WE WILL REMEMBER THEM: Ahead of Remembrance Sunday, Minster historian DAVID MORGAN has been going through the roll of honour to recall some of the Croydon fallen from World War I
One brother fell at Passchendaele, the other was killed at Gallipoli.
This is the tragic remembrance story of Charles and Frank Roffey. Croydon boys by birth, their paths diverged after school. Life became very different for each of them until they became soldiers. Then they both donned a military uniform, underwent their basic training and joined the millions of troops fighting against the German forces in World War I.
Charles was the elder of the two. Born in 1889 he attended Whitgift Middle School. After his education, Charles joined the Union London and Smith Bank. When war came in 1914 he was working in their head office in Princes Street in London.
As was the case with employees of large companies at the time, their workplace organised a wide variety of social and sporting activities. Charles was a keen member of the banks’ staff sports club. He met, courted and married Phillis Ida and they set up their home at 38 Tenham Avenue, Streatham Hill. In August 1916, their son Eric Francis was born.
Responding to the country’s call for volunteers, Charles joined the Honorable Artillery Company, with a service number of 10785. Private Charles Roffey was killed on October 9, 1917, in the Battle of Passchendaele, what is also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. He was 28 years old.
Charles’s body was never recovered and he is remembered at Tyne Cot Cemetery, his name being on Panel 7. In total, 34, 950 other fallen comrades have their memorial there, too.
Charles’s name is also on the National Provincial and Union Bank of England Memorial Board, now to be found in Gibson’s Hall, Bishopsgate, together with more than 200 other bank employees who also gave their lives for their country.
There is one other memorial board with Charles’s name inscribed. This is the Old Mid Whitgiftian one at Trinity School. The name of his younger brother, Frank, is also on that board.
Eight years younger than Charles, he, too, attended Whitgift Middle School. After Frank finished his time there, he became an apprentice with the Central Motor Co Ltd. But Frank soon decided that his future would be thousands of miles away, in Australia.
On July 30, 1914, Frank boarded the steam ship Miltiades bound for Melbourne, Australia, and then on to Sydney, where he disembarked on September 18. From there he travelled the 180 miles to the Governmental Experimental Farm at Cowra in New South Wales, where he was to work and to study.
His new career lasted just a couple of months. On January 20, 1915, Frank enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in Liverpool, NSW. In his army papers, he stated that his occupation was “Farmer”. He gave his next of kin as Alfred Roffey, his father, of 55 Church Road, Croydon. He was 19 years old, was 5ft 7½in tall, and weighed just over 10 stone. His eyes were grey and he had a scar on his right leg.
By July 13 that year, he had gone through basic training, boarded another ship and joined the 13th Battalion at Gallipoli.
His service record states that on the very same day that he arrived in Gallipoli he was absent from parade and was given “a Field Punishment No2” for the offence. A No2 punishment meant that the soldier was handcuffed as well as sometimes being fettered.
The Dardanelles campaign was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, who wanted to open a second front and decided that Germany’s allies, Turkey, in what was then the Ottoman Empire, presented the “soft underbelly” into Europe. What was supposed to be a “surprise” seaborne attack found the Turks watching and waiting. Thousands of British Imperial troops, mainly Australian but also New Zealanders, barely got off their landing beaches.
Conditions on the Gallipoli Peninsular were awful and the numbers of casualties were huge, an estimated 100,000 dying, from disease as well as wounds.
It was on August 10 that Frank was wounded and then reported missing.
At a subsequent investigation, another soldier from his battalion stated that Frank was seen “being brought down from the sap with a bandaged head. The men who took him down to the dressing station told me and others he had died on the way.”
Frank Roffey was 18 when he died.
In common with thousands, his body was never found and his memorial lies in the Lone Pine Cemetery in Gallipoli.
For Alfred and Lizzie, the boys’ parents back in Croydon, their lives had been torn apart.
Charles’s widow was left on her own to bring up Eric. Thanks to “A street near you” project which endeavours to provide information on every British soldier who died in the Great War you can find the names of Charles and Frank.
One poignant comment underneath, stating how proud he was of both of them was made by Mark Roffey, the grandson of Charles: “Their name liveth for evermore.”
- To read previous David Morgan articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here
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