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Penzance, Cornwall: Fast Rise from Private to Captain

Rising through the ranks and demise at the start of one of the most famous battles of WW1

How did one Cornishman make such a fast rise from Private to Captain?

Matthew Roach from Gulval joined the DCLI in November 1915 as a Private before joining the Royal Engineers (255th Company). Within six months Matthew had moved quickly up the ranks to Captain. He kept an extremely detailed daily war diary and wrote poems. The last entry in the diary is dated 1 July 1916 at the start of The Somme:

“A staff Captain came in today and informed us that the 3rd. and 4th. armies attacked this morning in conjunction with the French on both banks of the Somme over a front of forty miles. He could give us no details except that all was going well, but he assured us that this was the biggest thing of the war.”

On 2 July 1916 both Captain Matthew Roach M.C. and his Commanding Officer Major Charles John French were killed in action. No trace of Captain Roach was found. Major French is buried in the Communal Cemetery, Noeux-Les-Mines, Pas de Calais.

The citation covering Captain Roach’s Military Cross reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On learning that the enemy were about to blow in a mine gallery, he awaited them with a revolver. Later he was ordered to blow in the enemy trenches. At great risk he carried the charge with lighted fuse and placed it in position. Later, at great risk he ascended to ascertain results. He was incapacitated by the fumes and drawn up. He refused, however, to leave the trench before the ordinary relief.”

Further to this, letters from the widow of Major French, indicated how highly regarded Captain Roach was:

Location: Halwyn Farm, Paul, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 6UP
Image: Captain Matthew Roach, courtesy of Ann Brock and Mary Doggerell

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