Roland Ivor Gough, the youngest of five children, was born in 163 Broad Street, Birmingham, Warwickshire on 9th March 1896 to Lizzie Gough [née Anderson] and her husband Arthur Gough who described himself as a butcher by trade.
Roland commenced his education at Miss Ewen’s preparatory school in Edgbaston and then in 1910-13 attended Wellington College1 where he served within the Officers Training Corps [OTC] as a Corporal. At the outbreak of war he was an architectural student studying at the Birmingham Municipal School of Architecture.
Not long afterwards on 31st August 1914 following an interview in Wandsworth, south London, he filed his papers for a commission in the Special Reserve of Officers selecting the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles who, on mobilisation had left their base in Belfast for Dublin.
For some reason however he later changed his mind and enlisted as a private soldier within 15th Battalion (2nd Birmingham), The Royal Warwickshire Regiment; one of the city’s so-called ‘Pals’ battalions, and it was within this Regiment that he was to receive his commission on 7th October 1914.
For the first 12 months of his service life Roland was based in England learning the basic art of soldiering in the early part of the 20th Century which it was hoped would be sufficient to overcome the Imperial German Army.
In November 1915 the Battalion received its orders to prepare for embarkation to France. On 20th November 2nd Lieut Roland Gough, accompanied by 2 other officers, 102 NCO’s and other ranks, plus their 64 horses, mules and other motorised wheeled transport which formed the advance party left Codford St Mary, Salisbury Plain and entrained on the 08.15 from Wylye station to Southampton and thence by ship to Le Havre. The main force followed 24 hours later and they embarked at Folkestone for the sailing to Boulogne and by 22nd November 1915 the two units had met up and re-formed at BELLANCOURT.
The next few months were spent in the cycle of life in/out of the trenches in northern France and by the 1st April 1916 they were in AGNEZ-LES-DUISANS. The weather here was nice and bright and following the mornings parade they played football in the afternoon, a game which they duly repeated the next day after the obligatory Sunday church service.
At 9.40am on 3rd April, Roland Gough, by now promoted to Captain, i/c ‘D’ Company, together with 3 other officers left their base to reconnoitre the trenches in Sector K1, ARRAS which they were about to occupy and so relieve 1st Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment. By 6.00pm the following day the men had arrived in the line, leaving ‘A’ & ‘B’ Companies in reserve in the town itself. The arrangement of having half the Battalion billeted in reserve whilst the other half was in the trenches, and alternating the two, continued for the month before they were relieved [1st Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment] and returned to AGNEZ-LES-DUISANS on 21st April.
Here they could revert to more leisurely activities for a while, inspections, parades and training in the mornings, with sport and recreation in the afternoons. Here too the men were able to have a change of clothes and bathe; not something one could accomplish in the trenches.
On 27th April they prepared to return to the front with the departure of the Lewis Gun detachment and aerial reconnaissance overhead, with the rifle companies of the Battalion departing twenty-four hours later. By 11.25pm on 28th April, Roland and his company had duly settled into their new home, being the dug outs at St NICOLAS, without sustaining any casualties. Here they stayed until relieved on 2nd May by ‘B’ Company and they returned to billets in ARRAS. Whilst in the trenches the men were susceptible to enemy sniper fire, rifle grenades, with artillery bombardment for good measure; a situation the men regarded as ‘normal’.
On 21st May 1916 the day dawned clear and bright. An enemy attack the previous night on a crater had been repulsed but it was decided that the time was right to carry out a trench raiding party for the purpose of gaining intelligence and capturing prisoners the next day. The Battalion War Diary2 described the events.
Raid on German trenches by selected party from ‘D’ Coy. Raiders 2/Lts A.G.FRENCH & R.A.WILTON, 8 NCO’S & 52 men divided into 2 parties – left & right, OC raiders, CAPT R.I. Gough.
10pm. Artillery bombardment of enemy front line commenced & raiders were outside our own wire.
10.5pm. Our artillery barrage lifted over Sector to be raided & parties advanced at steady double towards enemy lines.
The German wire which had been cut by the T.M Batteries during the afternoon had been renewed & wire balls had been put in. This held up the right party and whilst cutting their way through the enemy opened a rapid fire from both firestep & parados3. The left party were about a dozen yards from the German trenches when rapid fire commenced. Several of the leaders were hit & the order to retire was given. Those who were able regained our own trenches under a murderous fire from the enemy. It is obvious that the enemy had received warning of the raid by some means & had made special preparation to meet it.
Although the object aimed at by the Battn was not obtained, numerous acts of heroism were performed & the G.O.C. later expressed his admiration for the gallantry & pluck shown & a note was received from him to that effect & stating that the failure of the enterprise was due to outside causes & the men were in no way to blame.
2/Lt A.G. FRENCH was reported missing, 2/Lt R.A. WILTON was wounded.
Casualties for day: Killed O.R. 2, Wounded Off 1, O.R. 18; Missing Off 1, O.R. 6. (2 more O.R. were missing but reported next night, they having remained in a shell hole throughout the day.)
Roland Gough himself described the action as follows:
To: O.C. 15th BATT R.WAR. REGT
From: O.C. RAID, CAPT R.I. GOUGH
Party consisted of 2nd Lieuts FRENCH A.G. & R.A. WILTON, 8 NCO’s & 52 MEN. Party was divided into “LEFT” & “RIGHT” parties.
Both parties were assembled with ladders and Trench boards ready to climb over the parapet at 9.50pm. By 10.0pm all but the supporting parties were lying out in front of our own wire.
AT 10.00pm THE ARTILLERY BOMBARDMENT BEGAN
At 10.03pm THE PARTIES BEGAN TO CRAWL IN NEARER
At 10.05pm THE BARRAGE LIFTED OVER THE SECTION TO BE RAIDED ON, ONTO THE 3rd LINE, AND THE PARTIES GOT UP AND WENT FORWARD AT A STEADY DOUBLE.
RIGHT PARTY Sgt Smith & the first two Bayonet men reached the gap in the German wire and found that wire balls had been put in it. They were cutting these when the Germans opened a rapid fire from FIRESTEP and PARADOS. Sgt. SMITH was hit in the chest & left hand and seeing the trench full of Germans ordered “RETIRE.”
Whilst cutting the wire the first Bayonet man shot a German with his rifle. On retiring one man, Pte Humphries, got in a shell hole and threw his 8 bombs into a GERMAN TRENCH.
Four men were hit coming back, but managed to get back into our OBSTACLE TRENCH. (Ptes. FAZEY, BARR, TURNER & GREEN). All the “Right” party got back except Pte Mills, who was missing.
Sgt. SMITH led his party admirably, and, by ordering a retirement, probably saved the whole right party from being wiped out.
LEFT PARTY Under 2ND. LT. A.G. FRENCH.
2nd Lt. WILTON, who was leading, and the first two bayonet men were 12 yards from the German Trench, when the Germans opened rapid fire from FIRESTEP and PARADOS.
2nd Lt. WILTON, SGT. COTTRELL, and 825 PTE SMITH were hit immediately, Lt. WILTON through the lungs.
2nd Lt. WILTON shouted “Go On.” and the first two men, Ptes BROWN & SADLER reached the parapet, where they were both shot down, Pte BROWN falling into the German Trench.
SGT. SCRIVENS in charge of the first 8 men of this Party shouted “COME ON No.1.” and must have been shot immediately because no-one saw him again. The order to “RETIRE” was then given. Retiring, SGT MASPERO was shot dead in the German wire and Pte Foster wounded just on our side of the wire.
PTES. RYLEY, FRANCE, GOSSAGE, DENCHFIELD & TIMMINS, - retired to the shell hole into which 2nd Lt. WILTON and SGT COTTRELL had fallen when they were hit, but getting there PTE DENCHFIELD was killed and PTE FRANCE wounded. PTE HOLLIS was wounded whilst helping 825 PTE. SMITH who was wounded, back to our trench, but both managed to get back.
After waiting at the shell-hole a little time PTE RYLEY managed to drag Lt. WILTON to a shell hole nearer our lines, and to come back for help. Meanwhile the remainder of the party had fallen back on Lt. FRENCH’S supporting party who were just out of our OBSTACLE TRENCH. LT. FRENCH asked if Lt. WILTON was back and when no-one answered said “COME ON, CORPORAL PURCHASE, LET’S GO AND FETCH HIM.”
He and Cpl PURCHASE ran towards the German Trench, and on the way Cpl PURCHASE found Pte FOSTER wounded, who lead him to SGT. MASPERO who was dead on the German wire, about 20 yards from the parapet.
LT. FRENCH was just in front running about 12 yards from the German parapet, when Cpl Purchase saw him crumple up and fall onto some low German Wire entanglement. A minute later a bomb burst a foot from him. Cpl PURCHASE then tried to drag PTE FOSTER in, but he was caught in the wire, and so CPL PURCHASE came back for help.
In the meantime Pte TIMMINS, who was slightly wounded, in the shell hole, had walked off in the direction of the German Trench, in the belief that it was ours, despite the efforts of PTE GOSSAGE to stop him. Of the other two living men in the shell hole, PTE FRANCE who had a bad wound in the right shoulder, was crying for water, and so PTE GOSSAGE came back for some water and help.
Ten minutes afterwards, however, Pte FRANCE managed to struggle into the OBSTACLE TRENCH, although he was badly hit.
After the raid, the Germans kept up a heavy rifle fire until dawn and continuously threw up Very Lights which considerably hindered the fetching in of wounded.
When the men came back I stopped the Artillery and started to collect them. They told me LT’s FRENCH & WILTON were still out so I asked Lt. ANDERSON O/C ’C’ Coy and Sgt KNIGHT my reserve N.C.O. to collect the men and have a roll call, and got two men Cpl Purchase and Pte Jacobs a signaller with a stretcher, and got Pte Ryley to guide me to where he had left LT. WILTON. We got him on a stretcher, and carried him back to the trench.
When we got back, I got to know how many men were out, and got volunteers from “C” Company to go and search the front for them.
In this, CAPT HEWSON, Trench Mortar Officer and LT TREMLETT F.O.O. 52nd BATT R.F.A. were of great assistance as, without my asking them, they went out in front to look for the men.
I then took CPL PURCHASE, PTE GREAVES, and a stretcher and got Pte RYLEY to guide me to where he had left the party in the shell hole. Unfortunately he lost his direction, and although we extended to 5 paces and searched, all along we could not find any men.
When we got back, the two live men (one wounded from the shell hole) came in, leaving only two dead men there. I then had a complete Roll call, with the assistance of lists LTs. ANDERSON & JEFFREYS had complied, and sent out PTEs HEWSON & DANCE, to look for PTE MILLS who was missing.
I then detailed PTE GOSSAGE to lead PTE RYLEY with a rope to the shell hole, to try and drag one of the dead men back, and myself took CPL PURCHASE, PTE OGBORN & PTE JACOBS with a rope to try and find LT. FRENCH. We went as close as possible and searched all round, but could find nothing of him, nor, by the light of the Very Lights could we see him on their wire, so I am afraid he must have been taken away by the Germans.
Meanwhile, PTE GOSSAGE had gone faint, so PTE RYLEY started out with a rope to try and find my party, and, on the way, having lost direction, found PTE FOSTER, whom he managed to drag in by tying a rope round his feet. He was dead however. (PTE FOSTER)
When we got back, it was getting too light to go out again, so I called a roll, sent the men to Dug-outs to rest and myself went and reported to BATTN. H.QRS.
I did all I could to get all the men in but I am afraid the Germans must have got in Lt. FRENCH, before we got there.
On the return of the party to our lines, a bomb, the pin of which must have been loosened in crawling over, exploded, presumably in the man’s haversack: killing the man & wounding 6 others.
Roy I. Gough, Capt
O.C. RAID, “D” COMPANY
15th S. BATTN. ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGT.
Whilst writing his report4 Gough learned that two of the missing men returned after 24 hours having hid in a deep shell-hole 12 yards from the German parapet. The following recommendations for awards were made by Captain Gough.
Lt French, MC & MiD
Lt Wilton, MC & MiD
Pte Ryley, DCM
Cpl Purchase, DCM
Sgt Smith, MM
Of those listed only Lieutenant Wilton got the MC due to the raid being classed as a failure! Gough would have to wait two months before the action in which he was seriously wounded, and which would a few weeks later lead to his loss of life, find himself awarded the Distinguished Service Order [DSO].
In his accompanying report to 13th Infantry Brigade, Gough’s CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Harding5 wrote the following:-
There is little I can add to what I consider and unbiased and accurate report from Capt. Gough on the raid which took place on the night of the 22nd inst. and which I have herewith enclosed.
Besides recommendations for distinctive honours which are mentioned in Capt. Gough’s report, and with which I entirely concur, I wish to add the name of Capt. Gough, O.C. “D” Coy, and who was in charge of the raiding party. During the night of the raid he went out from his post in the forward trench, on three different occasions to bring in wounded men.
1. Accompanied by three of his party and carrying a stretcher he went out and rescued 2nd Lt. WILTON from the shell-hole, to which he had been brought by Pte Ryley, about 40 yards from the German lines.
2. Again, with a small party he went out to rescue three men from a shell hole: searching for these men in close proximity to the German Lines, but without success.
3. Later with three men, he went out to try and find 2nd Lt. FRENCH, but though this party remained out for nearly half an hour, searching up and down the German wire, their efforts were fruitless.
These three distinctive journeys were made in the face of a considerable amount of rifle fire, and peril was added to the work, owing to the fact that it had to be done under a torrent of enemy very lights.
Despite doing feats of conspicuous gallantry, Capt. Gough has spared neither time nor energy for, preparing his men for the task which they had before them.
When asked, the whole of his Company volunteered for the work in question, and he had the greatest difficulty in selecting the limited number required for the work without giving offence to the others.
With myself, Capt. Gough acutely feels the loss of so many good men which we have incurred. This feeling is softened however by the knowledge that after all everyone concerned behaved in a fitting way, and in a manner which was expected of them.
Before closing my report I wish to reciprocate with Capt. Gough in expressing my sincere thanks to Capt. Hewson and Lt. Tremlett for their unselfishness with regard to personal danger in endeavouring to bring back some of the wounded members of the party.
15th Battn. R.War. Regt.
By 21st July 1916 the Battalion was to the font of MONTAUBAN. To assist the Australians who were going to launch an attack on 23rd on the village of POZIERES a diversionary engagement was planned on the left flank of ‘BLACK ROAD'. In the middle of Black Road, among other units was 14th & 15th Battalions of the Royal Warwickshires, and between them and the objective; the ‘Switch Line’, was the enemy occupied obstacle of WOOD LANE. Consequently it was deemed essential that a preliminary attack to capture and hold WOOD LANE had to come first.
The units designated to take WOOD LANE were 1st Battalion, The Royal West Kents [1RWK] and the 14th Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment [14RWAR]. By 9.00pm the reserve unit, 15th Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment [15RWAR] had moved themselves up into the old German trenches that ran along the Longueval-Bazentin le Grand Road. At 10.00pm the whistle sounded and the men went over the top head long into disaster despite their determination and courage.
The enemy hit them with a heavy counter-barrage and streams of lead from the numerous Machine Guns, and after suffering severe casualties the men were forced to retire to their jumping off line. In this instance ‘severe casualties’ were 485 for the 14RWAR, of which 194 were killed; 1RWK, 421 casualties and Roland Gough’s ‘D’ Coy [15RWAR] a further 141 of which 34 were killed. The net result for this ‘preliminary’ attack was over 1000 men either killed or wounded!
The Battalion War Diary recorded the events of 22nd July 1916 in this way.
The Battn is in support but later in the evening: Orders rec’d from Bde re attack on east of HIGH WOOD, 15th R.War Regt form details of Bde reserve.
9.30pm Battn took up position in old German trench […] and later launched into front line to reinforce 1/R.West Kents &14th R.War Regt. ‘D’ Coy [Gough O/C] formed part of the actual attack going over the top but lost heavily owing to Machine Gun fire from HIGH WOOD & returned to original position. CAPT C.A. BILL & CAPT R.I. GOUGH were both wounded.
Casualties 22/23rd Killed, Off 1, O.R.13; Wounded, Off 5, O.R.90; Missing, Off 1, O.R.31. Weather- bright.
Captain Bill of ‘C’ Company, 15th Royal Warwickshires, wrote down his recollections.
The trench was already full of troops and the congestion and the confusion made it extremely difficult to keep in touch with one’s men or to pass messages to one’s officers. The night was pitch dark save for the incessant flashes of guns and bursting shells and the glare from the star shells in front; and the din of battle all round us was deafening.
Soon after the attack had been launched orders came along that Gough with ‘D’ and I with ‘C’ were to move up and support the attack. Then came the job of extricating our men from the general mix up. Gough’s company was lower down the trench, near where it was crossed by a track which led up to High Wood, and he took his men along this track.
To move my men down through the crowded trench to the same place I felt to be almost impossible, so I led them over the parapet from where we stood. I had overlooked the possibility of there being other trench lines between us and our objective, and we got about half-way when we came across a trench held by the 2nd KOSB’s, who were lying in close support.
This delayed us badly, as it took some time in the darkness for the file of men to negotiate this deep trench, lade as they were, but eventually we got across and the remainder of the going was much more easy. We struck Gough’s track further up and tailed behind some Highland Division troops (51st) moving up to High Wood.
A short distance behind the road which was our immediate objective (Black Road) I called a halt and went forward with one man to find out how the position stood. The trench from which the attack had been launched was very narrow and shallow and was obstructed in many places by dead and wounded men.
I could learn nothing here as to how the attack had gone, but further along towards High Wood I found a company of the 14th R Warwicks under Captain Bryson (C Coy). Two of their companies had gone over and simply disappeared, apparently decimated and they themselves made another effort to reach the enemy line while I was there, but were held up by heavy fire and forced to return. I told Bryson I would fetch my men up, though what to do with them when I got there I didn’t know.
It was obvious from what had happened that the trench which had been attacked was untouched by our gun-fire and to order the company to attack would mean their utter decimation, as had happened to the 14th R Warwicks & the West Kents. Yet we were sent to support the attack.
Bill was faced with a dilemma: he could attack with the inevitable serious loss of life or, he could stay put and face the wrath of the Staff and spare the lives of his men. Due to his delay in getting to ‘Black Road’ Captain Bill did not know that Roland with his ‘D’ Coy had done just that and as a result had taken serious casualties, and at 9.30pm Roland himself was seriously wounded by Machine Gun fire on the attack at HIGH WOOD.
Fortunately for Bill the decision was taken out of his hands as he was wounded by a shell that landed too close for comfort. He was taken away to a field dressing station where he counted 61 small wounds on the inside of his arms and legs; fortunately for him none contained metal.
After the war Company Sergeant-Major Ernest Braddock recalled that “I found myself in a shell hole with ‘D’ Coy CO, Captain Gough and another man. Captain Gough was badly wounded in the right thigh and we did what we could to help him. A man from the KOSB’s dropped into the hole and as he bent over Captain Gough, he suddenly fell on top of him. He had been shot through the head. We could not get a stretcher for Captain Gough, so we got a ground sheet and carried him back to HQ.”
When news of his son’s injuries reached his father permission was sought from the War Office for him to travel to France as soon as possible, which in fact he did a few days later.