Walter Roman

Walter James Roman was born on 1st July 1880 in West Street, Bridgwater, the son of George (a brickyard labourer) and Bessie. His rugby career began in 1893, when, at the age of 13, he joined the Bridgwater dreadnaughts. He captained the side for two seasons, playing centre three-quarter. The club was disbanded in 1895 and Walter joined the Bridgwater Club (Senior) and made his debut for them at the age of only 15. He was obviously recognised as something of a Star from this early age, and in 1897 he represented Somerset in County Friendly matches against Middlesex, Surrey and Glamorgan.

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His army career began in 1899, when he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. He saw service in South Africa in the Boer War, and was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal, Bars, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, and the Kings South Africa Medal. In 1901 he transferred to the 1st Battalion of the SLI and served in India for five years. Whilst stationed at Cawnpore for two years the Battalion formed a Rugby Club, and after having an easy time beating local teams, entered the Calcutta Cup but were beaten in the first round. In 1907 Walter was discharged from the army and returned to Bridgwater, where he worked as a brickwork labourer.

He rejoined Bridgwater Rugby club, became Captain, and represented Somerset sixteen more times. In the 1909/10 season Walter featured in a number of England trials, and many believed him to be a future England player. It seems to have been much to his disappointment that he was not chosen for the England team to play Wales, and he subsequently embraced professionalism and signed for the Rochdale Hornets Northern Union team (Rugby League) in January 1910, for what, at the time, was rumoured to be a substantial fee of £200.

The Bridgwater Mercury of 19th January 1910 remarked that 'Rattler' had enjoyed a remarkable popularity with the blue and whites, and his departure had caused much regret. With a wife and family to support, however, the offer was one too good to pass by.

As well as play Rugby in Rochdale, Walter became the Landlord of a public house, the Beehive Hotel, only half a mile from the Hornets' ground. He became Captain of the team, and in November 1911 played for Wales and the West of England versus Australia at Bristol AFC (Australia won 23-3) and in February 1914 he played for England against Wales at St Helens (England won 16-12). Also in this year he was selected for the Northern Union Tour of Australia and, although he never won a test cap, he played in seven games and scored one try. The tour was cut short by the outbreak of War.

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When 'Rattler' returned to England, he was recalled to the Army (number 5592) and re-joined the 1st Battalion, SL1 as a Corporal. He advanced to Sergeant on 10th May 1915, but was unfortunately court-martial led for drunkenness' and reduced to Private on 12th July 1915. The record of service of the First Battalion the Somerset Light Infantry and list of wounded indicate that ,on 1st July, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and Walter's birthday, he was admitted to the 12th Field Ambulance with wounds to the thigh, hand and leg, and was evacuated to England from France on 5th July, 1916. He was hospitalised in Cheltenham and initially his health appeared to improve; after a couple of weeks he was able to write a few lines to his wife in Rochdale. However, a telephone call was received in Rochdale soon after this asking Mrs Roman to go to Cheltenham as soon as possible as her husband's condition was serious. The Rochdale Gazette of the time stated that it was doubtful that she arrived in time to see him alive. Walter 'Rattler' roman died of wounds on 28th July, 1916. He received the 1914-15 Star, British War, and Victory Medals.

His body was brought bock to Bridgwater and the funeral service took place in Holy Trinity Church where Walter had once been a chorister. The congregation was described as a numerous one and outside the church about 40 members of the b (Bridgwater) Company of the Somerset Volunteer Regiment formed up, together with many local soldiers home on leave. The cortege processed from the church to Wembdon Road Cemetery, and a large crown assembled at the cemetery gates. After the body had been lowered into the grave, the choir sang 'On the Resurrection Morning'. There were a large number of floral tributes, including one from the customers of the Beehive Hotel.

After his death, Walters widow, Henrietta, returned to Bridgwater and ran a local pub with her brother. She died in 1935 and is buried alongside Walter.

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Last Updated ( Friday, 06 June 2008 14:45 )  

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