On Sunday, 4th October 2015, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Turner, Officer Commanding 1 Battalion Irish Guards, unveiled a bronze bust of Field Marshal Earl Frederick Roberts of Kandahar, Pretoria and Waterford in the Cathedral Square Waterford, in memory of those Irish Guardsmen from County Waterford who died in the First World War. The bust is part of an exhibition at the Waterford Treasures Museum on the distinguished Roberts family.
Field Marshal Roberts was the grandson of architect John Roberts who designed both cathedrals in Waterford City and was also known as affectionately as “Bobs”. He was one of the Queen’s military advisors, and it is likely that the saying “Bobs your Uncle” stems from him.
The unveiling ceremony took place in the vicinity of a specially commissioned memorial to the youngest recorded casualty on the Allied side in the First World War, Waterford-born Private John Conlon, 2 Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, who died in Flanders at the age of fourteen years on 24 May 1915. Apparently, Field Marshal Roberts was the oldest soldier to die while serving “in the field” during the First World War, at the age of 82, while visiting Indian Troops in Saint-Omer France, on 14 November, 1914.
The attendance at the unveiling ceremony included the British Ambassador H.E. Mr Dominick Chilcott. The Defence Forces was represented by Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Ryan, Officer Commanding 3 Infantry Battalion – “The Bloods”. A Guard of Honour was provided by the Naval Reserve.
Wreaths were laid by Ambassador Chilcott, Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Ryan of behalf of the Defence Forces, Deputy Mayor of Waterford John O’Leary, President of the Royal British Legion Major-General David O’Morchoe (Retd), and Major Michael Keown Irish Guards.
Speaking at the event Ambassador Chilcott advised that the Irish Guards was established in 1900 by Queen Victoria to mark the contribution of Irish soldiers made to the second Boar War. Personal of the Irish Guards killed in the First World War included 58 men from County Waterford.
Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, was born on 30 September in Cawnpore, India. He was the son of General Sir Abraham Roberts, a native of County Waterford who was commanding the 1st Bengal European Regiment.
He was commissioned into the Bengal Artillery in 1851. In 1857, he first distinguished himself during the suppression of the Indian Mutiny during which he was awarded the Victory Cross at Khudagani. On 01 September, as part of the Second Afghan War, he defeated Ayub Khan’s Afghan Army near Qandahār. Promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1883, General in 1890 and Field Marshal in 1895, he served as Governor of Natal, Commander-in-Chief South Africa, Commander-in-Chief Ireland, and Commander in Chief India. He was the last Commander in Chief of the British Army from 1901 to 1904 when the office was abolished.
From 17 October 1900, Field Marshal Roberts was Honorary Colonel of the Irish Guards from 17 October 1900, and Waterford Royal Field Reserve Artillery from 02 August 1908.
According to one source, the grave of his charger Vonolel, named after a Lushai warrior whose descendants he had fought in 1871, is marked by a headstone in the gardens of The Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
Field Marshal Robert’s son, Lieutenant Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts, killed in action on 17 December 1899 at the Battle of Colenso during the Second Boar War, was also awarded the Victoria Cross. They remain one of only three father and son pairs to receive the Victoria Cross