“A Welsh Army in the field” and the establishment of the Welsh Army Corps in 1914

 

It was interesting to read a blog written by a colleague some time ago, discussing his work cataloguing pamphlets from the Gladstone collection here at the Library, and especially a pamphlet entitled “Through terror to triumph!”. This was a copy of David Lloyd George’s speech delivered as Chancellor of the Exchequer on 19 September 1914 at the Queen’s Hall at Langham Palace, London. Although this building is no more as it was destroyed during the Blitz in 1941, when the country was in the midst of the atrocities of the Second World War, what was heard there 99 years ago has a great relevance to the history of Wales during the Great War.

The key message of his speech was to justify Britain’s responsibility in defending small nations such as Belgium and Serbia – “the little five-foot-five nations” as Lloyd George referred to them in his speech, but it is what he said towards the end of his speech that takes my attention in this blog.

Wales must continue doing her duty. I should like to see a Welsh Army in the field. I should like to see the race that faced the Norman for hundreds of years in a struggle for freedom, the race that helped to win Crecy, the race that fought for a generation under Glendower against the greatest captain in Europe – I should like to see that race give a good taste of its quality in this struggle in Europe; and they are going to do it.

Those are the exact words of the five foot five inches tall Welshman, and as he announced that he would like to see a Welsh army in the field, he received a prolonged ovation from the audience. The words he spoke were compatible with the nation’s feelings at the time with expressions of national unity with the founding of the University of Wales, The National Library of Wales and The National Museum of Wales.

But what became of this? Two days later, the words began to be turned into action at a conference held at 11 Downing Street where a few prominent Welshmen were present. A provisional committee was formed, and before the end of the month, they arranged a National Conference at Cardiff to launch a Scheme for a Welsh Army Corps, with the Earl of Plymouth as Chairman and Owen W. Owen as Secretary. With nearly two thousand guests representing the Welsh at all levels, it was pledged that Wales, including Monmouthshire would raise a complete Army Corps, and this was sanctioned by Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War.

The first meeting of the National Executive Committee was held on 2 October 1914 at the Law Courts in Cardiff, and by the 10th of that month, the War Office issued a letter to the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief for Western Command notifying that the Committee was authorised to raise a Welsh Army Corps of two Divisions. By the end of February 1915, the Welsh Army Corps had 20,000 men – enough to raise the first division, which finally became known as the 38th (Welsh) Division.

The Welsh Army Corps Records was donated to the National Library by the widow of Owen William Owen, CBE in 1930. This collection has been arranged into three groups – correspondence, accounts and tenders for clothing and necessaries as they established the Corps; applications for commission; and administrative papers. As one goes through the entire collection of 167 boxes, 5 volumes, 3 rolls and one folder, the work and achievements of the Welsh Army Corps between 1914 and 1921 becomes clear.

The archive was chosen as one of the collections that would be digitised in its entirety for ‘The Welsh experience of World War One, 1914-1918’, a digitisation project funded by Jisc. By the end of this year, you will be able to search through the whole collection when the project’s website will be launched.

D. Rhys Davies

Digitisation, Description and Legacy Acquisitions Section
The National Library of Wales

 

A Welsh version of this blog was originally posted on the Welsh side of The National Library of Wales’ Blog. The author wishes to thank Morfudd Jones for translating into English and to Julia Thomas for her work on the images.

 

 

IMAGE CREDITS:

Image 1

Front cover of the final report of the National Executive Committee relating to the history of the Welsh Army Corps 1914-1919, published in 1921.

(Welsh Army Corps Records, C113/2)

Image 2

Front cover and an extract of page 13 of the Welsh translation of the speech delivered by David Lloyd George at the Queen’s Hall on 19 September 1914.

(Welsh Army Corps Records, C113/9)

Image 3

Carbon copy of a letter sent by Owen W. Owen to General Sir W. Henry Mackinnon, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief the day after the Conference held at Park Hall, Cardiff on 29 September 1914.

(Welsh Army Corps Records, C11/1)

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