After an 18-month long campaign researchers working on the West Wales War Memorial Project (WWWMP) have at last succeeded in securing formal recognition for the death of a First World War soldier from West Wales.
Gunner Robert Corfield died on a training exercise while serving with the Royal Field Artillery in 1915 but he has only now been accepted as a First World War casualty. His name will now be entered in the United Kingdom Book of Remembrance. Robert’s death has also, this month, been recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) data based.
Laugharne-born military historian and Project leader, Steve John, said: “Robert’s death certificate, inquest and service papers all show beyond doubt that he was crushed after falling from a gun carriage during a training exercise. Without the benefit of the computerised records we have these days I can appreciate how some casualties from the First World War were omitted from official records compiled after the Armistice.”
“In the summer of 2012 we drew attention to the oversight and provided the Army with all the necessary evidence to demonstrate that Robert Corfield was entitled to be commemorated. However, along with several hundred other cases, the Army allowed Robert’s case to remain unprocessed, gathering dust, until we started to mount a campaign in the local press and on BBC Radio.”
“In August last year Lord Astor of Hever DL, Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence announced that the National Army Museum would take over responsibility, with immediate effect, for the investigation and verification of cases. He thanked one of our researchers at the WWWMP for bringing his attention to the backlog of cases that had been allowed to build up and gave his assurance that the Ministry of Defence was firmly committed to ensuring that those who have died as a result of their service in World War One received due recognition for their sacrifice and bravery.”
“However, despite that assurance it was only this month that the CWGC was able to announce that Robert Corfield was the first casualty in the backlog of cases to be accepted for commemoration.”
Steve said: “I sincerely hope that in this year, the Centenary of the First World War, the other West Wales cases we have submitted are processed by the National Army Museum quickly.”
Robert Corfield, a self-employed hairdresser from Aberystwyth, had joined that Cardiganshire Battery, Royal Field Artillery, within a week of the start of the war in August 1914 and had subsequently volunteered for service overseas a month later.
Robert’s battery, as part of the 1/2nd Welsh Brigade, was posted to Bedford to undergo training before deployment to the Western Front. It was while rehearsing artillery drills in a field off Ampthill Road, Bedford on 26th August 1915 that Robert fell from the firing battery wagon on which he was riding. As he fell from the wagon the wheel of the horse drawn gun carriage ran over his head.
Robert lay unconscious as Captain John Cook, Royal Army Medical Corps, tried in vain to save his life but his skull had been crushed and he died shortly afterwards.
Steve says: “The memory of Robert Corfield deserved to be commemorated on the Nation’s official Debt of Honour. The Coroner at the Inquest into his death made clear that he was prepared to fight for his country and had died as nobly as if he had been fighting. It shouldn’t have taken so long for the country to recognise his sacrifice. His case could not have been clearer cut.”