Family connections

Early in the project it was decided not to include the books from the National Library’s collections in the list of material to be digitized. We didn’t have workflows for them and there were plenty of other material in terms of archives, manuscripts, images and newspapers for digitization.

Since then some of the library’s private funds have been earmarked to digitise more material that conveys the experience of the people of Wales during the First World War, so we looked at the list of material we had initially identified in our collections, but which we’d decided not to include. Among this material were the books.

I noticed  one book, Abercynon to Flanders and back by Wilfred Bowden. My family is from the local area so I started reading some of the story. Mr. Bowden joined the army in 1915, when he was technically too young, he served on the Somme and Mametz Wood before being wounded and captured by the Germans in 1918.

He came back to Wales after the war, and took a job with the Great Western Railway in Abercynon, and became a locomotive driver. My father worked on the railway in Abercynon after leaving school so I wondered whether Wilfred Bowden was still working when my father joined the railway. Did they know each other? I read on – Mr Bowden didn’t retire until 1963 so the chances were that my father had worked with him!

Later I called my father to ask if he remembered Wilfred Bowden. It turns out that fireman on the engine my father had worked many times with the man who had fought on the Somme and who had been a prisoner of war in 1918. My father spoke of a respected man who as well as being an engine driver was a magistrate, a local union official and member of the council. Wilfred Bowden spent the years after the war making a great contribution to the local community. It was a miracle he came back alive from the war, but really this is an example of one Welshman’s experience of the Great War.

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