Tragic POW who returned home was buried on his 21st birthday

The grave of Herbert Roger
The grave of Herbert Roger
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Next year will see the beginning of commemorations of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

Events will be planned across the country including here in the Spen Valley.

Great War historian Charlie Turpin compiled a Roll of Honour of the 509 Spen casualties several years ago, and they are now available online at www.britishlegion.org.uk/branches/spenborough/branch-information/spenborough-roll-of-honour.

He has also written several articles for the Guardian in the past and this week he looks at the story of one of the Great War’s victims – a young man who fought for the British Army, but whose parents were, in fact, German.

Private 50884 Herbert Roger, of the 10th Cheshire Regiment died in Bradford War Hospital on March 14, 1919.

He was born in Cleckheaton in 1899, the eldest son of Christian and Rosine Roger and had a younger brother, Eric, and three sisters.

His parents were both born in Germany and came to England in the 1880s.

They established a successful pork butchers business at 28 Northgate, Cleckheaton, known locally as Porky Rogers.

Unfortunately as a German national, Christian was sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man for the duration of the First World War.

Herbert joined the Army age 18 in February 1917 and after training, proceeded to France to fight the Germans in May of that year.

During his training he was sentenced to be confined to barracks for three days for being unshaven on parade!

He was involved in the terrible Battles of Messines and Passchendaele and during the 1918 German Spring Offensive he was posted “Missing – presumed dead” on March 24.

However the family was informed in May by the Red Cross that he was alive and was a prisoner of war in Germany.

When the war ended POWs were gradually repatriated and he arrived at Dover on December 26, 1918, and was then transferred to barracks in Shrewsbury to await processing for demobilisation.

He was eventually granted two months’ demobilisation leave and returned to Cleckheaton where he applied to the War Office to resume his trade as a butcher.

In the meantime Spenborough Council and the Forget Me Not Fund organised a Civic Dinner for returning POWs from the area – 95 in total, nine of whom subsequently died.

Herbert accepted the invitation and replied that he would attend the function on March 15 accompanied by his mother.

Unfortunately he was admitted to the Bradford War Hospital on March 12 in a “delirious and exhausted condition likely to have been aggravated by conditions under which he lived as a POW”. He died two days later.

The official cause of death was recorded as “pneumonia and influenza”.

His death was announced to his many friends at the Civic Welcome Home Dinner.

Herbert, a Wesleyan, was buried in Cleckheaton Old Cemetery in a war grave on March 19 – the date of what would have been his 21st birthday.

On release from internment Christian Roger continued the family butchering business in Cleckheaton for many years.

During the First World War, the people of Spenborough raised a mammoth £600 to pay for an ambulance to help victims who had been injured on the front line.

The Spenborough Ambulance was presented by JH Collier to Corps Supt E Charlesworth for the St John Ambulance Association on June 19, 1915, for service at the front under the direction of HD Leather.

It was displayed in Cleckheaton before being sent over to France.

Unfortunately it became a ‘casualty’ of war and never returned.