I recently received from the Revd Jennie Hurd a picture of a memorial in a Welsh chapel, which at the time of the First World War was a Wesleyan chapel known as Cefnblodwel.
In loving memory of Pte William Tanat Jones, Glan-yr-Afon, who fell on the battlefield at Ronsey, France, 18th September 1918, aged 31
Also, Pte John Hugh Wooding, Sycamore Cottage, Moelydd, who fell on the battlefield in France, 30th August 1916, aged 23
“Greater love hath no man than this”
They gave their lives for Justice, Freedom and Religion
Although the biblical quotation (John 15:13) is one that is often seen in Welsh chapel memorials, the final line which explicitly places the men’s sacrifice as one for ‘Justice, Freedom and Religion’ is a stronger statement than is usually seen.
It is straightforward to find both men on the CWGC database. John Hugh Wooding is commemorated on the enormous memorial at Thiepval in the Somme region of France: he died while serving with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.
William Tanat Jones is actually buried in Ronssoy Communal Cemetery in the Somme region: he was serving with the 25th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
Some information on William can be found in Welsh newspapers. The Llangollen Advertiser of 11 October 1918 notes how his death was announced in Llanyblodwel church:
On Sunday morning the Vicar (the Rev. J. Allen Jones) referred in feeling terms to the death in action on the west front of Pte. William Tanat Jones, Tyissa, who a month ago was at home on leave, and to the death of Arthur Lewis, The Stores, Porthywaen, who was killed in action in the recent Bulgarian fighting. The whole parish will lament their loss. The organist (Mr T. B. Griffiths) played the Dead March in “Saul.”
There are two items about him in Y Gwyliedydd Newydd (the Welsh Wesleyans’ weekly newspaper). The first is a report of his marriage, at Cefnblodwel chapel on 4 January 1916, to Miss Helena Jones, daughter of Mr and Mrs Jones of Ty Isa. William was noted as serving with the Montgomery Yeomanry (a unit which would be re-organised as the 25th Btn of the RWF in 1917).
Then there is a much more detailed report of his death in the issue of 6 November 1918.
We are very sad at having to record the death of Mr Tanat Jones, dear husband of Mrs Tanat Jones, Ty Isa, and son of Mr & Mrs Wm. Jones Glanyrafon. Our friend fell in the battle in France, 18 September, to the great sorrow of his family and friends. He joined the army early in the War, and for two years served on the field in Palestine and we were glad to hear that he came out of every battle uninjured. During this year he was transferred from the East to France. In August he was allowed home for a visit, and everyone was delighted to see him looking so well and cheerful. But within a fortnight of his return to the field of battle, he received a fatal blow and his body was respectfully buried in the public cemetery of Royssons.
On Friday evening, 18 October, a memorial service for him was held in Cefnblodwel chapel. The Rev. Evan Roberts, Oswestry, preached to a large congregation referring to the character and work of our friend.
W.T. Jones was a quiet, unassuming young man who was liked by all who knew him. He was always ready to do a favour. The young men who were around him in the army testify that they have lost a true friend. He had a great love for the cause in Cefnblodwel, and great things were expected of him had he been spared. Here is another hopeful young man sacrificed on the altar of war. May he rest tranquilly in the far-off field and may the breeze blow gently over the site of his grave. We sympathise deeply with his young bride and his parents, brother and sisters. May the Lord console them in their sorrow.
However, when trying to locate Cefnblodwel chapel on the database of Welsh chapels created by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, there was a problem: no such chapel was listed. Further investigation showed why: this chapel is well on the English side of the border, six miles south-west of Oswestry.
Searching on the web for more information about the two men, some interesting material comes to light. William Tanat Jones is commemorated on the gravestone of his parents (William and Ann Jones) in Nantmawr – the gravestone is in Welsh although Nantmawr is firmly in Shropshire.
Also in Nantmawr, there is a Roll of Honour of all the former pupils of the Nantmawr British School who served in the war, including the name of John Hugh Wooding. Further information about him can be found here.
It does not appear that either of these men is included in the ‘Welsh Book of Remembrance’, commissioned in 1928 (although one would have expected that William Tanat Jones should have been included as he served in a Welsh Regiment).
The services in the chapel at Cefnblodwel are now held in English, yet they still belong to the Welsh branch of the Methodist church. It all goes to show that the border areas can have interesting ideas about identity, and have no trouble with identifying with both ‘English’ and ‘Welsh’.
g.h.matthews April 27th, 2018
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A new resource has been developed which illustrates some of the material gathered on the First World War memorials and rolls of honour in Wales.
Funded by the Living Legacies 1914-18 Engagement Centre, the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis at Queen’s University Belfast has worked with the information gathered by the ‘Welsh Memorials’ project, and also the Powys War Memorials Project, to create a map showing where these memorials are to be found. (The black dots are from the Powys project: the others are from ‘Welsh Memorials’).
Most of the memorials considered here were displayed in chapels, but there are also examples from churches, schools, clubs and workplaces.
These objects of commemoration can tell us a lot about how individual communities were affected by the war, and how they chose to remember the events of 1914 – 1919, and those whom they lost on the battlefield. They vary greatly in their design, in their choice of words to describe those who are commemorated, in the information they contain, and in how inclusive they were in their choice of men and women to remember and honour.
Whilst some rolls of honour feature very militaristic imagery, some memorials appear far more ambivalent about the necessity of war. One obvious example of these two contrasting perspectives can be found by comparing the choice of verse in the Tabernacle at Pontypridd (left), and Bethel Chapel in Llangyfelach, Swansea (right).
The Tabernacle in Pontypridd extolls the virtues of dying for one’s country – the poem is from the perspective of a mother who tells her son that “Dy fam wyf fi, a gwell gan fam, It golli’th waed fel dwfr, Neu agor drws i gorff y dewr, Na derbyn bachgen llwfr.” (“I am your mother, and a mother would rather you spilt your blood like a flood, or to open the door to the body of the brave, than accept a cowardly boy”). Bethel Chapel in Llangyfelach, on the other hand, quotes from the eulogy to Hedd Wyn (a Welsh poet who died at Passchendaele) by R. Williams Parry – “Garw rhoi’u pridd i’r briddell, mwyaf garw marw ’mhell” (It is grievous to give their remains to the earth, and harder still because they are far away).
There is also a wide range in regards to what the communities decided to record about those who were serving with the armed forces. Some, as in the Tabernacle (see above) included photographs. Others only recorded initials and surnames. Whilst some memorials and rolls of honour stated where the soldiers and sailors lived, others chose to list their ranks and regiments, or the date and place where they fell.
The map shows which areas chose to commemorate women who participated in the war effort. It seems that roughly a third of the chapel memorials in Wales include the names of women who served as well as men. Some of these are in clusters – such as those in the Pontypool area. This map resource makes it easy to identify these clusters. Very often the women’s names were separated out from the men’s as is the case in Capel-y- Garn, Bow Street, near Aberystwyth.
Sisters Hannah and Rebecca Rees are both listed as nurses on the right-hand bottom corner of the list. Occasionally women were listed among the fallen, as was the case with Janet Jones from Llanrwst, who was a Quarter Mistress with the Women’s Royal Air Force. On the roll of honour at the British Legion in Llanrwst, she is listed among the fallen men, in alphabetical order.
Another feature of this map is that it highlights which memorials and rolls of honour commemorate those men who served with overseas forces. Most men served with either the Canadian or Australian forces, although smaller numbers served with the Ghurkhas, New Zealanders and South Africans. The memorial which records the greatest number of men who fell whilst fighting with overseas forces is that of Crickhowell War Memorial Hospital. Out of a total of 67 men who fell whilst fighting in the First World War, 8 of them did so whilst serving with overseas forces (two Canadians, three New Zealanders and three Australians). Capel Seion in Llangollen also has a high proportion of men who served with overseas forces – 3 out of 12, that is, a quarter of those who served. One fought with the Australian Forces, another with the Canadians and the third with the South African Army.
Both Crickhowell and Llangollen are fairly rural areas of Wales, and perhaps the map of those who served with overseas forces can tell us something about the patterns of migration from Wales at the turn of the twentieth century. It also tells us how those who did emigrate maintained their links with the old country. One of those from Llangollen had emigrated to Canada a decade before the outbreak of war, but he was still considered enough of a Llangollen boy to be recorded on their Roll of Honour.
The memorial at High Street Baptist chapel, Abersychan, brings together many of the themes highlighted in this resource. The Roll of Honour has the dedication ‘To those who came to the help of the Lord against the mighty in the Great Struggle for the preservation of the sacred ideals of civilization’, showing that at the time of the memorial’s commission there was no question of who was in the right in the war. Eight men who died are listed, along with 70 men and 7 women who served. One of the men was with the Australian forces, and one with the Canadian Field Ambulance.
So far the Welsh Memorial Project has recorded over 160 memorials and almost a hundred rolls of honour from across Wales. These objects range from rough drafts of rolls of honour, such as this roll of honour from St Cross Church in Llanllechid, near Bangor, to statues such as this one from the Tabernacle in Aberystwyth, which was designed by the renowned Italian sculptor Mario Rutelli. This online map resource highlights the different ways of commemorating those who served from across Wales. It shows where rolls of honour were made, and those areas where memorials alone were more common. It gives a snapshot of the patterns of migration at the turn of the century, and it shows which communities decided that the contribution of local women to the war effort was worth commemorating.
g.h.matthews February 21st, 2018
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Here are images of the First World War memorials in Welsh chapels referred to in the book chapter:
Gethin Matthews, ‘Angels, Tanks and Minerva: Reading the memorials to the Great War in Welsh chapels’ in Martin Kerby, Margaret Baguley and Janet McDonald (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Artistic and Cultural Responses to war.
Maes-yr-Haf (Independent), Neath:
Mynyddbach (Independent), north Swansea – ‘Roll of Honour’ created in February 1916:
Mynyddbach (Independent), north Swansea – ‘Roll of Honour’ from 1921:
Adulam (Baptist), Bonymaen, north Swansea:
g.h.matthews February 7th, 2018
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As the ‘Welsh Memorials’ project has gathered information about WW1 memorials from all over Wales, it has become clear that different parts of Wales can have different patterns of memorialisation. One clear generalisation is that industrial Wales had a greater number and variety of WW1 memorials than rural Wales. Although there are plenty of interesting exceptions, as a rule the WW1 memorials in rural Wales are thinner on the ground and have fewer names commemorated on them – which is obviously related to the sparser population in these areas.
Within industrial or urban Wales, there are also some interesting patterns: some areas where memorialisation was more intense than others. (Of course, one factor to bear in mind is the survival rate of memorials may not be uniform, and there are some parts of Wales where it appears that more have been lost than have survived). This article will focus in on Morriston, north Swansea, an area which had a very strong concentration of Nonconformist chapels in 1914.
The map above gives an idea of the distribution of these chapels (using the data of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales). Some of these chapels have closed down, while others have merged, but a fair number of their memorials are still extant.
As a result of there being so many chapels in one locality, there was an element of rivalry between them, and we can see that expressed during the period 1914-18 in terms of the question of how many recruits had joined from each congregation. Each institution sought to show that it was ‘doing its bit’ for the war effort, and so publicised the number of their young men who had joined the Armed Forces. For example, a newspaper report in 1916 declared that ‘Carmel Church is not one of the largest in Morriston, but has the good record of having 36 of its members and adherents with the Colours’ (Herald of Wales, 22 January 1916, p.8).
Here is an example of a contemporary Roll of Honour that was kept by Philadephia (Calvinistic Methodist) chapel, Morriston. It is likely that most local chapels had Rolls of Honour similar to this one on display as the war was being fought.
However, most of these have not survived, as they were superseded by more ornate memorials commissioned at the end of the war.
One thing that is clear from looking at the memorials below is that one local artist designed a number of them. W.J.James, of Penrhiwforgan, Morriston, designed all of the ones below: clockwise from the top-left – Soar; Carmel; Tabernacl; Tabernacl, Cwmrhydyceirw and Seion. In each of these designs there is an image of the chapel building in the middle towards the top, flanked by the Union flag and the Welsh dragon.
The design of the memorial of Tabernacl (on Woodfield Street – renowned as one of the most grandiose of all the chapels in Wales) is particularly interesting. It has the motto of the Welsh Regiment, “Better death than dishonour” in four languages (English, Welsh, French and Flemish) and ten militaristic pictures, including images of machine gunners and tanks.
As well as the Roll of Honour, Tabernacl (Baptist) Cwmrhydyceirw has a tablet commemorating the two men from the chapel who died.
Bethania (Calvinistic Methodist) does not have a Roll of Honour – although the Annual Report for 1919 does give details of the 55 men from the chapel who served in the war. It has, on one side of the pulpit, a marble memorial to the 10 men from the chapel who died. It also has, on the other side, a similar memorial to the 5 men who were killed in the Second World War, as sad testimony to the fact that the Great War was not, after all, ‘the war to end wars’.
g.h.matthews February 5th, 2018
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In a previous blog post we noted a few instances where individuals were commemorated on more than one memorial. This is to be expected if a man (or woman) had a connection with a number of institutions that felt the need, either as the war was being fought or at its end, to remember those who had served, and those who died.
Another way of finding these connections is to look at one memorial and see how many of the men are listed on other local memorials. We have recently been given an image of the WW1 memorial in Terrace Road School, in the Mount Pleasant area of Swansea. This lists 65 men who ‘gave their lives for Freedom in the Great War, 1914-1918’.
Many of these men appear on other local memorials in Swansea (as well as being listed on the Swansea Cenotaph, which names all the local dead from WW1). One name that stands out is David Dupree – he is the subject of a previous blog post, and is named on the Hafod Isha works memorial.
At least one of the men is named on the memorial in the Salisbury Club (which used to stand on Walter Road) – Malcolm McIndeor.
Llewelyn Arnold, Felix Edwards, Edward Gamage, Fred C. Thomas and George Fortune. The latter is also named on the memorial in Mount Pleasant Baptist chapel.
Richard Brayley is (almost certainly) the R. Brayley commemorated on Carmarthen Road chapel.
Further investigations will doubtless find more examples of these men listed on other local memorials.
g.h.matthews August 12th, 2017
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Rodney Parade is now home to the Newport Gwent Dragons Rugby Club. The entrance gate, however, serves as a memory to the club’s past. It is dedicated to the 85 members of Newport Athletics Club who lost their lives during the First World War.
A large number of the names can be found in other local memorials around Newport – for example, 18 are commemorated on the memorial at St Mark’s Church, five on the Newport High School Old Boys’ memorial and three at Victoria Avenue Methodist Church. Many of these men served with ‘local’ regiments – at least 24 were with the Monmouthshire Regiment, and at least 18 were South Wales Borderers.
However, six of these men were killed while fighting as members of overseas forces – three with the Canadians, and one each with the Australian, New Zealand and South African forces. This of course indicates that they had emigrated before the outbreak of war. People emigrated for many different reasons at the turn of the twentieth century, but one of the most unusual cases must be that of Philip Dudley Waller.
Philip was born in Bath in 1889, but later moved with his parents to Llanelli, where he began his rugby career. He was a gifted forward, and played his first game for Wales at the tender age of nineteen. The Evening Express of 12 December 1908 (football edition, p.2) described his achievement as “a phenomenal rise to football fame” – he’d only started playing for Newport’s third team in the 1906-7 season. In 1910 Waller was selected to play for the British Lions on tour in South Africa. It appears that he and one of his team-mates had such a good time there that he decided to stay. An article in the Evening Express entitled “Great Loss to Newport Club” ( 31 August 1910, p.4, second edition) stated that “it is definitely reported that P.D. Waller and Melville Baker, of Newport, who are now with the British team, will remain in South Africa.”
Sadly, Phillip Waller died on active service in France on 14 December 1917. He was buried at Red Cross Corner Cemetery near Arras. The Llanelli Star wrote that he had “a wide circle of friends who regret his untimely though glorious death.” A few months later, the Cambria Daily Leader reported the death of a brother – “Richard Percy Waller, R.A.F., has been killed at Montrose. He had gained his wings as a pilot only a week before his death” (3 June 1918, p. 3). The War memorial in their home town of Llanelli does not list the names of the servicemen commemorated there, but the names of both brothers can be found on the Carmarthen County War Memorial Roll.He settled in Johannesburg, even becoming a member of the town council there. The Llanelli Star reported that he enlisted into the South African Heavy Artillery in August 1915 because he was “a good sport in every sense of the term and full of patriotic fervour, he saw it to be his duty to do something for his country” (5 January 1918, p.1). Indeed, the Llanelli Star was eager to sing Phil Waller’s praises generally: “Personally, he was a charming young man. Of fine physique, abundant fervour, and highly attractive manner, he was a very popular officer, loved by the men and regarded with very great favour by his supervisors.”
Meg Ryder June 16th, 2017
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The ‘Welsh Memorials’ project is particularly interested in those war memorials that were established by particular communities to their men who were lost in the war. The most numerous of such memorials that we have collected come from chapels, but we are also interested in those that were created by schools, clubs and workplaces.
For workplace memorials there is the particular challenge that most of the places of employment in 1914 do not exist any more – for example, none of the 400 coal mines that were operative in south Wales in 1914 are still around, and in most cases their buildings have been razed. Similarly, most of the heavy industries of Wales have either closed down or relocated. However in what used to be one of the prime areas of the non-ferrous metals industry in Wales, you can still see the building that once housed the Hafod Isha works, where nickel and cobalt was smelted.
On the outside of the building is a stone monument, listing the names of eleven men killed in the war. Interestingly, the memorial states it was instigated by the men’s ‘fellow employees’, rather than by the company itself.
Using items from the Swansea newspapers, it is possible to find out more about most of these men. One of them has already been the subject of a blog article – Dai Dupree.
The first set of clues come in two ‘Rolls of Honour’ in the Cambria Daily Leader, which list the men from the works that had enlisted in September and October 1914. There are 64 names in the list published on 23 October – and of these, seven (Dupree; George; Isaac; Jenkins; Rees; Sword and Williams) are on the memorial.
Thus we know that E. S. George is Emin Stanley George, killed in the vicinity of Ypres while serving with the Dorsetshire Regiment in March 1915; George Rees was killed in June 1915 while serving with the South Wales Borderers; William Edward Isaac was serving in the Machine Gun section of the Welsh Regiment when he was killed in August 1916 and Fred Jenkins was in the Oxford and Bucks Regiment when he was killed in the same month on the Salonican Front. The fact that Charles Williams is identified in the October 1914 list as serving with the ‘South Lancashire Light Infantry’ makes it possible to say with some certainty that the ‘C. Williams’ on the Hafod Isha memorial is the Charles Thomas Williams who was killed on the Salonica Front in September 1918 while serving with the South Lancashire Regiment.
Perhaps the youngest of these men was Harold Grey, who died aboard S.S. Dundalk six days before his nineteenth birthday, on 14 October 1918.
Other newspaper reports make it easy to identify some of the other men. A brief notice of the death of Maurice Kirwan, who was killed in action in France in August 1917, aged 20, noted that ‘he was formerly employed at the Hafod Isha works’. This information was also given in the obituary to George Pickett , who died aboard H.M.S. Arbutus, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in December 1917.
The two that cannot be identified on the list of fallen complied by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are J. White, for whom there are too many possibilities to be certain, and J. S. Sword, whose inclusion needs some further research. James Spence Sword is listed in the October 1914 list in the Cambria Daily Leader: records show that he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 13 October 1914 and served on various warships up until his discharge in early 1919. Despite the fact that his name is missing in the CWGC list, the fact that his work colleagues considered him a casualty of the war suggests that he died later as a result of a wound or illness picked up during his war service.
One further question that cannot be easily answered is why some other war casualties who were noted in the newspapers as former employees of Hafod Isha were not included on the memorial. One example of this is James Heffron, whose death while serving with the Somerset Light Infantry was reported in August 1915.
g.h.matthews February 27th, 2017
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Individuals belong to several communities at once, and have loyalties and relationships at many different levels. This was true – and perhaps more so – a hundred years ago. A young man who went off to war in 1914-18 might have his presence missed in different ways by the communities of which he was part – besides, clearly, the impact upon his immediate family.
Thus individual soldiers and sailors can be commemorated on more than one memorial. In fact, most of the Welshmen who fell in the war will have their names remembered on at least two memorials. To give one example that has been considered in an earlier blog post, the 11 men from the Rhydymain area who were killed in the First World War were commemorated on memorials in two chapels, and all bar one of them are named on the Dolgellau memorial. In addition; the fallen from north Wales are also named on the ‘Memorial Arch’ in Bangor; all dead Welsh servicemen should be named in the ‘Welsh National Book of Remembrance’; all British casualties should be found in the volume ‘Soldiers Died the Great War’; and all the Commonwealth dead are commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
Of course, given that so many Welshmen had common surnames, it is not always possible to be certain whether the Jones, Williams or Evans commemorated refer to the same individuals.
When the serviceman had a less common surname, the job can be easier. Harry Rosen is commemorated on both the memorial of his place of worship – the synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil – and in his workplace – the Crawshay Brothers Mountain Levels and Steelworks. (Both of these magnificent memorials are now held at the Cyfarthfa Castle Museum). There are only two ‘H. Rosen’s listed on the CWGC database, and it is clear that the Merthyr Rosen served with the Royal Naval Division and was killed on the final day of 1917.
Another young Welshmen with a name that can easily be traced was Clarence Stiff of Cwmbran. Family-held material on his tragic story was shared with the ‘Welsh Voices of the Great War’ project in 2010. He was just seventeen years old when he was killed on the Western Front in 1915. His obituary in a local newspaper calls him a ‘fine youth’: ‘He was an enthusiastic cricketer, and a member of the Cwmbran Cricket Club. He was also a scholar at the Cwmbran Wesleyan Sunday School.’
Clarence is commemorated on three different memorials in Cwmbran. Wooden boards in St Gabriel’s Church list the names of 86 men of the parish who were killed, including Clarence. His name is also among the five WW1 casualties commemorated in the Salvation Army Hall on Wesley Street. Also, he is commemorated by his employers, the Cwmbran works of the Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds Company (who, as explored in a previous blog post, created memorials in their numerous workplaces around South Wales).
Sometimes an unusual first name is enough to be able to make a connection. There is a Pendal Thomas, engineer, named on Pontardawe’s WW1 memorial. There is an R Pendal Thomas named on the memorial at Cardiff’s Pembroke Terrace Calvinistic Methodist chapel (now converted to be a restaurant). There is no Pendal Thomas listed on the CWGC database, but there is a Robert Pendrill Thomas, third engineer, who died on board S.S. Bayronto on 30 July 1918. The database notes that his parents were Hannah and Robert Thomas of Pontardawe. Thus there is no doubt that the same man is commemorated on the Pontardawe and Cardiff memorials.
g.h.matthews January 19th, 2017
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There is, of course, a long tradition within the Christian religion of incorporating stained glass windows in churches which relate stories from the Bible, or of saints’ lives. There are a wealth of notable examples in churches in north Wales of windows created in the medieval or early modern period. In the Victorian period, when many ancient churches were refurbished, stained glass windows were installed in churches all over Wales. As well as Biblical scenes, some of these images were in honour of notable benefactors. There are also examples in Welsh churches of stained glass windows as memorials to the Boer War, such as this example from St Mary’s, Monmouth.
Thus it is not too surprising that stained glass windows in churches became a way of commemorating those who served in the First World War, and in particular those who were lost. However, it is remarkable how many such memorials were established in Wales. Martin Crampin’s excellent book, Stained Glass from Welsh Churches (published by Y Lolfa in 2014) contains thirty pages of photographs of these WW1 memorials.
Although a fair number of stained glass windows were established in Nonconformist chapels, the majority of these WW1 memorials are in Anglican churches. The imagery they contain is often very vivid and thought-provoking. Many contain images of First World War soldiers – one particularly striking example is to be seen in Christ Church, Rossett, in the north-eastern corner of Wales.
Dedicated in 1925 to ‘the men of the parish who gave up their lives in the Great War’, this pictures three soldiers: on the right-hand side, a wounded soldier of the Welsh Regiment receives succour from a stretcher-bearer of the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps).
For further images of this, visit the web-pages created by Martin Crampin on ‘Stained Glass in Wales’.
Several images on the ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ website show windows that contain both First World War soldiers and Christ, making the explicit connection between the suffering of the contemporary soldiers and the story of Christ on the cross. Thus the Church of St Pedrog, Llanbedrog (from 1918) shows ‘A fallen soldier with Christ and angels’ and St Mary’s Spittal (Pembrokeshire, from 1916) shows ‘The Risen Christ meeting the fallen soldier’.
In the Church of St James, Manorbier, there is a collection of service personnel in a montage with Christ on the cross, including a nurse.
One example not in the online database is the memorial window in Llanfrechfa, near Cwmbrân. This shows the risen Christ with a fallen soldier, and is a memorial to Major Edmund Styant Williams who was killed at Ypres on 8 May 1915.
It is also poignant to note when some of these memorials were unveiled. Some were created in the 1920s; some in 1919, in the immediate aftermath of war; some while the war was still being fought. One striking example, in the church of St Sannan, Bedwellty, was dedicated on Christmas Eve, 1916.
This shows Christ on the cross with soldiers in WW1 uniform at the scene: one kneeling; one lying wounded or dead. (Further information on this can be found in an article by David Mills in the Journal of the Gelligaer Historical Society vol.23 – Great War edition 2, 2016).
The window is dedicated to a local surgeon, Dr John Clarke, and the kneeling figure on the left bears a distinct resemblance to him. Similarly, the wounded soldier looks like another local man who fell, Sgt. W. J. Haskoll of the First Monmouthshire Regiment, who died, aged 31, in France on 25 May 1915.
g.h.matthews December 21st, 2016
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At Boncath near Cardigan, two years following the end of hostilities in November 1918, a memorial obelisk was erected in the grounds of Vachendre Chapel in memory of Private Tom Lewis, who died on 27 September 1918 while a Prisoner of War. He was twenty-seven years old and was the son of Jonathan and Martha Lewis of Winllan, Boncath. He was also the only member of the chapel to perish in the Great War. Tom Lewis is not buried at Vachendre Chapel; to view his actual resting place you need to travel to the Department of the Nord in France, as this fallen soldier of Boncath is buried at Glageon Communal Extension Cemetery, near the village of Trelon, just a few kilometres from the Belgian border. At the time he was serving with the 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment.
The type of obelisk on display at Vachendre Chapel, in memory of Tom Lewis, is not particularly remarkable; such imagery or memorial type was frequently adopted for funerary purposes in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and even today remains a common sight at cemeteries throughout west Wales and beyond. What is different, in this case, is the presence of a large coin embedded into the boundary footings of the memorial. This is in fact the memorial medallion issued to Tom Lewis’s family, and to all the families of fallen men and women following the Great War, from a grateful ‘King and Country’.
The presence of this soldier’s memorial medallion is an unusual feature for a First World War memorial site. More popularly known as the ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ (some would suggest disparagingly), over a million of these bronze medallions were produced in the immediate post-war years. The medallion measured 120mm in diameter and was designed by the sculptor Edward Carter Preston. The name of the fallen serviceman is given, but the rank of the individual is not, reflecting equality in death, if not in life. The figure of Brittania, complete with trident, dominates the allegory, together with the image of a lion, and two dolphins, the latter representing British sea power. At the base, another lion is seen devouring a German eagle. ‘He died for freedom and honour’ is inscribed around the edge (of course replaced by ‘she died …’ in the case of women service personnel who perished). Although at the time some viewed the medallion as a wholly inadequate form of recognition for those who had paid with their lives, it is clear that the family of Tom Lewis viewed it with great pride, giving it a prominent place at their son’s memorial site.
As with the obelisk at Vachendre Chapel, many chapel, church, and war memorial sites, which held the names, if not the mortal remains of the fallen, were given prominence and significance by the families and close friends of the fallen. The names of servicemen, buried or lost abroad, remain a common feature on family gravestones throughout Britain. Here is an example from Anglesey: the grave of William Jones Owen, who died in the Battle of Mametz Wood (July 1916).
These sites acted as a form of surrogate grave for those who could not afford to make the trip out to France or Belgium, or whose loved ones had no known resting place, or who had perished at sea, or were laid to rest in more distant lands such as Mesopotamia, Palestine, Gallipoli, or Salonika. During the immediate post war years such sites were visited regularly by relatives and close friends; a constant reminder to those living in the immediate vicinity of the sacrifices made by the fallen, and indeed the suffering of those left behind. Today, most of these sites, and the tributes they hold, go unnoticed, but each is a material reminder of sacrifices made and heartache endured by those closest to the fallen.
The Vachendre obelisk is significant for one other reason. At the unveiling in October 1920, local veterans, who were there in force, marched from the village of Boncath to the chapel ground to witness the speeches that accompanied the unveiling. Two contrasting opinions on the war were evident in these addresses. Fortunately for the historian the speeches were reported in the Cardigan and Tivyside Advertiser, on 22 October 1920. The Reverend Esgar James of Cardigan put forward a distinctly anti-militarist theme in his address, stating, ‘they were not there to glorify militarism nor war, but to pay tribute to one who had laid down his life for them’. The unveiling itself was performed by Colonel Spence Colby who, in no uncertain terms, gave a different view of events, stating, ‘those miserable people who went up and down the country speaking against what they were pleased to call militarism, should leave the country, and show themselves to be what they really are – traitors to their country’. It is difficult to judge from this short newspaper report whether the Colonel was responding directly to Esgar James’s comments, or that he was targeting members of the Nonconformist community when referring to ‘those miserable people’, but his contrasting views, expressed with obvious animosity and vitriol, may be seen as indicative of tensions over the conduct of the war between some Nonconformist elements and those fully behind Britain’s part in the conflict, such as Colonel Spence Colby. The degree to which anti-war sentiments pervaded Welsh rural society throughout 1914-1918 and beyond remains a contentious issue among historians of the Great War in Wales, particularly around the part played by Nonconformist ministers in spreading anti-war rhetoric and pacifist beliefs. It is perhaps unwise to make general judgements about attitudes towards the war in this part of Wales based upon one newspaper report and one memorial unveiling, but this source can form part of a wider study of memorial unveiling speeches in the 1920s, many of which were covered, verbatim, in local newspapers. These points aside, the views of the Reverend James tend to fit the image of the radical, anti-war Nonconformist minister in Wales, put forward by some historians, and even expresses a general attitude that, some believe, was widespread in Britain during the post-war era – more cynical and certainly more disillusioned by the war and its consequences.
Dr Lester Mason, University of Wales Trinity St David
To get to the Vachendre Chapel site, travel on the A484 Tenby-to-Cardigan road, and a mile and half north of Crymych (after passing through the village of Blaenffos) take a right onto the B4332 for Cenarth/Newcastle Emlyn. At Boncath village take the right turn to Bwlch y Groes . One mile down this road on the right-hand side is the Chapel.
g.h.matthews October 24th, 2016
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