Writing a book about a retired farm labourer who had 30 grandsons serving in the Great War presented considerable challenges.
Many of John Roberts’ grandsons shared the same Christian and surnames – and their service numbers were, in the main, unknown.
Seven never made it home. Three were killed on the battlefields of the Western Front, three died from wounds sustained in action in France and Flanders, and one died from heart disease in Mesopotamia.
It took more than two years to confirm the identity of one of the seven, Rifleman Sidney Roberts, of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles.
Verification that he was one of the 30 could have forever remained a mystery but for the help of a member of the Great War Forum.
Sidney died from wounds sustained in the Battle of Langemarck, part of the Third Ypres offensive, on August 17, 1917, aged 28.
Buried at the Brandhoek New Military Cemetery (No 3) in Belgium, he is remembered on two war memorials – at Oakford, in Devon, and at nearby Dulverton, in West Somerset.
Born in the heart of Devon, he was one of three brothers to fight in the war. The others, John Francis Bryant Roberts and Archibald Roberts, both survived.
John Roberts, who had 15 children and almost 100 grandchildren, had at least three grandsons called Sidney, all of whom were eligible to serve King and country between 1914 and 1919.
The Sidney who died is named as S Roberts in Major J Q Henriques’ celebrated book, The War History of the 1st Battalion Queen’s Westminster Rifles, 1914-18.
His service numbers (7122 and 553492) are revealed on his Medal Card, which can be found on the Ancestry.co.uk website.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission records also include his service number for the 2/5th Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment (4127).
But this information and searches of birth, death and parish records failed to confirm which Sidney died in the war.
War diaries and searches of hundreds of pages on the British Newspaper Archive provided no further clues.
Attempts to find and contact possible descendants of Sidney’s close family also failed to produce any evidence.
In a last-ditch effort to discover the truth, I issued a plea for help on the Great War Forum in September 1916.
And assistance came almost immediately, with a suggestion that I check soldiers’ wills on the Gov.uk website.
I discovered one for a Sidney Roberts of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles – and it provided the answer I had been looking for.
It confirmed that the beneficiary of his will was his brother, Bertie, who at the time was living in Oakford, Devon.
This, and other detail contained in the will, provided the proof that Sidney was the son of Charles Roberts (John Roberts’ fifth son).
This is just one example of how the Great War Forum provided the right assistance at the right time, when I was hitting a brick wall.
Sidney’s story is told in History Maker: John Roberts – the man with 30 grandsons in the Great War, which is to be published in early February.
The book will be available from the National Archives Book Shop, and from shops throughout Mid Devon.