Major-General John Hamilton “Ham” Roberts was born in the South-Western Manitoba village of Pipestone on 21 December 1891. He was educated at Epsom College, England, University School, Victoria, at Toronto’s Upper Canada College and at the Royal Military College. A robust and active student, he excelled in sports, particularly football, tennis, shooting and cricket. Graduating in 1914, he was commissioned in the Royal Canadian Artillery.
Arriving in Flanders in the summer of 1915, he won the Military Cross at the Somme in 1916 and served continuously with The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA) until he was wounded in action in March 1918. On release from hospital he was employed as an instructor until the armistice.
On return to Canada he remained in the army and was soon training the gunners of the newly organized Permanent Force. In 1924, he moved to Winnipeg to perform similar duties and later transferred to Halifax for duty with the heavy artillery. He was promoted Major in 1929 and Lieutenant-Colonel at the outset of the Second World War.
He went overseas with the 1st Field Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division. This unit was reorganized as 1st Field Regiment, RCHA on arrival in England. When his regiment was ordered back to England on the final collapse of France, he was the only commander in the allied forces to withdraw with all his guns. He also returned with 12 Bofors, seven predictors, three Bren gun carriers and a number of technical vehicles.
Promoted Brigadier in July 1940, he was appointed Commander, Royal Artillery, 1st Canadian Division and one year later he rose to the appointment of Commander Corps, Royal Artillery, 1st Canadian Corps. In April the following year he was promoted Major-General and assumed command of the 2nd Canadian Division.
In August 1942, he was appointed military commander of Operation “JUBILEE”, the ill-fated Dieppe Raid. The force was composed of large elements of two 2nd Canadian Division brigades – he was, therefore, the logical commander. He conducted the entire operation from the bridge of a destroyer while under heavy enemy fire and with grim resolve he mounted the assault. For conducting himself with “ability, courage and determination”, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. France recognized his merit and gallantry by awarding him the cravat of Commander of the Legion of Honour and the Croix de Guerre with Palm.
Later in 1942, Major-General Roberts commanded the Canadian Reinforcement Units in the United Kingdom and retired from the army in 1945 after 35 years service. After the war he accepted a post with the Imperial War Graves Commission. He fully retired in 1950.
A decorated and highly competent officer, he silently accepted the consequence of command on that fateful day in August 1942. A humane and caring man, he served Canada, the Canadian Army and The Royal Regiment long and well. Major-General Roberts died at his home in Jersey, The Channel Islands, on 17 December 1962.