Sgt. Frank Cecil Roberts

Frank Cecil Roberts was born in Deanshanger, England on September 30th, 1884, and later immigrated to Peterborough, Ontario. Roberts officially volunteered for the First World War after his registration was completed on November 4th, 1914 in Kingston after passing his medical assessment. Here he was received his regimental number 50426. He volunteered as a C.A.M.C. officer and was assigned to the 21st Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. After spending time in Kingston and in the British West Sandling Camp training, the 21st Battalion received instruction to mobilize for France and embarked on their voyage to the Western Front on September 15th, 1915. Roberts and his medical supplies participated in some of the most pivotal battles in the First World War. This list includes the battles of St. Eloi and Somme in 1916, the battles of Vimy, Hill 70 and Passchendaele in 1917, as well as the battles of Amiens, Arras, Cambrai and the Mons in 1918. This medical case was used by Roberts in these battles across the countryside of France, Belgium and finally Germany itself over the course of his three year and nine-month military service in the First World War. During battles like the Somme Roberts would have been especially busy tending to the casualties and wounded as the 21st Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces was involved in one of the First World War’s deadliest battles of attrition.

Photo of Frank Cecil Roberts posing on a bench with fellow 21st Battalion servicemen. Used with permission from private collector David Edgerton.

Roberts and the men he served with, as well as tended to medically, were cycled through the front lines of many of the most grueling conflicts that led to the Allied victory and Germany armistice on November 11th,1918. The men of Roberts’ Battalion would remain in Belgium until
finally returning home on orders of demobilization which saw them arrive and be discharged in Quebec on July 3rd, 1919. During his service in the war, Frank Cecil Roberts was awarded three medals; the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and the Victory Medal. These three medals were usually given out together and even had nicknames, Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred which were based on a popular comic at the time since like the characters in the comic, the three medals were always worn together.

The Canadian Army Medical Corps was originally established as the Militia Army Medical Corps on July 2nd, 1904, but then later redesignated on May 1st, 1909 with the title Roberts served under during his deployment. During the First World War 21,453 Canadian men and women served as members of the C.A.M.C. within various divisions of military service. Soldiers like Roberts served with Battalions close to the front lines where he could tend to the wounded and casualties of battle as best as they could, utilizing the medical equipment like that originally kept in this medical case. If the wounds were too devastating for the field personnel to handle, or if they had been deemed in need of an absence from active duty, the wounded could be sent to the C.A.M.C.’s more sedentary locations like stationary or general hospitals by the field ambulance units. The unfortunate individuals who paid the ultimate price whilst in battle were transported to casualty clearance stations setup close to the front. The men and women like Roberts who served as members of the C.A.M.C. worked tirelessly throughout the First World War and sent many soldiers back out to the front after treatment boasting an 89% survival rate of all patients that were treated over the length of the conflict.

After the war and being discharged as a sergeant, Frank and his wife, Jessie who he had married during the war, had a son, Bryan. By this time the Roberts’ family was living in Peterborough at 343 Rubidge street and Frank was working at the General Electric plant in Peterborough as a mechanical engineer. The whole family soon became highly involved in the All Saints’ Anglican church. Both Frank and Bryan were in the choir together while Frank was also the assistant librarian. Later on when Frank became the president, he would often drive Bryan and the rest of the choir to different events and choir competitions. Frank’s wife often helped organize different events held by the church. He was also heavily involved in the Great War Veterans Association (G.W.V.A.) in Peterborough until his death on June 23rd, 1952.

Photo of Franc Cecil Roberts’ medical case accompanied with several other documents related to the 21st Battalion. Used with permission from private collector David Edgerton.

This medical case belonged to Roberts as a member of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (C.A.M.C.). Medical supplies and other artifacts like this case were fabricated and given out to C.A.M.C. members by the Canadian government and armed forces. Military medical supplies like those that were originally held in this medical case were a necessity to keeping our country’s men healthy on the front lines of battle. Roberts’ medical case in particular was carried with him throughout his deployment in France with the 21st Battalion and was likely used to treat the wounds of his fellow soldiers on many occasions as they were involved in many bloody battles on the Western front. The emblem on the lid of the case displays the insignia red cross that the C.A.M.C. and other medical response units of the allied forces used as a symbol for hospitals and ambulance units during and after the first world war. This case would have held medical supplies like field dressings for lesser wounds, as well as field surgery kits for more pressing and life threatening injuries.

Robert’s medical case now lies within the private collection of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 52 (Peterborough) member David Edgerton. The artifact has been in Edgerton’s possession since the Roberts family gifted it to him, which was in thanks for all the archival research and volunteer advocacy for Peterborough veterans that he has completed over the past few decades. Before this the medical case has been traced back through the Roberts’ family heirlooms from the time that it arrived back in Peterborough with Roberts after his military discharge occurred on July 3rd, 1919 due to the post-war demobilization efforts that were in process at the time. As mentioned previously, the medical case as well as several other pieces of Roberts’ military belongings are now held within Edgerton’s private collection at his home in Peterborough. In saying this, these belongings are often lent out with Edgerton’s permission to organizations like the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 52 as well as the Peterborough Drill Hall/Armory National Historic Site of Canada for exhibitions based on the 21st Battalion’s contribution to the Allied war effort in World War One. These other military belongings include Roberts’ foot locker, beret, shoulder badges, collar pins and medals of military service awarded to him throughout the war.

Research by Matt Melo and Mikayla Mundy
   
 
Sources

Adami, J. George. War Story of the Canadian Medical Corps. Vol. 1. London: Colour Ltd, 1918.
 
“Brian Roberts Files”, Trent Valley Archive, Archive Ref: F434
 
“Campaign Stars and Medals (1866-1918).” Veteran Affairs Canada. Accessed October 29, 2017. www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/rememberance/medals-decorations/medal-type/1.
 
“Canadian Army Medical Corps.” Canadian War Museum. Accessed October 27, 2017. http://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-the-front/medicine/canadian-army-medical-corps/.
 
Macphail, Sir Andrew. Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914-19: The Medical Services. Ottawa: F.A. Acland, 1925.
 
“Personal files of David Edgerton, Peterborough Legion Branch 52”, accessed 4 Oct. 2017. Used with permission form David Edgerton.
 
Snell, A.E. The C.A.M.C. with the Canadian Corps During the Last Hundred Days of the War. Ottawa: F.A. Acland, 1924.
 
The Great War Veterans’ Association of Canada Constitution and By-Laws 1917. Ottawa: The Mortimer Co. Limited, 1917.