When RSA president Ian Bailey accidentally mistyped a letter while searching online for a soldier, the name Alexander William Roberts appeared on his screen.

The mistake has sent him on a journey into the past which will be completed only when a gravestone is placed on Alexander Roberts' final resting place.

Bailey's investigations of Alexander Roberts found he served in the Boer War and World War I, and was buried at the Terrace End Cemetery in Palmerston North.

Bailey said he found the information from Roberts' army records through Archway at the National Archives.


Alexander Roberts is buried in an unmarked grave with his father in Block 16 plot eight, and Bailey has begun searching for relatives of the soldier.

"The RSA would like permission to place a memorial plaque on the grave," he said.

The known facts:

- Alexander Roberts was born in Lyttleton on January 30, 1873. His father, John Roberts was Welsh, his mother Ruth Louisa was English and he had a sister, Nelly Cardine Chapman.

- Roberts was a seaman and worked for W Cook's British Empire Trading Company in Lyttleton. In 1900, aged 27, he enlisted for service in the Boer War.

- He served as a cavalryman in the 4th and 8th Contingents where he became a Sergeant Major.

- He was discharged in 1902 and returned to the sea.

- His parents owned the Railway Hotel at Kaikoura North and between 1902 and 1914 they moved to Palmerston North to the Family Hotel at 63 Fitzherbert St.


- John Roberts died on March 3, 1902 and was buried at Terrace End.

- In September 1914, Alexander Roberts signed on for service in World War 1.

- Roberts, now 41, was a corporal and was sent to Gallipoli, where he contracted dysentery and became unfit for service when he was shot in the right hand.

- He was discharged from the army in 1916 and was seconded to the Military Police in Whanganui where he served as a jail warden, despite having three fingers of his right hand with a progressive disability.

- According to a coronal report on August 26 1917, Alexander died in Whanganui Hospital from injuries he received when he was run over by a train at Marton Railway station.

If you are a relative or know the Roberts or Nelly Chapman families, please email: pnorthbailey@gmail.com

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