“Thus the close of a life which had radiated joy into many a Swansea home”
David Arthur ‘Dai’ Dupree/Du Pree (spellings vary) was evidently a remarkably popular young man. He was a keen rugby footballer, an enthusiastic member of Sunday school and, as the Herald of Wales noted, one of those people ‘so favoured by fortune that when they cross our lives it seems as though a warm beam of sunshine is playing upon us.’
He was born in Swansea around 1895. At the time of the 1911 census he was living with his parents and five siblings at 12 Short Street, not far from Swansea’s High Street station.
The census says that he was working as a railway messenger, whilst his two older brothers, William and Frederick, worked as railway shunters. However, Dai must have changed employment as he is listed with ten other men on the Hafod Isha Works memorial on Morfa Road.
Clearly keen to do his bit for the country, Dai was among the first recruits to enlist in Swansea. The Cambria Daily Leader reported on 7 September 1914 that ‘the 3.35 train to London on Monday afternoon carried a large batch of recruits to Cardiff and London,’ under the headline A GREAT SEND OFF. Dai Dupree and one other recruit (Will Harris, Trafalgar Terrace), were picked out for special attention among this batch. Dai was described as ‘a popular young footballer who had friends in countless camps at Swansea,’ whilst Will was ‘another young footballer with hosts of friends.’
A newspaper from later that month carried a photograph of all of the players of the Danygraig rugby team, every one of whom had volunteered for the war: Dai is on the right of the middle row.
There are many column inches dedicated to Dai in both the Cambria Daily Leader and the Herald of Wales. Before the war he turned up frequently in the sports pages: as well as playing rugby for Danygraig he played soccer for the Alexander Corinthians (attached to the Sunday school he attended). During the war, he was one of the performers at a Welsh Guards’ Concert. The article in the Cambria Daily Leader quotes extensively from an unnamed soldier who was at the event, and had a splendid time. Dupree was on after the Welsh Guard Glee Party, whose ‘renderings of “Aberystwyth” and “Ton-y-Botel” raised the audience to a high stage of emotionalism, and the English folk present must have thought that we truly were a strange people.’ A hard act to follow then! Frustratingly, the only thing written about Dai’s act is that “the comedians were great, and Private Dupree should in future be known as “the old man from Abertawe.” It would have been interesting to know what Dai’s performance was like, and how he earned such a nickname. Later, the Herald of Wales said that a song he created called “the Spanish Onion” was ‘illustrated by eccentric actions, [and] used to reduce us to helpless fits of laughter. They had heard him in it at the front, with like results.’ Once again, however, the newspaper’s information is disappointingly sparse when it comes to details about his antics.
Dai Dupree died on 27 September 1916, aged 22. He was fondly remembered both in Swansea and amongst his comrades in the Welsh Guards. Unusually, his chapel dedicated a memorial to him alone, rather than having a memorial dedicated to all who lost their lives in the war. This may have been because his memorial was unveiled whilst the war was still in progress. The Cambria Daily Leader reported on 20 November 1916 that ‘at Alexandra-road Chapel, Swansea, a brass tablet, recording the names of members on active service, and another in memory of Corpl. David Dupree, of the Welsh Guards, was unveiled.’ Sadly, Alexander-road Chapel has now closed, and, as is the case with thousands of other closed chapels across Wales, we do not know the fate of either memorial.
Like many other Welsh soldiers, Dai was an ordinary young man, praised as funny, kind and ‘had he been spared, would have been a leader in a wider sphere.’ In the words of the Herald of Wales: ‘There are some lads so favoured by fortune that when they cross our lives it seems as though a warm beam of sunshine is playing upon us. David Dupree was all sunshine.’
g.h.matthews July 29th, 2016
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