The lockdown and coronavirus restrictions in the spring of 2020 brought about many changes in lifestyles. As I could no longer travel in Britain and Europe, I resolved to walk five miles each day in and around Rogerstone.
On one occasion driven by impulse and intuition, I took a detour through the churchyard of St John's in the centre of the village. For the first time, I noticed a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) headstone from the Second World War.
I noted the following key details: – V L Roberts Volunteer 13th Gloucestershire Bn Home Guard, died 25th September 1940, Age 23. Beloved Husband of Elsie and Loving Son of William and Gertrude Roberts of Rogerstone.
Grave of V L Roberts. Image courtesy of Andrew Hemmings.
The grave is in the north west corner of the churchyard in the shelter of trees close to the path, the entrance gate and the more recent memorial to all those who lost their lives through armed conflict.
My first clue came from Shaun McGuire's excellent website Newport's War Dead and from CWGC records. The 13th Gloucestershire Battalion was designated City of Bristol Home Guard. I deduced that Vivian Lawrence Roberts was based in Bristol in 1940 and would have probably joined the Home Guard when it came into being in June of that year.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirmed that Volunteer was the correct designation as the Home Guard was formed without formal Army ranks. These in the style of Dad's Army were not adopted until 1941. The Commission added that there are 395 such headstones in the United Kingdom.
At that point in my research I felt it unlikely that V L Roberts had died as a result of enemy action. As it turned out I could not have been more wrong.
Firstly though, thanks to the help from family historian, David Swidenbank I learnt more about Vivian himself. He married Elsie Mary Cashmore in the spring of 1939; they were living at Elsian 694 Filton Avenue, Filton, Bristol; Vivian was employed as an Aircraft Tool room Miller, a reserved occupation, at the nearby Bristol Aeroplane Company.
More dramatically, I found precise details of the time and manner of his death on Wednesday 25th September 1940. Jane Marley, Museums and Heritage Officer at South Gloucestershire Council helpfully sent me digital copies of newspaper cuttings and eyewitness accounts of that fateful Wednesday afternoon.
A still from camera gun film shows tracer ammunition from a Spitfire of No. 609 Squadron, hitting a Heinkel He 111 which was part of the formation that attacked Filton on 25 September 1940. © IWM CH 1823
The aircraft factory and aerodrome at Filton, a suburb of Bristol, became a major target for the Luftwaffe, Nazi Germany's Air Force, one day in 1940 when without warning some 80 German aircraft descended from a clear mid-day sky just as workers were departing for their lunch break.
Although the raid only lasted for 45 seconds, substantial damage was caused to the Rodney Road Works, the Flight Sheds and to eight precious production aircraft. In total, the raid claimed the lives of 132 people throughout the area including 92 ‘Bristol aircraft’ workers. There can be no doubt that Vivian Lawrence became a casualty as the direct result of enemy action.
He is commemorated on the war memorial inside St Peter's Church, Filton. His heroism and sacrifice deserve to be remembered in Rogerstone and Filton alike, especially by marking the 80th anniversary of his death on 25th September 2020.