A Face for Corporal Roberts

by Kathryn Doyle (5/1/2008)

One of the items that Gary McMaster most wanted was a photograph of Corporal Harold Roberts. The CGS research team determined that Roberts graduated from Wilmerding High School in 1913. Unfortunately, no book for that year could be located in the archives of Lick-Wilmerding High School, the San Francisco Historical Society or the San Francisco Public Library. The June 1911 Commencement Issue of the school newspaper, Wilmerding Life, carried an informal group photograph of the class of 1913, but entirely without names.

Newspaper research yielded several articles about Roberts and his family, including marriage notices, obituaries and reports about his heroic death and honors. A few included photographs but most were small and without significant detail. The photo archives of the San Francisco Public Library’s History Center had a folder on Roberts which contained this image from the San Francisco Call Newspaper. There was no notation to indicate its source or whether it was ever printed.

One article covered the medal presentation of the French Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) made to Harold’s father, John Roberts, on the steps of the San Francisco City Hall in 1919. The item contained a small oval photo insert of Harold Roberts which McMaster is using to create a more accurate depiction than the painting that now hangs in the Camp exhibit. Curator McMaster made a blurred sepia drawing of the image and added the correct World War I issue helmet and uniform to create this likeness.

He has commissioned a Sacramento artist to paint a new portrait to hang in the base museum. It is scheduled to be finished and delivered to Camp Roberts this coming Saturday for a preview during the Camp Roberts Open House. McMaster has promised to send us a photograph of the finished work when it is hanging in the Museum.

Read the entire series:

  • Part 1 — Searching for Harold Roberts
  • Part 2 — Roberts: What We Found
  • Part 3 — Roberts’ Battlefield Letter
  • Part 5 — A Hero’s Final Resting Place
Roberts’ Battlefield Letter

by Kathryn Doyle (4/30/2008)

July 4, 1918

My dear Dad,

I know that you shall be glad to hear that I am with my new outfit and well pleased. I’m feeling better than I have felt since arrival over here.

We are out in the country billeted in a small village which would cause the average American to turn pale; but it is better than some I have seen and it is way better than the rice paddies I slept in when out on manouvers in the Philippines.

Sure did hate to leave some of my old pals behind; but shall try my best to make new friends here. I had some very good friends amongst officers and men in the Fifteenth and I know that I can do my duty here as well as I have done it in the past.

So please do not worry about me and you shall surely be surprised to see me when I come home to stay this time. However that time is a long way off and it is not good form to think about the future. The present is what counts and I shall surely do my best to make good and shall stick it out despite the fact that there may be disappointment in store for me.

Do hope that your business keeps on improving and please do not take any bad nickels.

Just my luck that my pen had to run dry, but why sorry over a little thing like that. Liable not to have a pencil to finish with next time.

Remember Dad if I die I want Ida May Zeile to have everything. I send you the very best of wishes.


Pvt. 1st cl. Harold Roberts,
Co. A 326 Battalion Tank Corps
311 Tank Center
A.P.O. 714

Censored by:
H.J. Ellis
1st. Lt. Tank Corps

Read the entire series:

  • Part 1 — Searching for Harold Roberts
  • Part 2 — Roberts: What We Found
  • Part 4 — A Face for Harold Roberts
  • Part 5 — A Hero’s Final Resting Place

Roberts: What We Found

by Kathryn Doyle (4/29/2008)

CGS volunteer Dick Rees handles the mail at the society, so it was he who first read McMaster’s request. Dick spearheaded the research efforts of a small group that included Verne Deubler, Nancy Peterson, Vinnie Schwarz and Pat Smith.

William Harold Roberts was the son of John and Elfreda Seifert Roberts, born October 14, 1895, in San Francisco. No official birth record exists because the ledgers were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

The team gathered data from all the likely sources and also contacted the Episcopal Diocese Archives, the Lick-Wilmerding High School, the San Francisco Historical Society and the San Francisco Public Library and their Sixth Floor History Center.

But “Look-up” volunteer, Pat Smith, hit pay dirt when she followed the “no stone left unturned” approach and found a listing for William Harold Roberts in the San Francisco probate index.

The estate file includes a typescript of a letter that Roberts wrote to his father on July 4, 1918 from France. After Robert’s death in November of that year, the letter became his last will and testament.

Harold’s letter was started in ink but was finished in pencil when his fountain pen went dry. It was in the closing sentences, in pencil, that Roberts indicated that if he died everything should be left to his father’s sister, Ida May Zeile.

Roberts, who was unmarried, left a war risk insurance policy, probably standard issue by the Army. The “will” was challenged by family members when Harold’s aunt filed for probate in 1924, two years after the death of Roberts’ father. An article from the November 18, 1924, San Francisco Chronicle, “Will of Hero Hit in Court – Relatives Attack Letter Written on Battlefield Leaving Estate” describes charges of forgery and the fight for the money.

Ultimately, Ida was named the executor and Roberts’ $8000 estate was divided among the living relatives.

Read the entire series:

  • Part 1 — Searching for Harold Roberts
  • Part 3 — Roberts’ Battlefield Letter
  • Part 4 — A Face for Harold Roberts
  • Part 5 — A Hero’s Final Resting Place