Sergeant R T Roberts, Royal Welsh Fusiliers attd. 1st/2nd King's African Rifles
In late November 1917 Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his men crossed the Rovuma River from German territory into Portuguese East Africa (today named Mozambique). The Schutztruppe was now a carefully selected force of about 300 Europeans, 1,700 Askari and 3,000 followers.
The Portuguese had asked the British theatre commander, the South African General Jacob Van Deventer KCB, for protection for Port Amelia and, in late December, 250 men of the Gold Coast Regiment (GCR) occupied the port. In early 1918 Brigadier General W F S Edwards CMG (Devonshire Regiment) was sent as commander of the Port Amelia Force. He decided to attack von Lettow-Vorbeck using two columns of troops. The 1st and 2nd Battalions (1/2 and 2/2 KAR) formed one of these columns. Lieutenant Colonel George Giffard DSO (Royal West Surrey Regiment) of the KAR was the column commander.
1/2 KAR, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel D W Reynolds (York and Lancaster Regiment), was following 2/2 KAR through the bush, and the battalion's porters had been closed up with the main body. The battalion had just put out a picquet on Chirimba Hill when the enemy fired on 2/2 KAR. This firing caused the porters to panic, drop their loads and flee to the rear. Whilst attempting to stop his fleeing porters, the 1/2 KAR Transport Officer Captain John Lewis Broom MBE, (Welsh Regiment and Military Labour Corps), was killed.
With difficulty, the transport was reorganised and 1/2 KAR advanced in U formation to the sound of the guns. The battalion found 2/2 KAR's left flank and the two units completed a square. But the Germans observed the situation and launched violent attacks on the junction point. Around 2.30pm the enemy cut the telephone wire back to HQ. A party of two of the battalion's signallers and Sapper Samuel Maurice White (Royal Engineers Lines of Communication Signal Company), went to repair the cut. The party walked into an enemy ambush and Sapper White was mortally wounded.
The battalion had to fight in the same swampy conditions as 2/2 KAR was experiencing, and effective leadership was vital in ensuring that the fierce enemy assaults were driven back. Sergeants L L Nicholson (South African Infantry), and R T Roberts (Royal Welsh Fusiliers), were killed in action along with two Askari. Company Sergeant Major G Hobday (3rd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment) was slightly wounded. Fifteen Askari and 11 machine gun porters were also wounded. Sergeant Roberts had only joined the Battalion on 30 March, and he was killed by one of the last enemy shots fired.
Sgt Roberts is buried at Pemba Cemetery, in modern day Mozambique.
12 April 1918
Image: courtesy CWGC