CAPTAIN GUSTAF OSCAR ROOS
YORK AND LANCASTER REGIMENT
1ST JULY 1916 AGE 47
BURIED: DOUCHY-LES-AYETTES BRITISH CEMETERY, FRANCE
Gustaf Roos was a well developed man with auburn hair and about 5 foot 9 or 10 inches in height. How do we know? Because this was the description of the body exhumed on 26 June 1924 from Fremicourt Communal Cemetery where it had been buried by the Germans in July 1916 under a cross inscribed with his name.
Captain Roos's fate can be traced through the war diary of the 14th Battalion the York and Lancaster Regiment, the Barnsley Pals', for July 1 1916 . 'A' Company, under Captain Roos was:
"To proceed in file across "No Man's Land" immediately following assaulting waves. To consolidate and hold German Trench K30a4085 to K23a7510 and to construct and hold strong points A and B along that line."
Reporting on the attack the diary later states:
"No report of any sort was received back from A or B Companies once they had left Nairne. From reports by wounded men who had got back from "No Man's Land", very great casualties were sustained by A and B Coys, while crossing towards the German wire, on the left flank of the attack."
At the end of the day the Battalion war diary reports 26 men killed, 153 missing and 96 wounded. Of 'A' Company's officers, Captain Roos and Lieutenant RDB Anderson were missing, 2nd Lieutenant W Hirst had been killed and 2nd Lieutenant W Kell wounded.
Later reports suggested that Captain Roos had been seen to enter the German trench at the head of his men but had been wounded, captured by the Germans and died of wounds in a German hospital. All this is confirmed by his burial on 4 July 1916 in Fremicourt Communal Cemetery, where the Germans were burying those who died in the hospital they had set up in the local church. And what were his wounds? I'll let the exhumation report tell you: "Both legs broken, body badly smashed".
Gustaf Roos must have been some man. He had been a Queen's Scholar at Westminster, taken a 1st Class degree in Jurisprudence from Balliol College, Oxford, which he followed with a B.C.L., a Bachelor of Civil Law. He worked as a solicitor in London, often acting as 'Poor Man's Solicitor' at Toynbee Hall. He volunteered to fight in the South African War where he was badly wounded. So badly wounded that he found it difficult to persuade anyone to take him seriously when he volunteered to fight in 1914. Eventually, in October 1915, he got a commission in the York and Lancaster Regiment, which is how at the age of 47 he found himself leading 'A' Company across No Man's Land at 7.10 on the morning of 1 July 1916.