29 March 1935

Civil Parish: Tow Law

Birth date: 17-Aug-1889

Death date: 23-Mar-1935

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: Dan’s Castle, Tow Law (1891, 1901 census)
3 Adelaide Terrace, Chester le Street (1911 census)
The School House, Annfield Plain (1935, Probate calendar)

Education: Bishop Auckland Grammar School
Bede College

Religion: Presbyterian

Organisation membership: Freemason, Tow Law Lodge, initiated 21 January 1914

Employment: Elementary school teacher (1911 census)
Assistant master: Pelton Council Boys’ School, 1910-1921; Pelton Fell Council Boys’ School, 1921-1922; Pelton Roseberry Council School, 1922-1925
Head master: Annfield Plain Council Boys’ School, 1925-1935(?)

Family: Parents: Charles Roberts, Annie Roberts
Brother: Angus Roberts
Grandmother: Tamar Dodd (1901 census)
Wife: Jessie Dickson White (1890-1964) married in 1920 in Bothwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland
Sons: Herbert Alan Roberts (known as Alan, born 1921), Ian W Roberts (born 1927)

Military service:

6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry

Medal(s): British War Medal
Victory Medal

Gender: Male

Contributed by Durham County Record Office