- February 17, 2014 - morfuddniajones
In January 1982, while clearing the family home after the death of his mother, my father found at the back of her pantry, a 12” tall tea caddy, stuffed with what appeared to be bits of paper.
This narrow-necked, slightly battered hexagonal tin, prettily decorated with characters in oriental dress, turned out to be a remarkable lid-less time-capsule; it was literally bursting with letters – almost a hundred of them – from sons to parents and mother to sons, brothers to sister; there were payslips from the Llanelly Steel Company, official War Office envelopes containing letters all relating to my grandmother’s brothers, Brynmor and Idwal James, dating from the time of their army service during WWI.
Brynmor and Idwal James were the eldest sons of Mary Ann and David James, a Tin-Plater at the Old Castle Tinplate Works, the boys were born in 1895 & 1897 respectively, at 8 Raby Street, Llanelli, just across Pond Twym, the cooling pond of the Old Castle Works; they were followed by my grandmother ‘Jinny’ – Anita Jane James – in March 1899, and later by youngest son Leslie Windsor James in October 1904.
All we really knew about Bryn & Id is that tragically, they’d been killed within weeks of each other aged just 20 and 22 during WWI and that their mother, Mam Mary Ann, had understandably ‘gone out of her mind with grief. We knew they had both been keen sportsmen, and particularly good boxers and had both won many contests; we knew they’d worked as Greasers on the Cold Rolls at the Old Castle Tinworks from the ages of fourteen and later transferred to the Llanelly Steel Company, but don’t ever think I ever heard my grandmother mention them. All I knew about them came from my father and his eldest sister, who were born after the boy’s deaths; and a few more versions of the same stories that had been passed down through a few generations of the extended family.
By 2009, with some years of experience in researching our family history, and with the centenary of WWI approaching, it felt the right time to read and catalogue the letters, and hopefully discover the events surrounding both my great-uncle’s deaths, to see what these letters would reveal of their time, and hopefully, gain an insight into the boys’ characters – they had always been referred to jointly as ‘the boys‘.
Luckily, my father and his only cousin had inherited a few artefacts- their medals, Brynmor’s King’s Silver Badge, his match box cover with a photograph, and Idwal’s War Office official paperwork and a few official photographs of his War Grave in Flanders. I had census records, their birth and death certificates, Brynmor’s first Service Record, and Discharge Papers of both enlistments. We had a few photographs of them in uniform, and with their Army Units. Sadly, by this time, my father had already lost his sight, his sisters were both dead, and initially I had difficulty in identifying which photograph was which uncle.
It has been a lengthy operation, firstly sorting Brynmor’s from Idwal’s, learning the differences in their handwriting, not to mention ultimately putting them into some kind of chronological order, as virtually all of the letters were undated; some were in their original envelopes & date stamped, but the majority had been separated from a pile of envelopes and, dauntingly, there appeared to be considerably more than a hundred of them, all mixed together, with letters from fellow Llanelli soldier friends, and letters exchanged between their mother and their landladies in various billets from the times of their training. Among them I had struck gold in coming across the letters to my great-grandmother written by Idwal’s Lance Corporal, Wm Morris, his Commanding Officer J W Morgan and a letter from the Battalion padre, Kenelm Swallow to my grandmother. All these gave slightly different versions of the exact circumstance of Idwal’s death, ”sniper fire” was mentioned.
The discovery of the letters was the very first step of exploration of the boys’ lives that has taken many years and led us all in many directions. I only made the astonishing discovery that Brynmor had enlisted twice from finding his obituaries in the local library newspaper archives in 2009; Brynmor’s two surviving nephews were not aware of it. The true circumstances of Idwal’s death at Ypres was only discovered in April 2013, thanks to a chance encounter with someone documenting every WWI & WWII fatality from West Wales.
Eventually, I established that Brynmor & Idwal had died within months of each other during WWI – Brynmor in March 1917 and Idwal just 16 weeks later in July 1917. Brynmor, after serving with two different regiments, initially with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers with the Service No. 13135, but was discharged as unfit after just 8 weeks of training firstly in Wrexham, then at Tidworth, Salisbury Plain. After training in Caernarfon, he went on to serve in Egypt as No 943, Driver Brynmor James with the 3rd/1st Welsh Field Company, Royal Engineers. He was discharged for the second time in July 1916 through illness, awarded the King’s Silver Badge in November 1916 for his exemplary service but sadly died of TB at home aged 22, in 19, Greenway Street, Llanelli on the 16th March 1917.
From that chance encounter I mentioned previously, I came across the personal war diary of the 2nd Battalion, SWB’s Padre Kenelm Swallow, and finally learnt the truth about Idwal’s death. Private David Idwal James, No. 29194, 2nd Battalion, South Wales Borderers, aged 20, was killed instantly on the morning of the 4th July 1917 at Ypres, when a shell burst over the machine gun pit he and three fellow soldiers were manning. Idwal, L/Corporal Leonard Davenport, Bertram Pitt and L/Corporal Ivor Morgan were buried together at Bard Cottage Cemetery, Boesinghe, Belgium.
I often contemplated on the miracle that these bits of paper, pieces of our great-uncle’s very existence should have survived for us to read almost 100 years on; I wondered too, if anyone had read them in the intervening decades before my parent’s discovery; maybe their surviving sister & brother, or parents had been unable to read them or see past their sorrow of losing their two precious sons and brothers. But, fortunately for us, they obviously couldn’t bring themselves to throw away their last tangible part of the boys they had raised to be Llanelli’s next generation of tinplate and steelworkers. I came to understand that instinct as I read them; I too, was overwhelmed at times by the unfairness and tragedy of their brief lives.
Extraordinarily, so many of the letters look as if they had been written yesterday and not almost a century ago; the pencilled pages are clear & fresh; they lead me through the narrowest chink of light and allowed me to step into the world of 1914 to 1917, to glimpse life at that time in Llanelli and beyond, from the boys’ working days at the Llanelly Steel Company, just a few hundred yards from their home, their leaving that home for the very first time with their Llanelli pals, brimming with bravado and optimism, to the tented ‘cities’, the Army training camps, the camaraderie, their adventures, their successes in the Army boxing clubs and the tedious wet days, the barely disguised homesickness, the discomforts, the mud and the cold, the boiled rabbit for breakfast, and the simple pleasure gained from the almost daily letters from home with the latest Llanelli news, and of course, their delight in the parcels bringing them pice bach a teisen lap from their mother‘s kitchen.
These were Welsh-speaking, simple, unpretentious working-class boys, forced by the censors to write to their families in a language they didn’t use together naturally, and the letters are sometimes quite stilted and odd, written in the idiomatic English of the Edwardian era, making them doubly evocative of the bigger world they’d been forced to inhabit by the declaration of war.
I had learnt the differences in their personalities – Brynmor, boisterous and bit of a joker, who wrote longer letters; Idwal – quieter, steelier & a little more reserved, a man of fewer words; the heart-warming discoveries were their shining innocence and the deep blue depth of their affection for their family; the saddest part was their brave but misguided optimism. I came to reflect on the fact that there is something so intangibly emotive about reading the writing of someone you’ve loved and who is no longer alive – the very last evidence of their being; as my research went on, I found it was equally the case even if you never knew that person, but were just genetically very close to the hands that had painstaking filled those scraps of paper. By the time I had finished reading and collating all of Bryn and Id’s letters, had absorbed the details, learnt about their experiences, felt their excitement and their occasional lows, and particularly after searching for answers about Bryn’s two enlistments, and discovering the true circumstances of Idwal’s death, I found I had become completely bound up in their world, had come to love them both dearly and became determined that their story and their sacrifice should be remembered.
Sharing my discovery with my cousins, and us getting to know our Uncle Bryn and Uncle Id through the contents of their letters, and the letters of their parents, sister and their friends, has made us all ponder on what sort of men they would have grown into, given their experiences in such extraordinary times; what sort of husbands and fathers, uncles and great-uncles they would have become. The letters have led their 21st century family past the encompassing but affectionate label of ‘the boys’ to see the real individuals, the cheeky young Bryn and the tough little Id, two typical young Llanelli steel workers of the time of the 1st World War.
© Lisa M Voyle 2014
- November 24, 2013 - Lorna Hughes
Yesterday (November 28th 2013), John Griffiths AM, Welsh Government Minister for Culture and Sport, formally launched “The Welsh Experience of the First World War”, at an event hosted at the College Merthyr Tydfil. By complete coincidence yesterday was also the US Thanksgiving holiday, an occasion to pause, reflect, celebrate and to give thanks. So this is an auspicious point to note all of the “thanks” that are due, and to acknowledge the hard work and generosity of so many people who made this project possible.
First and foremost, I’d like to thank all the partner organisations (and their hardworking representatives) who took part in the project, contributing their time and energy to its development and most of all, their content to the digital archive: Bangor University (Einion Thomas in the Archives and Special Collections and Delyth Prys in the Language Technology Unit for the translation tools); Cardiff University (Peter Keelan); Aberystwyth University (Elgan Davies); Swansea University (Sian Williams representing the South Wales Miners Library and Elisabeth Bennett representing the Richard Burton Archive) University of Wales Trinity Saint David (Peter Hopkins), BBC Cymru Wales (Edith Hughes), as well as five archives and local records offices that are members of Archives and Records Council Wales: Conway, Flintshire, Glamorgan, Gwynedd and Gwent. The People’s Collection, Wales ran several exciting community digitization events, which led to the discovery of some amazing material hidden in family collections.
Jisc contributed the bulk of funding (£500,000) through their e-Content programme, and without this there would have been no project. But Jisc always contribute vastly more than money (although don’t get me wrong, the money is Very Important): they provide the support of knowledgeable and helpful programme officers (in our case Paula Marchionni) and the overall reinforcement that comes form being part a large portfolio of other digitization projects. I’d also like to thanks Alastair Dunning, who was at Jisc when the project was developed and who was so encouraging at that crucial early stage.
The National Library of Wales led the project, and I often joke that the entire Library was involved at one point to another. However, to single out a few people who helped deliver this digital archive on time and on budget Avril Jones chaired the internal project steering committee and kept us on track at all times. Glen Robson and the Systems team built the technical architecture for the project, leaving a lasting legacy of a sustainable open architecture that we can build on in the future. Illtud Daniel and the computer section ensured that all the technology and the front end worked. Lyn Lewis Dafis and Rhys Davies and many of the collections staff worked on all aspects of metadata and representing the content. Scott Waby’s digitization staff expertly digitisied all the original material. Rob Phillips was project manager, Morfudd Nia Jones provided much needed administrative help throughout, and Dafydd Roberts resolved all our rights issues. The staff of the research programme in digital collections, Paul McCann and Owain Roberts did amazing work on many aspects of the project, and Paul managed to bring it all together technically.
We’ve been very fortunate to have the full support of two National Librarians of Wales. Andrew Green oversaw all aspects of the development and establishment of the project, and Aled Jones (who started as Chief Executive and Librarian in August 2013) helped complete the project’s launch.
It meant a lot to have John Griffiths launch the project, as the Welsh Government has been involved and helpful throughout. Special thanks go to Linda Tomos and Huw Evans, and to the First Minister’s Programme Board for the Commemoration of the First World War, Chaired by Deian Hokpin, has been an important stakeholder group to work with on identifying communities that can use the content created by the project for education, research, and commemoration. Thanks to Deian and this Board we are already well ahead on community engagement around the content.
Last but not least, we were assisted by a knowledgeable group of academics who helped shape the project and advised on content selection. Particular thanks to Gerwyn Williams, Gethin Matthews, and Paul O’Leary who has already used the resource to create an online exhibition on the impact of the war on South Wales and the industrial valleys. I’m delighted to have their assurance that the digital resource will be a “game changer’ for the study of the First World War.
We faced a lot of challenges completing this project – many of them foreseeable, some unforeseeable. The biggest shock was the fire at the National Library of Wales on April 26th. Although this slowed us down, the Library’s resilience and collective determination got us back to ‘business as usual’ within a short time. The fire was also a sharp reminder of the importance and vulnerability of our priceless documentary heritage, and the need to not only protect it but make it available to cast light on the lessons of history. The collections that are now available in “The Welsh Experience of the First World War” are a just a fragment of the vast cultural heritage of Wales, but they open a window onto an important part of our shared past.
I feel very thankful to have been part of this wonderful project.
Lorna Hughes, National Library of Wales
- November 23, 2013 - morfuddniajones
A unique digital archive The Welsh Experience of the First World War (cymru1914.org) was launched today at The College Merthyr Tydfil by Huw Lewis AM, the Welsh Government Minister for Education and Skills.
The Welsh experience of the First World War was developed as a collaborative initiative led by The National Library of Wales, in partnership with the Archives and Special Collections of Wales (partners are Aberystwyth University; Bangor University, Cardiff University; Swansea University; the University of Wales Trinity St David; BBC Cymru Wales, The People’s Collection, Wales, and archives and local records offices that are part of ARCW: the Archives and Records Council of Wales).
The project was funded by a £500,000 grant from the Jisc e-Content programme as part of their work in support of education and research, and through support from the partner organisations.
Huw Lewis AM, the Welsh Government Minister for Education and Skills said:
‘The Library has been for 20 years a trusted provider of digital content from its collections, based on a series of collaborative projects. ‘The Welsh Experience Of the First World War’ is an example of Wales-wide collaboration to create an important new digital resource and one that will prove invaluable for teaching, research, and public engagement, worldwide, free of charge, for all those interested in this important period of history’.
‘Digital resources can unlock our past for a variety of audiences, in Wales and around the world. This very special digital archive will be widely used for education and research purposes, especially as we approach the Centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. It reveals the hidden history of World War One, demonstrating its effects on all aspects of Welsh life. The archive will contribute greatly to the First World War commemorations in Wales by providing a comprehensive online facility for all sectors of education, local and family history researchers’ he said.
Paola Machionni, Jisc’s programme manager digitisation said:
‘I am delighted that Jisc have been able to support the development of this resource. It is a prime example of the benefits that digitisation can bring to researchers and the public at large by creating a virtual collection that reunites material from different physical locations. The Library and its Welsh partners are providing a really valuable, openly accessible, resource that can search collections of newspapers, images, sound and archival material both in English and Welsh.’
Aled Gruffydd Jones, the National Library’s Chief Executive and Librarian said that:
‘The National Library is proud to have led this important and unique initiative with the Archives and Special Collections of Wales. We feel sure that this innovative new digital resource will prove invaluable for teaching, research, and public engagement.
He added his thanks to the Minister for his support and to Jisc and the partner institutions ‘without whom The Welsh Experience of the First World War could not be delivered’.
The formal launch of The Welsh Experience of the First World War also marks the beginning of The National Library of Wales’ Community Partnership Initiative. This will enable more people across Wales to access the Library’s extensive printed, manuscript and visual collections. The programme was announced at the event by John Griffiths AM, Welsh Government Minister for Culture and Sport in the company of several partners from Merthyr Tydfil.
Notes for editors
1. ‘The Welsh experience of the First World War’ is a digital archive that contains digitised archives and special collections of Wales. The content comes from the partners organisations: The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth University; Bangor University, Cardiff University; Swansea University; the University of Wales Trinity St David; BBC Cymru Wales, and archives and local records offices that are part of the Archives and Records Council of Wales (ARCW). Community generated content was also created through workshops run by the People’s Collections Wales.
2. The project benefited from funding provided by Jisc. The total cost of the archive was £1,000,000. Funding of £500,000 was provided by Jisc, and the balance provided by the project partners.
Jisc offers digital services for UK education and research. The charity does this to achieve its vision for the UK to be the most digitally advanced education and research nation in the world.
Working together across the higher education, further education and skills sectors, Jisc provides trusted advice and support, reduces sector costs across shared network, digital content, IT services and procurement negotiations, ensuring the sector stays ahead of the game with research and development for the future.
Find out more at www.jisc.ac.uk or contact the press team on email@example.com.
3. The project was launched on November 28th 2013, at The College Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. It will be sustained over the long term by The National Library of Wales.
The digital archive will support all aspects of First World War commemoration activities in Wales, in consultation with the First Minister’s First World War Commemoration Programme Board, Chaired by Professor Sir Deian Hopkin.
Historian Dr. Paul O’Leary of Aberystwyth University has used the resource to prepare an online exhibition (‘The First World War and the Industrial Valleys’). Dr O’Leary has said “It would have taken many years in the archives to find these resources and bring them together in a way that demonstrates the impact of the First World War on south Wales. Having the digital archive freely available will be of tremendous benefit for research and teaching”.
Elin Hâf 01970 632 471 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- November 11, 2013 - morfuddniajones
A pressed poppy sitting between pages within the papers of Captain David Jones of the 10th Battalion (1st Rhondda) Welch Regiment (NLW MS 23269E), killed in the offensive on Mametz Wood in July 1916.
- October 25, 2013 - morfuddniajones
An interesting part of my work on the Welsh Experience of WW1 project here at the National Library has been researching and writing a report on the future of digital repositories in Wales. I am pleased to say, thanks to the hard work of the many people who contributed towards it, we can now make this report available for everyone to read. In it you will find an overview of the digital repository resources in Wales as well information on the developments we’ve made as part of the WW1 project and some suggestions as to how things might be improved going forward. The report addresses important issues such as the need to provide repository solutions to organisation that do not have ready access to systems and support (for example local archives and museums) and explores ways that a central repository system might work for these collections. I hope you find it an interesting and informative read and please get in touch if you have any comments or suggestions.
- October 1, 2013 - morfuddniajones
Written by Huw Williams, Trustee, LlGC/NLW
As one of the Trustees of the National Library of Wales, I have been in the privileged position to observe the evolution of the Welsh Experience of WW1 digitisation project and my wife and I have felt honoured to have been able take part in this ground breaking project by contributing items that tell the story of my wife’s grandfather, Serjeant Jack Regan of the Glamorgan Royal Garrison Artillery.
Jack Regan was a member of the Territorial Army. He went to France in June 1916 with 113 Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery as part of the preparations for the Battle of the Somme. He was killed in action on 31st July 1916and now lies in the Peronne Road Military Cemetery at Maricourt. The full story can be found here.
I think it is fitting that the National Library’s contribution to marking the centenary of the Great War should be a project that preserves and makes available the individual stories behind the names that appear on the war memorials across Wales that are a familiar backdrop to our daily lives. To my mind it speaks much of the Welsh character that the first war memorial anywhere to commemorate the dead by name was erected in Carmarthen to commemorate the dead of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in the Crimean War.
The First World War was a shared experience that touched every family in Wales and we still live with the consequences of that conflict today. Resources such as the Welsh Experience of WW1 project enable us to understand more about the nature of that shared experience, especially as many of those who survived to return to their families were reluctant to speak about what they had experienced.
Although this contribution tells one of our family stories, when we place our poppy cross in the Garden of Remembrance in Penarth this year we will, as we always do, be remembering in addition to Jack Regan the other member of our family who perished:
Private William Reginald Rees, 1st/4th Welch, died 27th February 1916 aged 18 and buried in Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.
Private Thomas Sydney Williams 15th (Carmarthenshire) Battalion, Welch Regiment, died 10th May 1916 aged 19, commemorated on the Pozieres War Memorial, Somme, France.
Private Joseph Charles, 4th Battalion, Tank Corps, died 25th April 1918, aged 19 and buried at MorbecqueBritishCemetery, Nord, France.
Images relating to Sgt Jack Regan’s story will soon be available to view as part of the Welsh Experience of World War 1 Project via the People’s Collection Wales website.
- August 8, 2013 - morfuddniajones
During our WW1 Roadshows in March a lovely lady called Sandy Crane came to see us at Haverfordwest with a wonderful collection of WW1 memorabilia relating to her family.
One feels quite privileged to be given the opportunity of looking through personal items which hold such mixed emotions and memories.
This is a picture of Frank with his mother Flora in 1917
There was an exercise book which contained some interesting entries written by Frank. Sandy’s father was Frank’s nephew. Within the pages of the exercise book, Frank Sheppard gives the most detailed account of his days from joining the 11th reserve Cavalry Regiment at Tidworth. The entries date from December 21st 1915 through to sometime in 1917. Franks descriptions for learning to ride a horse and doing the musketing course paints a vivid picture of his experiences during this time and shows how the soldiers were trained in preparation for battle during the war. Frank came from Caerphilly.
10 pages from the exercise book and many other images contributed by Sandy Crane will form a larger collection which will be available to view on the People’s Collection Wales website later this year as part of the WW1 Commemoration project. www.peoplescollectionwales.co.uk
This photo shows Walter Sheppard who was Frank’s brother during WW1 sitting on a camel with the pyramids in the background. We have no information with regards to the other people in the photo other than Walter is on the left camel.
Story by Hazel Thomas
- July 1, 2013 - morfuddniajones
Four of us visited Conwy Archives last week to create the ARCW metadata for Conwy and Flintshire Archives for the project. The weather was cold and wet, so it was lovely to be given such a warm welcome and a warm cup of coffee! Here are some pictures of our visit.
Rob was enthralled with the Penmaenmawr War Memorial committee minutes, and will blog about this at a later date …
And finally, this was the amazing view from the Great Orme on Thursday night!
- June 17, 2013 - morfuddniajones
Four of us visited Glamorgan Archives last week to create metadata prior to scanning their material as part of the project. Here are some pictures of us hard at work.
- June 14, 2013 - robphillips
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.