Black History Month

IWM Q 12935 Sentries of the 3/3rd Gurkha Rifles, 75th Division, December 1917

IWM Q 12935 Sentries of the 3/3rd Gurkha Rifles, 75th Division, December 1917

October is celebrated as Black History Month across the UK, which highlights the experiences of people of African, Caribbean, or Asian heritage.

In this blog post, we’d like to share the story of Arthur William David Roberts, who served with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in the First World War.


Arthur was born on 28 April 1897 in Bedminster, Bristol.  His father, David, was a ship’s steward originally from the Caribbean, and his mother Laura was white British.

According to the census record for 1901, Arthur was living with his mother in Bristol, but it is known that after this he lived with his father in Glasgow. After leaving school, Arthur was employed by the Harland and Woolf shipyard company in Glasgow.


  • Arthur’s military career

We were shelled to blazes. I had a very narrow shave.

In March 1917 Arthur joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. In June 1917, he arrived in Belgium and served with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. He took part in the Battle of Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele. During this time, Arthur kept a diary which detail his experiences of war:

We were shelled to blazes. I had a very narrow shave. One fellow in front of me had his head blew off. The chap beside him was severely wounded. The chap next to me was wounded and one of the chaps behind me was killed and the fellow beside him was wounded. I completely escaped. That was everyone round me were either killed or wounded. We lost about a dozen all told.

Extract from Arthur’s diary, 2 September 1917 – quoted in The Scotsman Newspaper, 17 May 2011

Arthur was hospitalized in October 1917 suffering from trench foot, which was caused by the muddy and wet conditions in the trenches.  It is also believed that during the war Arthur narrowly escaped a court martial, for allegedly destroying a pair of army boots. However, there was not enough evidence against him and so he didn’t face a court martial, which may have resulted in imprisonment.


  • Arthur’s life after the war

Arthur was demobilised in December 1919 and returned to work for his pre-war employer of Harland and Woolf in Glasgow. In 1935 he met Jessie Motherwell, who he married in 1956 in Blackpool. Arthur died in January 1982 in a Scottish nursing home.

His diaries were discovered in the attic of a house in Glasgow in 2011, and in 2014 his story was featured in the ITV programme The Great War: The People’s Story.


  • Do you have information to add to Arthur’s Life Story page?
  • Share your stories with us this Black History Month


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