This image is the cover for the book The Great Survivor

The Great Survivor

The First World War offers many tales of survival against the odds, but few can have been so meticulously documented as this. Wounded at Passchendaele in October 1917, then sent to a supposedly quiet area near the Aisne just before the Germans’ ‘Spring Offensive’ intensified, Private William Roberts was both desperately unlucky and extremely fortunate. His wartime diary provides not only a compelling insight into the carnage and mud-filled misery at the front, but also glimpses of rare lighter moments – a quiet drink in a local French bar or the surreal experience of attending a concert while battle raged only miles away. The diary brilliantly captures his training in Doncaster, with the excitement and foreboding of what was to come, and the blend of doughty camaraderie and daily tedium that was life in a POW camp. Locked away in a chest for nearly a century, this is perhaps the most remarkable diary by a private soldier of the Great War.

Hugh Malcolm Roberts

Hugh Malcolm Roberts was born on 3rd January 1945, in Birmingham, the second child to William and Amy Roberts whose first son John had died aged thirteen on 15th December 1943. Following the death of his father on 13th June 1963, while searching through his papers, he discovered a small paper bag which contained a pocket address book and many scraps of paper. These turned out to be the diary of his time in the Great War. Fifty-three years later, having retired the previous year, Hugh began the challenging task of transcribing them into this book. As can be seen within the text, William’s writing is very small and hence the need to make regular use of a magnifying glass! Hugh left school in the summer of 1961 and secured a position as a trainee quantity surveyor. This led to his attaining qualification as a chartered surveyor and later, having switched careers in 1977, as a chartered loss adjuster. Between these two choices came a period of working in Jamaica and London before a return to the second city and the move to loss adjusting. Upon qualifying in this second career, promotion followed together with a move to Cheltenham where he now lives. Upon the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014, Hugh was interviewed by the BBC for both television and radio when he took the opportunity of explaining not only his father’s role in that conflict but also that of his regiment, The Durham Light Infantry.