Rodric Mathafarn Williams was born in Liverpool, Lancashire on 27th April 1894 to Elizabeth Williams [née Roberts] and Richard Williams, J.P., L.R.C.P.Ed., L.F.P.S Glas., M.R.C.S.Eng. His younger brother, Robert Cilmyn Williams was born on 23rd May 1898.

After completing his schooling at Wellington College1, Rodric went up to University College, Aberystwyth in 1912 and whilst still a student decided to join the army. Consequently on 4th October 1914 he travelled up to Rhyl where he was enlisted as Private 16036 Rodric M Williams in 13th (Service) Battalion (1st North Wales), Royal Welsh Fusiliers; one of the Welsh ‘Pals’ battalions.

He remained in the ranks for a couple of months before being commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant within the same Battalion on 18th December 1914 and then remained with them for some time before transferring to the 2nd Garrison Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers in late 1915.

In March 1916 he sailed with his Battalion to Egypt where they initially set up base at Zagazig. On 12th April Rodric was diagnosed with Pyrexia or a febrile response2 and placed on sick leave before being returned to duty on 20th April 1916.

However, it was not long before he was struck down again and on 4th September was admitted to the Citadel Military Hospital in Cairo with Haematuria3. It was at about this time that Rodric decided that life in the army in Egypt and his health did not mix and so he elected for an attachment to the Royal Flying Corps and was posted to 22 Reserve Squadron at Aboukir. Before he could progress much further with his flying lessons he was struck down with severe diarrhoea and was admitted to the Ras-el-Tin Military Hospital, near Alexandria.

The Medical staff soon realised that should Rodric continue to remain in Egypt the possibility of regular recurring illness was all too probable and so arrangements were made for his repatriation. He left Cairo on the 18th November 1916 bound for England on the hospital ship ‘HS Dover Castle’ and on arrival remained on sick leave for several months.

In March 1917 Rodric was with 31 Reserve Squadron based at Wyton in Cambridgeshire and in July he was posted to 32 Squadron and left for the front. On 20th July whilst in the process of attempting a take-off in a De Havilland DH5 single seat fighter-aircraft [s/n A9386] Rodric swung the machine into a cornfield and whilst he sustained no injuries the aircraft was damaged.

A few days later on 25th July 1917 whilst out on offensive patrol east of Watou, near Poperinge in Belgium, his DH5 aircraft suffered an engine fire and he was forced to land in a cornfield overturning the machine in the process; again he escaped uninjured.

Whilst out on patrol of 8th August 1917 Rodric reported that he had attacked two Albatross D.III aircraft of the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte and managed to drive one of them down, out of control.

On Sunday 12th August 1917 Captain Rodric Mathafarn Williams, 32 Squadron, RFC took off once again in his DH5 [s/n A9398] on a ground patrol, never to be seen alive again. A fellow officer later reported having seen him at 5000ft west of Houthulst and his aircraft is believed to have been brought down during aerial combat north of Houthulst Forest4. It would be another six months, 19th February 1918, before the War Office would accept presumption of death.

Rodric was 23 years old when he died, and with no human remains to inter at the end of the War, he is commemorated on the Arras Flying Services Memorial, Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery, Arras in France. He is further commemorated at Llangoed Parish Church and the joint parishes war memorial in Llangoed Village Hall, heading the list of dead in both cases, as well as the Bangor War Memorial.

Although the War Office had declared Rodric to have been killed in action, his father Richard Williams, was not prepared to accept their decision, as communicated to him on 3rd March 1918, and desired to receive information as to his fate. Not content with waiting for the War Office to pursue any investigation he decided to utilise the resources of the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] and see what they could uncover.

On 24th April 1918 the ICRC duly responded to Richard Williams with the results of their enquiries confirming that they had conducted a search of the records belonging to the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte but had no details to report other than his son’s death was definitely on 12th August 1917.

Richard Williams felt compelled to communicate the results of the ICRC findings to the War Office and in a letter of 3rd May 1918 passed on a copy of their reply and castigating them for not being able to “gain it for themselves months ago”. In other words if the Germans knew him to be dead why didn’t the War Office?

On 30th May 1918 Richard Williams once again wrote to the War Office to advise them that he had utilised the good services of a personal Swiss friend and colleague with whom he had worked in Liverpool. On her return to Switzerland, this friend had made the necessary enquiries as to the make and type of aircraft his son was using. A copy of her reply was attached to the letter but is missing from the archives a century on. His reason for making the enquiry he told them was that War Office would not disclose this information to next of kin; they clearly had not bargained on his determination and resourcefulness!

On 6th June 1918 the War Office acknowledged his letter and confirmed that Rodric’s name could now appear on the official casualty lists if he so desired. Six months later, on 10th December 1918 with the war now over, Richard Williams wrote to the new Air Ministry confirming once again his letter from the ICRC and requesting “yet again” further information as to the circumstances surrounding his son’s disappearance.

Two months passed before the Air Ministry replied, on 20th February 1919, to the effect that since official notification of death had been accepted, the Air Ministry policy was that no further enquiries would be made.

If the Air Ministry thought this would be the end of the matter they were to be sorely mistaken as Richard Williams replied on the 22nd February that he failed to understand why his son’s case “does not fall within the scope of special enquiries” in respect of officers who are missing. He went on to say:

…surely the source which was capable of supplying the Red Cross with the fact of his death must have been in possession of some details as to the place and manner of the event as well as the disposal of his body. In view of what one reads in the papers regarding the vindictiveness and cruelty of the Germans, the present state of things regarding the victim in question is far from satisfactory, and I must pursue my enquiries to the utmost possible limit.

Several weeks elapsed before the Air Ministry dained to reply. On 7th April 1919 they wrote that they had no further information to add beyond that given to the ICRC, but if any event were to come to light it would be communicated immediately.

However, unbeknown to Richard Williams, the British Military Mission in Berlin, part of the occupying forces post-surrender, had been instructed by the Air Ministry in London to make further enquiries. A perusal of the records of the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte had uncovered the fact that after Rodric was shot down on 12th August 1917, his body was retrieved by German forces and given a military burial in Veldhoek, 7 miles north north-east of Ypres. This information was then communicated to the family on 20th September 1919.

Two days later on 22nd September 1919 Richard Williams wrote to the War Office and expressed his relief at finally being given details as to the fate of his son that he had sought for so long, and that the adoption of a firm stance in not letting the matter rest had finally paid off. In October 1919 the War Office confirmed that in all probability the grave had been destroyed by shelling in the days and months after his son’s death, hence his commemoration at Arras.

In December 1919 Richard Williams was advised by the War Office that his late son’s effects, presumably items held by the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte, had been returned to England, and sought instructions for their disposal. Naturally Rodric’s father requested they be returned to him.

Rodric’s father spent about 37 years in Liverpool as Assistant Surgeon and Surgeon to the Liverpool Eye and Ear Infirmary and Ophthalmic and Aural Surgeon to the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, Wigan. He left Liverpool in 1910 and continued to practise as an Ophthalmic Surgeon at Bangor, North Wales. He held office as President of the Wigan Medical Society and of the North Wales Branch of the British Medical Association, and Vice-President of the Liverpool Medical Institution and of the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom. He was also a Justice of the Peace for the City of Liverpool. The loss of his elder son during the War, and the ensuing trauma surrounding his death, affected him deeply. He died in 1925 at his residence in Bangor. Afterwards Rodric’s mother lived at Trenton Lodge, Stoneygate Road in Leicester and so the counties of Leicestershire and Rutland commemorate her son as well.

The Royal Flying Corps, along with the Royal Naval Air Service, merged together to form the Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918.

1. Contemporaries from his time at Wellington at the time of the 1911 census and who died in the War can be found in Appendix 1.

2. The body temperature goes above the normal range of 36-37C (98-100F).

3. The presence of red blood cells in the urine.

4. This information was NOT disclosed to Richard Williams during his lifetime and it is only since 1992 that the file has been ‘open’.

See also the Imperial War Museum permanent digital memorial to the ‘Lives of the First World War’ for RM Williams.