Poignant documents detailing a Northumberland Army Captain’s action and death on the front in World War One have been discovered in previously uncatalogued papers and war records at the Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn.
The documents relate to Robert Collingwood Roddam, heir to the Roddam Estate in Northumberland. They have come to light thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Working Lives Project, which is allowing staff to examine some of the fascinating and touching records and documents within its collection as Remembrance Day draws near.
“This is an important collection of First World War papers,” said Sarah Littlefear, the Working Lives Project Assistant. “It gives us such insight into both the tragedy and the period.”
Robert was born January 10, 1890, the only son of Colonel Roddam John Roddam and Helen Fredericka Roddam, of Roddam Hall, Wooler, Northumberland. He joined the 7th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (Territorial Force) as a Second Lieutenant in August 1908, transferring to 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve) in August 1910, which was commanded by his father.
When the First World War began in 1914, Robert was working for The Tyspane Tea Company on a plantation in Kotmale, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He returned to England immediately, joining the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and was promoted to Captain in February 1915. Awarded the Military Cross for gallantry for action seen at St. Eloi on April 14 , 1915 after the advance trench he was in was mined, Robert was also mentioned in a despatch from Field Marshal Sir John French on May 31, 1915, for gallant and distinguished service in the field.
On June 16, 1915, Robert was leading Y Company at Hooge, Belgium, in an attack on the German front line at Bellewaarde. Sarah says that a letter held in the archives details what happened next.
“We know that Robert was injured in the battle, and was brought back to the communication trench by Sergeant W. Carlin and R. Lambert. Lambert himself was then mortally wounded helping to move Robert, leaving Sergeant Carlin to move Robert to the Dressing Station.
“In the letter, Carlin notes that Robert had head wounds which would have been aggravated if he had tried to carry him on his shoulders. Carlin managed to get two men to help him, including a Dr. Adams. But after 20 minutes at the Dressing Station, Robert tragically died.
“Robert Roddham was buried on June 17, 1915, and a cross was placed on the grave a few days later. Unfortunately, the location of the grave was later lost, and today Robert is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium, as well as on the Kotmale War Memorial, Sri Lanka.”
The Roddam Collection of papers at Woodhorn includes condolence letters sent to the Roddam family after Robert’s death, newspaper cuttings, army service records, and papers relating to the Kotmale War Memorial.
In November, archive staff will pay tribute through the Northumberland Archives Facebook page.
“Every day throughout the month we are posting an image that relates to a war that has touched the county – Boer War, First World War, Second World War, Falklands War and Gulf War,” said Sarah. “It will be both a tribute to the individuals involved and a fascinating glimpse of one aspect of Northumberland’s past. I really hope people take a moment to have a look.”
More information on the Roddam Collection is available both online through the archive catalogue and in the Study Centre at Woodhorn.
Find a list of Remembrance Day services in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders here.