“Soldier With Sad Eyes” Identified as World War I Hero

Lieutenant Frank Roberts, a Welsh soldier who was severely wounded at the First Battle of the Somme, had his image used in a music video – but no one knew it was him until Seimon Pugh-Jones, owner of the TinShed Museum in Laugharne, came across a book.

The image of Roberts had been chosen for use in the Tell My Father music video because of the sadness captured in his eyes.

Pugh-Jones has had a portrait of Roberts in his museum for years; in particular, it had been donated as part of a collection. Still, Pugh-Jones could not identify the young man in the video.

It wasn’t until he visited a bookshop in Carmarthen that Pugh-Jones noticed several faces that he recognized.

Finally, on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, Pugh-Jones has discovered that the “soldier with sad eyes” was a war hero.

“Three years ago we were donated a small collection of postcards and portraits that were bought at a car boot sale,” said Pugh-Jones. “There was no information on any of the photographs, apart from the photographers’ details embossed into the corner of the portraits, ‘Frank J. Anthony Photographer, Llanelly.’”

The postcards were stored in an old OXO tin. They were on display for part of 2014.

When Mark Llewellyn Evans recorded a solo version of Tell My Father (originally recorded as a collaboration with the Welsh Guards), he asked the TinShed Museum to shoot a music video using artifacts from their collection.

“We decided to use the Llanelli boys as soldiers. But we felt we needed a powerful start to the video,” said Pugh-Jones. “I remembered we had a photograph, in particular, struck me. It was of a young officer with incredibly sad eyes. He was a handsome chap but with such regret as if he knew he wasn’t coming back.”

This is the photo that is used at the beginning of the music video and the unknown soldier that Pugh-Jones was anxious to learn more about. “We didn’t know how. We asked several historians but found nothing. I just happened to spot a book called Carmarthen in the Great War in the Carmarthen bookstore. The book was authored by Laugharne author Steven John. I picked it up and it opened up on page 61. A familiar face was staring at me, identified as Lt. Tom Roberts, Swansea Road. It said he was killed in action May 24, 1915. I was gobsmacked. It was one of the images we had kept in the tin. I contacted Steven John and told him what happened. I also explained about the other portrait, The Soldier with Sad Eyes.

It was John that thought that the mystery picture could be Tom’s brother Frank. A few emails later and they had their confirmation that the photo was indeed of Frank Roberts. Roberts was severely wounded at Mametz Wood and received the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and fine leadership in an attack”.

“It is just such a magical coincidence that on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and Mammetz Wood we now know who the ‘soldier with sad eyes’ was.”

John is a military historian and author. He wrote about the Roberts brothers in his book, Carmarthen Pals: A History of the 15th (Service) Battalion, the Welsh Regiment, 1914-1919.

The entire citation for Roberts’ Military Cross reads “For conspicuous gallantry and fine leadership in an attack. With only sixteen men and no officer left he consolidated the position gained, and by judicious use of his Lewis guns he deceived the enemy as to his numbers and held on to his position for 24 hours without support on his flank, under heavy shell fire, inflicting considerable casualties on the enemy both with his own guns and with machine guns captured the day before. He did splendid work.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE