Harold Wallace ROTH
Eyes brown, Hair brown, Complexion fresh
Harold, his family story
Harold Wallace Roth was born on 19 February 1898 in Dubbo, to George Roth and Ellen Roth (nee Hayes). Both George and Ellen were Australian-born to emigrant parents. George‘s parents (Johann and Louisa (nee Seith) Roth) were from Germany and migrated to Sydney, Australia in November 1856. Ellen’s parents (Andrew and Emma (nee Blandford) Hayes) were from Ireland and England and arrived in Sydney in 1852.
Harold spent the first four years of his life in the country town of Dubbo where George, a keen cyclist, owned a bicycle shop and garage.
In 1902, the family left Dubbo for Sydney, moving to 77 Cleveland Street, Redfern. There, Harold attended Marrickville Public School and later began his cadet training at Randwick and then at Marrickville.
In 1909, George and Ellen had a little girl – Gladys. Although there was an eleven year age gap, there was a great deal of affection between the siblings. Harold was always the protective big brother, taking Gladys into the surf, high on his shoulders.
Teenaged Harold, keen to enlist
Soon after the outbreak of war, Harold enlisted for overseas service however he was underage, and his mother reported him. He persisted, however, and after turning 17, Harold again enlisted, falsifying his age. He signed up on 24 September 1915 saying he was 21 years old and 7 months and joined the 3rd Battalion. In March 1916, Harold embarked on the troopship A15 Star of England for Egypt.
In April 1916, Harold was transferred to the 55th Battalion and embarked for France in June where they journeyed by train towards the frontline. At this time of the war, the 55th Battalion was tasked with carrying sandbags and ammunition to the front. There were only enough helmets for the two assaulting battalions (53rd and 54th) so the 55th and 56th Battalions wore slouch hats during the Battle of Fromelles.
Harold was killed in action on 20th July 1916 – described clearly in a report from one of his mates, Corporal William G. Nixey 4861.
Although only about seven when her brother was killed, Gladys remembers her mother never being the same after the loss of her son – buried somewhere in France. Pictured are the medals and the memorial plaque received by his parents after his death. They are in the original medal box that they came in when received by George and Ellen Roth.
Fast forward nearly 100 years – the mass grave at Pheasant Wood
There was hope from many stakeholders that Harold would be one of the soldiers discovered in Pheasant Wood. There was no trouble gaining female DNA samples with willing donors in Harold’s nieces – daughters of his beloved little sister, Gladys.
However, the male line was harder to trace. Harold’s father, George, was the only male in his immediate family to have children which meant that Y DNA lines in Australia had petered out.
So, the search was on – by family (particularly Gladys’ granddaughter, Liz Mitchell) and by the Fromelles Association - to locate a donor on the male line. In her search, Liz created a Roth family tree of enormous complexity covering many generations and, after tracing family records back to 1610, it was discovered that the Roth family, who originated in a small town outside of Stuttgart in Germany, still have family in the town!
The little village is now part of the town of Weinstadt which today has a population of 24,000. It is 20km from Stuttgart, which houses the headquarters of Mercedes, Porsche and Bosch and is the capital of the County Baden-Württemberg, the 3rd largest city in Germany. In the early times of Württemberg, the earls of Württemberg were buried in the local church. This same church and graveyard today holds many records and gravestones of the Roth family.
After a formal letter to every Roth in a specific area near Stuttgart, we eventually found a potential Y donor who agreed to give a DNA sample. It is difficult to explain the emotional impact on researchers of actually finding a donor after such a long search, and then to agonise through the donation process. Suffice to say that for every victory there are many other experiences. And this story was unique and "tugged at all of our heartstrings" as we were asking for a DNA sample from a German national – one who did not previously know of his possible relationship to Harold, an Australian soldier fighting German soldiers in WW1.
Unfortunately, after waiting a seemingly interminable time and despite our hopes and prayers, there was not a match. So – the search continues……
A 2019 Epilogue – penned in the Black Forest
In 2019, Royce Atkinson, then President of the Fromelles Association of Australia, was travelling to Germany. His wife, Marilyn, was keen to visit the Black Forest and Royce, ever Fromelles focused, was determined to meet with Harold’s willing Y-DNA donor, Markus, just to say "thanks".
Well, that simple idea blossomed a hundred-fold! For four days in late March 2019, the Roth family, including Liz Mitchell (Harold’s Australian-born, UK resident great-niece), and the Atkinsons shared many great times together and many, many emotional moments. They were welcomed with open arms and hearts into the family that still had strong bonds amongst them. Relatives came from nearby villages to meet and share family stories and photographs. The photos below of that memorable event are courtesy of Marilyn and Royce Atkinson (2019).
It is fair to say that it was a wonderful time and a unique opportunity to watch and, to a small extent, participate with a family reuniting after some 170 years – despite the wounds of war. As Royce observed, “Part of our Association charter is to identify soldiers and to reunite families. I can think of no better example.”
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