Lieutenant Colonel HAROLD BOWYER ROFFEY
Unit Lancashire Fusiliers attd. 2nd/5th Bn. Lincolnshire Regiment
Awards D S O, Royal Humane Society Medal
Buried at BAILLEUL COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, NORD
He served throughout the South African war, receiving 2 medals and 7 clasps, and took part in the retreat from mons in 1914 when he was severely wounded. He was also recipient of the royal humane society’s medal for saving the lives of three of his men from drowning.
Harold Bowyer Roffey was born on the 16th June, 1875,and was educated at Wellington College. He passed through the militia to the 1st Battalion as 2nd Lieutenant on the 7th December, 1895; was promoted Lieutenant on the 6th April, 1898, and Captain in January, 1901.
With the 2nd Battalion he served in the South African Campaign from 1899 to 1902. He was with the Battalion in the relief of Ladysmith, including the action on Spion Kop, where the Battalion suffered so severely. He took part in all the subsequent operations in Natal, Transyaal and Orange River Colony up to the 29th November, 1902. He was Commandant at Wildfontein. He was awarded the Queen’s medal with five clasps, and the King’s medal with two clasps. He was strongly recommended for the DSO. He continued to serve with the 2nd Battalion, taking a special interest in musketry.
When the 2nd Battalion was on strike duty at Cardiff, some men bathed in the Nant Fawr River. Three men got into difficulties in a dangerous pool. Captain Roffey, who observed this, went into the water fully dressed, in uniform, wearing heavy marching boots, and rescued two who were exhausted, one of whom struggled and grappled with him, making the rescue a matter of difficulty. Though in an exhausted condition himself he returned a third time to the water and was successful in saving Private Llewellyn’s life. For this the Royal Humane Society conferred upon him the bronze medal.
When the 2nd Battalion left England in August, 1914 Captain Roffey was second in command.
In the first battle at Le Cateau on the 26th August, 1914, the 4th Division was on the left flank of the British position. Captain Roffey, while passing from the 2nd Battalion to the Essex Regiment to inform them of the seriousness of the situation, was shot through the jaw. While lying’ on the ground a German officer took his revolver off him and at a distance of four yards fired at him badly wounding him in the shoulder. As. a result of the first wound half his face and tongue were permanently paralysed.
Recognising his merit after four and a half months in hospitals the authorities appointed him Commandant of the Eastern Command School of Musketry, and this position he held from February, 1915, to December, 1916. But it was not without many fruitless efforts to return to France, which met with the answer that he was doing better work at Hythe than he could at the Front. An exceptionally good lecturer on a subject in which he was an enthusiast, he was able to interest and instruct large classes of officers and men. He was, moreover, a skilled rifle shot, having won for three years the Army championship at Bisley. But so resolute was he in urging that he should be more actively employed that, as dripping water w-ears a stone, he wore out the War Office objections and was given the command of a Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment.
Two weeks before this Battalion left England two specialists, two general practitioners and five army doctors refused to pass him as fit for active service. He appealed to a Medical Board who did likewise. His importunities now became so urgent that at length he was allowed to go with the Battalion, “on his own responsibility.” Unable to eat anything but specially prepared dishes, he faced trench food,” lived, and did his duty without complaining. To his men his example was an inspiration.
On the 1st March, 1918, at Bullincourt his Battalion lost killed, wounded and missing, 900 men; and 22 officers out of 25. A general officer declared’ that Colonel Roffey was the last man of the 3rd Army Corps to leave the firing line. What remained of his· Battalion was sent to Ypres, to reorganize, and its losses were made up by 400 men from England. He again had a Battalion composed of inexperienced officers and men, and no second-in-command. Col. Roffey had already been several times mentioned in despatches, and in January, 1918, was awarded the DSO and was recommended for the Bar to the Order.
On the 15th April, 1918, at Bailleul, his Battalion, though much out-numbered, was engaged all day up to 4 p.m. Desiring to know the German position, he sent the Adjutant out to reconnoiter at 4 p.m. There was no fighting at the time. Anxious as to the Adjutant’s rather prolonged absence he went himself beyond the lines. He had only gone 100 yards when a shell burst over his head. He was hit by a fragment. Those who were with him removed his papers, etc., but by an oversight he was not brought in or his. actual condition ascertained though lying within 100 yards of his Battalion Headquarters.
When the British recaptured Bailleul five months later his body was found and buried on the 9th September, 1918. He had been selected for the command of a Brigade, passing over 60 seniors; cut off in his prime, but not, fortunately, before he had won distinction.