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Tregarth is a village in the Ogwen Valley, Caernarfonshire. Its Wesleyan Methodist chapel, ‘Shiloh’ and church, ‘St Mary’s’ are still open and have memorials dedicated to those who lost their lives in the First
World War. The church also holds the Sunday school’s memorial and a stained glass window dedicated to the Brock brothers, whose father was the headmaster of the local school. The gates to the church are also a memorial to those from Tregarth who died during both world wars.

DSCN0336 (800x600)Shiloh’s memorial lists the names and homes of members of the congregation who died fighting the war (for example: Richard Jones – Tyddyn Dicwm). It was necessary to include the street or farm where the fallen had lived, as the community identified them by their place of residence rather than by their surname. Therefore, Richard Jones would probably have been known as Richard Tyddyn Dicwm. The gates outside St. Mary’s and the Sunday school memorial also note where the soldiers had lived in Tregarth. This was also important because a number of the soldiers had the same surname – there are 43 names on the Sunday school memorial, 13 of whom are ‘Jones.’

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St. Mary’s memorial, by contrast, seems less concerned with remembering the soldiers as part of the local community, and more concerned with showing their important role in the Great War. The memorial does say where the soldiers lived. In the majority of cases it does not record the first names of the deceased. Instead, it lists their rank in the army; first initial; surname; area in which they fell and the year they died. The stained glass memorial to the Brock brothers in St. Mary’s echoes this focus on military accomplishments. Although we know from the Sunday school memorial that they lived at Sunnyside, the inscription on the stained glass makes no reference to this. It reads: ‘In loving memory of Lieut. Herbert Leslie Brock (BA Wales) 20th Div. MGC. Killed in action in France April 10th 1918 age 28, and Private Ivor James Baxter Brock 14th Batt. R. W. F. killed in France Sept. 1st 1917 age 19. “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” S. John XV 13.

Different memorials commemorated men in different ways, and the same can be said of newspaper obituaries. This project seeks (among other things) to analyse memorials from all over Wales to see if it is possible to identify patterns in their styles and wording. For example, was including the soldier’s home address on a memorial a trait unique to north Wales, or was it common across rural Wales? Did all Anglican churches note where and on what date members of their congregation had been killed in action? Further research also needs to be done on whether the religious denomination or political outlook of the newspapers had an influence on the style of obituary they published.

Below are examples of Tregarth men’s obituaries from three newspapers. Y Llan was a bilingual Anglican newspaper, whilst Y Gwyliedydd Newydd was Wesleyan. Y Genedl was more political than religious. It supported the Liberal party, but welcomed contributions which reflected the socialist point of view.

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Both Y Llan and Y Genedl’s obituaries seem to stress that the fallen were brave men who had fallen for king and
county. Whilst Y Llan (28/4/1916, p. 7) extended its deepest sympathy to David Williams’s whole family, especially his widow, his young children and his mother, they believed that ‘ond y mae cysur i’w gael wrth feddwl ei fod wedi marw wrth wneud ei ddyletswydd’ (but there is comfort to be had in the thought that he has died doing his duty). A month later, Y Genedl (23/5/1916, p. 8) was even more emphatic that the soldiers were dying for a just cause. It’s article was about a memorial service to Richard Price Jones, but in the middle of the article it refers to all soldiers involved in the war: ‘Da gweled yr ardalwyr yn gollwng dagrau hiraeth, ac o barch, ar ôl y bechgyn sydd yn rhoddi eu bywydau i lawr i gadw y gelynion rhag gwneud ein gwlad fel Belgium, Serbia a Pholand.’ (It is good to see the locals shedding tears of loss and of respect for the boys who have given their lives to prevent the enemy from making our country like Belgium, Serbia and Poland.’) Richard Price Jones’s memorial service was held at the Calvinistic Methodist chapel in Tregarth, but unfortunately I do not know if the chapel is still in use or if any memorials are preserved there.

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By contrast, the obituaries in Y Gwyliedydd Newydd seemed less certain that the Great War was a just cause that was worth the cost. It also acknowledged that not all soldiers on the battlefield wanted to be there. My research so far has not been very extensive, so the first obituary I found relating to a soldier from Capel Shiloh is from September 1916. Conscription had been introduced in March 1916, and attitudes towards the war in Britain as a whole were less fervently patriotic than in the hopeful days of 1914. Also, as Dafydd Roberts has explained in his article, ‘”Dros ryddid a thros ymerodraeth” Ymatebion yn Nyffryn Ogwen 1914-1918’ (“For Freedom and for Empire: reaction in the Ogwen Valley 1914-1918,’ Caernarvon Historical Society Transactions, 1988-9 p. 107- 123), the residents of the Ogwen valley had been reluctant to enlist since the outbreak of war. Methodism in pre-1914 Wales had a strong pacifist tradition, which may also have influenced the newspaper’s views about the war. Y Gwyliedydd Newydd’s coverage of Rowland Hughes’s memorial service (12/9/16, p. 6) refers to the battlefield as ‘faes y gyflafan ofnadwy’ (the field of awful massacre). When Owen Ellis was killed at the front, the paper (30/1/1917, p. 7) played with the phrase ‘maes y gad’ (battlefield) calling it instead ‘maes y gwaed’ (field of blood). By the time David Richard Jones was killed (2/7/1918, article published 24/7/1918, p. 8), Y Gwyliedydd Newydd was referring to the whole war as ‘y gyflafan erchyll yma’ (this horrific massacre).
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In two articles about members of Shiloh’s congregation who had died at the front, the paper makes it quite clear that they had not enlisted because they believed in the glory of war. The first, Rowland Hughes’s (12/9/16, p. 6), stated that he ‘Ymunodd a’r fyddin o argyhoeddiad dwfn. Methai a chysgu’r nos gan faint bwysai ar ei feddwl. Cychwynnodd i’r chwarel at ei waith, troes yn ei ôl, a cherddodd i Fangor i ymuno a’r fyddin, – “yr wyf i fod i listio, meddai, i ymladd dros gyfiawnder.” (He joined the army from deep conviction. He could not sleep at night because of the weight on his mind. He started towards his work at the quarry, turned around, and walked to Bangor to enlist in the army, – “I am going to enlist, to fight for justice”.) Although he had eventually decided to fight for his principles, the newspaper makes it clear that this was not an easy decision to make. The second example is Owen Ellis (30/10/17, p. 7). When describing his character, Y Gwyliedydd Newydd said he was: ‘un o’r bechgyn tyneraf ei ysbryd, a pharatoaf ei gymwynas. Er iddo farw’n filwr ar faes y gwaed, nid milwr mohono wrth anianawd. Yr oedd o duedd enciliedig, gwell ganddo wrando na llefaru. Er hynny, pan alwyd arno i gyflawni’r annymunol gwnaeth hynny yn ffyddlon a theyrngarol. Da gennym glywed gan ei Gaplan iddo farw fel y bu fyw, yn llawn arwriaeth.’ (He had one of the gentlest souls, and was always happy to help. Although he died a soldier on the field of blood, he was not a soldier at heart. He was of a retiring nature, preferring to listen than to preach. Despite this, when he was called upon to do the objectionable he did that faithfully and loyally. We are glad to hear from his Chaplain that he died as he lived, full of heroism.) Although this extract refers to Owen ‘doing his duty’ and ‘dying a hero’ it also, I think, makes it explicitly clear that he should not have died ‘on the field of blood.’

This article has only looked very briefly at the some of the memorials in one village. There is far more scope for others to find out more about the memorials and obituaries in their own local communities.

April 11th, 2016

Posted In: chapels / capeli, memorials

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It is possible that the total of 85 men from Newport killed on 8 May 1915 is the greatest loss suffered by any Welsh town in a single day in the First World War. They were part of the Battle of the Frezenberg Ridge, which was part of what has become known as the Second Battle of Ypres.

mons stow hillThis photograph shows men marching down Stow Hill from the Drill Hall in the summer of 1914: the caption says ‘Newport boys off to the front’. The man highlighted at the front is Job William White, who was one of those killed on 8 May 1915. Further behind him is John Albert Pope, who was killed three years after the photograph was taken – on 17 June 1917. It was at the Drill Hall in Stow Hill, Newport that the First Battalion of the Monmouthshire Regiment recruited soldiers, and these men (along with the other two battalions in the regiment) became heavily involved in the second Battle of Ypres, which began on 22 April 1915.

On 8 May the Monmouthshire Regiment were trying to defend the Frezenberg Ridge from a ferocious German attack. By the end of the day, the Regiment had lost 211 men and officers – 150 from the First Battalion, 19 from the Second and 42 from the Third. By the end of May the three battalions had lost a total of 515 men, with the Third Battalion suffering the greatest losses.

It was during thisMayEighth battle that Captain Harold Thorne Edwards replied to the German’s offer of surrender with the words, “Surrender be damned” and he and his men made the ultimate sacrifice. The scene of Captain Edwards and his men’s last stand is depicted in Fred Roe’s painting entitled “Surrender be damned” which was painted in 1935 after being commissioned by the South Wales Argus. It shows Captain Edwards firing his revolver at the advancing Germans. I believe the painting is now being displayed at the Newport Museum and Art Gallery after being hung in the foyer of Newport City council’s civic centre for many years.

During research for the Newport’s War Dead website I came across a photograph in the South Wales Argus, 9th May 1947, of Alderman Mrs. Sarah J Haywood dedicating a plaque in front of members of the Old Comrades Association of the Monmouthshire Regiment in Bellevue Park, Newport. This may have been a plaque to replace an original one which would have been attached to a grove of eight may trees (hawthorns) that were planted in the 1920s as a memorial to those of the Monmouthshire Regiment that died on the 8th May 1915.

may 8

 

My inquiries about this memorial established that the trees had now either died off or were cut down. Unfortunately this meant that an event that caused great sorrow and sadness to the family and friends of these Newport men was now no longer commemorated.

I then started a campaign to get a new memorial to commemorate the battle of Frezenberg Ridge and the men who died on the 8th May 1915. My campaign was taken up by councillor Charles Ferris and numerous other friends including my daughter, Shelley. Finances were raised and on the 8th May 2015 a new memorial was dedicated on the banks of the river Usk opposite the Blaina Wharf pub in Newport. The event was attended by many dignitaries and military personnel.

 

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Inscription on the Memorial on Usk bank

8th May 1915

THIS GROVE OF TREES HAS BEEN PLANTED/ IN REMEMBERANCE OF THE MEN OF THE/ MONMOUTHSHIRE REGIMENT (TERRITORIAL FORCE) WHO/ TOOK PART IN THE DEFENCE OF THE FREZENBERG RIDGE/ DURING THE SECOND BATTLE OF YPRES./

AT THIS BATTLE (DURING WHICH THE GERMAN ARMY USED/ POISON GAS FOR THE FIRST TIME ON THE WESTERN FRONT)/ THE THREE BATTALIONS OF THE MONMOUTHSHIRE REGIMENT HELD THE FRONT LINE./ THE MONMOUTHSHIRES’ HEROIC STAND ON 8TH MAY 1915/ AGAINST GREAT ODDS HELPED PREVENT THE BELGIAN/ CITY OF YPRES FROM FALLING INTO ENEMY HANDS AND/ THE GERMANY ARMY ADVANCING TO CAPTURE THE VITAL CHANNEL PORTS./

THE SECOND BATTLE OF YPRES LASTED FROM 22ND APRIL/ TO 25TH MAY 1915 AND AS A RESULT OF THE CONFLICT/ 526 MEN OF THE MONMOUTHSHIRE REGIMENT WERE KILLED/ OR DIED OF WOUNDS AND 799 WERE WOUNDED./ MORE THAN 80 NEWPORT MEN WERE LOST ON THE FIRST DAY/ OF THE FREZENBERG RIDGE ENGAGEMENT ALONE./

Look Up, And Swear By The Green Of The Spring/ That You’ll Never Forget” – SIGFRIED SASSOON, 1919

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stow hill

 

 

 

 

Earlier on the same day, a new wooden sculpture was unveiled at the old drill hall on Stow Hill, where these men had been recruited. It depicts the scene from Fred Roe’s painting of Captain Harold Thorne Edwards and his men’s stance against the oncoming German attack.

 

 

 

 

 

April 4th, 2016

Posted In: memorials

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Tabernacl, Caerdydd WW1On a wall inside the Tabernacl, the Welsh Baptist chapel on the Hayes in central Cardiff, there is a memorial to the six men of the congregation who died in the Great War.

The memorial itself is impressive, being carved in marble.Tabernacl 1916_rhestr1

There are no records to indicate whether the chapel displayed a ‘Roll of Honour’ as the war was being fought, to highlight the contribution of a large number of the congregation to the war effort. However, the chapel’s Annual Reports do note the names of all the men who enlisted, and so we can trace how the war had a deeper effect every year on the congregation. There were 45 names on the list at the end of 1915, 62 by the end of 1916 and 66 in 1917 (including four who had been killed). The membership of the Tabernacl during the war fluctuated from around 520 to 560, so the total of 66 represents a sizeable proportion of the young male membership of the church.

 

List of chapel members serving in 1916

 
Tabernacl 1916_rhestr2We can also see how the War’s impact became deeper and more painful from the minister’s comments in the reports. At the end of 1914 there was more discussion about the fire that had damaged the chapel than about the War, but the Rev Charles Davies’ comments became ever more emotional as the war dragged on and took an ever-increasing number of young men from his flock. Looking back upon 1916, he wrote that the young men left a large gap, and that their valuable contribution to the life of the chapel was deeply missed by those who were left. However, there is no doubt that the minister considered the war to be just, as he used such words as ‘teyrngarwch’ (loyalty), ‘dewrder’ (courage) and ‘aberth’ (sacrifice) to describe the men’s contribution to the war effort. He declared that as they faced the dangers and discomforts of the war, they were fighting ‘er amddiffyn ein gwlad, a sicrhau buddugoliaeth i gyfiawnder a gwir rhyddid yn ein byd’ (to defend our country, and to ensure a victory for justice and for the true freedom of our world).

In the lists of the men there is information about where a number of them were serving. At the end of 1916 a large number were in training camps in England or Wales; 14 with the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) on the Western Front; six in Egypt; four in Salonica and one in Bombay.

The first name on the memorial is Oscar D. Morris. It is possible to find a great deal of information about him: the letter he wrote as he sought to join the Welsh Army Corps are available on the Cymru1914 website – http://cymru1914.org/en/view/archive/4089505

One can also find a report on his promotion to lieutenant (August 1915 – http://cymru1914.org/en/view/newspaper/3886208/7/ART121) and then reports on his death on the Western Front on 21 April 1917 (http://cymru1914.org/en/view/newspaper/3886989/1/ART11 and http://cymru1914.org/en/view/newspaper/3886999/3/ART35 )

Tabernacl, Caerdydd WW1_cuThe second name is W. Bevan Rees, originally from Llandybïe, Carmarthenshire (who was 20 years old and working as a miner at the time of the 1911 census). He died in Palestine on 3 November 1917.

Reggie I.V.C.Thomas is the next name: he died on 24 November 1917 aged 19, while serving on the Western Front with the South Wales Borderers. He has no known grave, but his name is on the Cambrai memorial.

One can find John Wynford Thomas as a 12 year old boy in the 1911 Census, living in Lampeter Velfrey. There is no indication of when he moved to Cardiff, but he enlisted in the city, joining the South Wales Borderers. He was killed in Flanders on 31 October 1917.

Despite his common name, it is certain that the William John Thomas named on the memorial was an 18 year old who died on 11 July 1918 while serving with the Army Service Corps. He is buried in Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff.

However, the final name on the memorial is not on the list of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. According to the Tabernacl’s records he was a soldier in 1916, serving as a Gunner with the RFA (Royal Field Artillery) on Salisbury Plain. The chapel’s report says that he died on 18 February 1919.

March 22nd, 2016

Posted In: chapels / capeli, memorials, Uncategorized

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Numerous companies erected memorials to their employees who were killed in the First World War and Welsh companies, works, railways and other industrial employers are well represented in the range of known and surviving memorials.

One of the larger Welsh industrial employers of the opening decades of the twentieth century was Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds Ltd, which owned steelworks, engineering works and collieries located mainly in south east Wales. The company had been created in 1902 by the amalgamation of earlier companies, amongst them Nettlefolds Ltd, whose Birmingham factories dominated UK production of wood screws. The steel that formed Nettlefolds’ raw material was made in the company’s Castle Steelworks at Rogerstone, a short distance north west of Newport.
Castle Steel Works had opened in 1888 as the successor to an earlier iron works of the same name at Hadley near Wellington in Castle Works RogerstoneShropshire when Nettlefolds converted from using wrought iron to using steel as the raw material for wood screw manufacture. Many of the workmen from the original Castle Works migrated to work in the new Castle Works, followed by their families. The ‘Shroppies’ secured many of the skilled jobs and formed a distinctive community within the Rogerstone area.

 

Photograph of the Castle Steel Works in 1902

Lloyd George, Minister of Munitions in the early part of the First World War, famously declared that Britain was ‘fighting a steel war’, so crucial was the availability of steel supplies to the war effort. From November 1915 most UK steelworks came under Government control, including Castle Works. In the early part of the war many steelworks reported labour shortages resulting from enthusiastic rates of volunteering. After the industry came under Government control, skilled men were mostly prevented from volunteering; after conscription began in 1916 unskilled men in essential industries, including steel, were increasingly ‘combed-out’ and conscripted.

Castle Steel Works (before)_The Castle Steel Works memorial plaque lists many distinctively non-Welsh surnames and it is likely that descendants of the ‘Shroppies’ are well represented although it should also be recalled that the industrial areas of Monmouthshire experienced much emigration from Herefordshire and adjoining counties in the late nineteenth century and in the opening years of the twentieth century so not all the ‘English’ surnames necessarily originated in Shropshire.

GKN commissioned similar bronze plaques for its other works, mines and factories. Whilst the wording (“In ever grateful recognition of the splendid patriotism and heroic self sacrifice of the following employees of Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds, Ltd.”, followed by the name of works) was consistent across all known plaques, the design of each plaque varied, especially with regard to the forms of the ornate borders and the arrangement of the fields in which the text (often divided in two), years, and lists of names were placed. There appears to have been a distinct policy of subtle variation within a broadly uniform ‘company design’. All the deceased are listed in alphabetical order by surname and forenames represented by initials.

The plaque is not inscribed with the name of the foundry that cast it. GKN possessed a number of foundries capable of producing this quality of casting and it is possible that the plaques were designed and cast in-house. It is at Castle Steel Works_least equally likely that the plaques were commissioned from a specialist external foundry.

Comparison with GKN’s other sites suggests that the Castle Works plaque was probably placed in the steel works general offices. When the Rogerstone works was replaced by the third Castle Works in 1938, located in Cardiff, the plaque moved along with many of the employees. After the Cardiff works came under new ownership in 1981, the Castle Works general offices at Cardiff were demolished and the plaque was earmarked for scrap. It was saved by a private individual however and in 2015 was donated to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales jointly by the individual and the successor company that owns Castle Works Cardiff.

Robert Protheroe Jones
Principal Curator – Industry
Department of History & Archaeology
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Photographs of the memorial before and after conservation. Thanks to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for the images

March 14th, 2016

Posted In: memorials, workplaces / gweithleoedd

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In the Independent chapel in Rhyd-y-main (six miles from Dolgellau on the way to Bala), there is a brass plaque in a prominent position to commemorate the local men who were killed in the First World War. It isRhydymain - Capel yr Annibynwyr (6) situated on the wall behind the pulpit, so that any worshipper who is looking at the minister will have the memorial in their line-of-sight.

 

The inscription reads:

ER  COFFAWDWRIAETH  SERCHOG  AM

Y  RHAI  A’U  HENWAU  ISOD  A

SYRTHIASANT  YN  Y  RHYFEL  FAWR

1914-1918

“MEWN  ANGHOF  NI  CHANT  FOD”

 

(In loving memory of those who are named below who fell in the Great War 1914-1918, “They shall not be forgotten”). After the list of names, including their home addresses, there is a verse from the Bible: “MYFI  YW  YR  ATGYFODIAD  A’R  BYWYD” (‘I am the resurrection and the life’: John 11:27). These words are familiar, and one can find similar inscriptions in chapels and churches all over Wales.

There are eleven names listed:

Lewis Jones  Rhydymain - Capel yr Annibynwyr (8)                            Esgeiriau
Hugh Edward Evans                 Glan Eiddon

William Williams                        Ty Cerryg

William Evan James                  Braich-y-Ceunant

John Richard James                  Braich-y-Ceunant

William Hughes                          Ty Capel

Robert Griffiths                           Pen-y-Bont

Edward Evans                            Blaen-y-Ddol

Thomas Evans                           Coedrhoslwyd

Eiddion Thomas Marchant         Railway Cottage

Joseph Martin                            Bryncoedifor

 

Interestingly, these same eleven names are to be found in the memorial tablet of another local chapel. Siloh was a Calvinistic Methodist chapel between Rhyd-y-main and Bryncoedifor, founded in 1874 which is now a private dwelling. Its marble tablet is now located in the chapel’s graveyard.

Rhydymain - Bryncoedifor - Siloh (5)

Thus, whereas most chapels in Wales commemorate only those from their own congregation who served and fell, in this case both chapels have made the decision to jointly honour all the men from the area who were killed. At a time when there was a fair degree of rivalry between the different denominations, perhaps this is an indication that they saw that they were united by their grief more than they were divided by their doctrinal differences.

 

Almost all of the men commemorated here can also be found on Dolgellau’s war memorial. Research on these tells us more about them (the sources of information consulted are a booklet to be found in Meirionnydd’s archives in Dolgellau, and the website http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Merionethshire/Dolgellau.html ).

 

 

Edward Evans                     Son of John and Jane Evans of Blaenyddol, Rhydymain. Served with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Killed in action at Bullecourt 27 May 1917, aged 25. Commemorated on the Arras Memorial

Hugh Edward Evans           Son of Griffith and Mary Anne Evans of Glan Eiddon, Rhydymain. Served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, with the ‘Welsh Students’ Company’ that went out to Salonica. Died of malaria in Greece 28 October 1917, aged 23. Buried in Mikra British Cemetery, Kalamaria, Salonika, Greece.

Robert Griffiths                 [Commemorated on the Dolgellau memorial and in the CWGC records as Robert William Griffith]. Son of David and Elizabeth Griffith of 2, Penybont, Rhydymain Served with the 9th Battalion, Welsh Regiment. Killed in action 20 December 1917, aged 20. Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

John Richard James              10th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 25th Division. Killed in action on the Somme 28th November 1916. Buried in Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps

William Evan James                10th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 25th Division. Killed in action on the Somme 16th August 1916. Buried in Guillemont Road Cemetery, Guillemont

Both James brothers enlisted in London.

Lewis Jones              Son of John and Jane Jones of Esgeiriau, Rhydymain. Served in 1st Battalion, The Welsh Guards. Died of wounds at home 25 September 1917, aged 21. Buried in the graveyard of Rhyd-y-main’s Independent Chapel.

Joseph Martin                Son of Samuel and Mary Martin of Trewent, Altamon, Launceston, Cornwall. Served in 13th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Killed in action 29 October 1916, aged 24. Buried in Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres.

Eiddion Thomas Marchant         Son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Nelson Marchant of Railway Cottage, Rhydymain. Served in 233rd Company, Machine Gun Corps. Killed in action at Ypres 4 October 1917, aged 21. Commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium

William Williams               Served in 2nd Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Died of wounds 21 September 1918. Buried in Thilloy Road Cemetery, Beaulencourt

 

 

Of the other two men commemorated, it is quite likely that William Hughes can be identified –

William Hughes         [Probably] Son of William and Ann Hughes of 91 High Street, Blaenau Ffestiniog. Served in 1/5th Battalion, South Wales Borderers. Wounded in action on the Marne Front and died of wounds on 30 May 1918, aged 19. Commemorated on the Soissons Memorial

 

However, the research that is available does not identify Thomas Evans of Coedrhoslwyd.

March 7th, 2016

Posted In: chapels / capeli, iconography, memorials

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Since the autumn of 2015, the project Welsh Memorials to the Great War has been preparing to investigate the range of First World War memorials in Wales. Generously funded by the Living Legacies Engagement Centre, this project aims to begin to fill a gap in our knowledge and appreciation of ‘unofficial’ war memorials in Wales. Although a lot of work has been done on commemoration of the war in Wales, the tendency has been to focus on the ‘official’ memorials. The available databases do a good job of listing these, what you might call the ‘village green’ memorials, but they are very patchy when it comes to memorials that were set up by chapels, workplaces, schools and societies.

 

As well as creating and sharing a database, the project will also explore different ways in which these memorials can be analysed by researchers. The database could be used to facilitate:

 

– a ‘micro-history’, focussing in closely on one memorial and doing a biographical analysis of the names listed.

– a study of the distribution of the memorials, and how there are different patterns of commemoration across Wales

– a study of the iconography of the memorials, and again how this differs across regions

– looking at patterns of inclusion, for instance by examining those memorials that list women as well as

men.

Adulam Bonymaen Roll of Honour__1s

 

As we work to get the project up-and-running, I have continued to gather images of chapel memorials. I find these very enlightening as to the attitudes of people and communities across Wales to the war. Of course, prior to August 1914, these institutions were strongly anti-militaristic, but we can see how that was transformed by studying the Roll of Honour in Adulam Baptist chapel, Bon-y-maen (north Swansea).

 

This Roll of Honour lists (as many chapel memorials do) all of those who served in the War, not just the fallen: in this case, 48 men. The number of names is not surprising: other Baptist chapels in the north Swansea area have 81 (Caersalem Newydd, Treboeth), 99 (Seion, Morriston) and 52 (Soar, Morriston). In 1914, Adulam had 231 members (a smaller membership than the other three chapel mentioned above) so one can be sure that the majority of young Adulam men who were eligible did join up.

 

This Roll of Honour is interesting and unusual in that its creator has signed it (T. Lewis of Morriston), with the date 1917. Therefore this was a ‘live’ document, added to as the war dragged on and more Adulam men were called up. One can see from the spacing at the bottom of the document that some of the names were squeezed in. Also, the names of battles were added to the pillars on either side, including a battle fought in 1918.

 

The design of this memorial is different to all those I have studied previously, though many of the features are familiar. The two red dragons in the top corners of the memorial is a feature seen in Penuel chapel, Loughor. The collection of Allied flags in the centre of the roll can also be seen in the Roll of Honour at Bethel, Llanelli. The pillars flanking the list of names are also a feature of the two memorials in Mynydd Bach chapel. One unexpected aspect I have never previously encountered is the image of Kitchener, just beneath the flags. It is indeed surprising to have a picture of a warrior like Kitchener, not known for his sympathy for the ideals of Welsh Nonconformity, in a Welsh chapel.

 

Adulam Bonymaen Roll of Honour__2s

 

The wording of this memorial is also significant. ‘Rhestr yr Anrhydeddus’ (literally ‘List of the honourable ones’); ‘Aelodau’r Eglwys a’r Gynulleidfa sydd yn gwasanaethu eu Duw, eu Brenin a’u Gwlad’ (‘Members of the Church and the Congregation who are serving their God, their King and their Country’). Many Welsh chapel memorials will have wording that declares that the men fought for ‘Rhyddid’  (‘Freedom’) and ‘Anrhydedd’ (‘Honour’) but it is not common to have such an explicit declaration that they were fighting for ‘Duw’ (God’).

 

The key question which we must be careful in answering is whether we can infer from this memorial that the chapel accepted the argument that this was a just war. We cannot say for sure that the whole congregation was committed to fighting the war to the end, whatever the cost, but it is clear that the chapel’s leadership did adhere to the line that this was a war for right against might. I believe the fact that the memorial was commissioned in 1917 is significant: by then any illusions that people might have had early in the war that it would be over quickly had long since disappeared. Britain was not winning the war in 1917, but losing a constant stream of men in battles that did not appear to bring victory any closer. Yet this document still declares that the cause is just, for if God is on the Allies’ side, there can be no question about whether or not we are in the right.

 

Supporting evidence comes from the pages of the local newspapers, the Cambrian Daily Leader and the Herald of Wales. Searching the online database of the tremendous resource Cymru1914.org it is easy to come across reports of well over a dozen of the servicemen being honoured by the chapel when they returned home on leave, or were demobbed at the end of the war. (See, for example, the reports on Gwilym Leyshon and Willie Martin ).

 

Thus this single memorial contains a wealth of information that can help us understand how this community reacted to the war. The aim of the project is to share the details of a few hundred Welsh memorials, giving us the opportunity to examine how people and communities across Wales responded to the challenges of this unprecedented war, and thus a better idea of how the Welsh nation as a whole was scarred by the experience.

Dr Gethin Matthews, Swansea University

 

 

 

February 15th, 2016

Posted In: iconography, memorials

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