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

  • October 10, 2013 - morfuddniajones

 

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)

A Trench Raid

  • August 15, 2013 - morfuddniajones

The following extract is taken from “MI 7b, the discovery of a lost propaganda archive from the Great War”.

A Trench Raid (21 September 1917)

At last, after what seemed years of waiting, the long-expected signal came, and we filed into the sap, and then crawled cautiously across No Man’s Land to the shelter of some friendly shell-craters about forty yards from the Boche wire. The signal for the final rush was to be an intensive bombardment on the flanks of the position we were to attack.

We did not have to wait long. Punctual to the second, the artillery strafe commenced and simultaneously a blinding sheet of flame and an earth-shaking roar told us that H.E. had completed the work of our wire cutters in blasting a gap in the entanglements. The next few minutes were crowded in the extreme. The whole party made a dash for the opening in the wire, scrambled over the parapet, and, as had been arranged, divided their forces, and bombed their way, right and left, down the trench. A sentry, who had been posted quite close to the point of entry, had been blown backwards off his perch by the force of the explosion, and was no longer in a condition to dispute our passage. The only real resistance we encountered was on the right where a machine gun team hurriedly dismounted their gun from its emplacement, and directed a stream of bullets down the trench in the hope of catching the attackers unawares when the rounded the traverse. But the Bombing Sergeant, crawling along the parapet, dropped a couple of Mill’s Bombs in the middle of the party, and then jumped down afterwards lest there should be any mistake. So it was that a battered machine-gun, plus a pair of stout Bavarians, very much the worse for wear, were shortly being passed to the rear.

Naturally the time is limited on a raid, and it is prudent to get back to the shelter of your own trenches before the enemy has time to recover from his surprise, and starts to retaliate. But before we turned back we lighted the fuse of an “infernal machine” which had been part of the R.E.’s contribution to the night’s entertainment, and placed it in an unobtrusive position at the foot of the traverse, with the object of discouraging any Huns from annoying us in our retirement. We returned to the original starting point to find the “moppers-up” had lured several unwilling captives from their under-ground funk-holes, and had already started to shepherd them across No Man’s Land on the first stage of their journey to England. As we picked our way through the shell-holes on our way home, our machine-guns were sweeping the Boche parapet on our right and left to restrain any vulgar curiosity on their part as to the fate of their brethren. The last of the excursionists dropped over our friendly parapet just as two infernal machines, in quick succession, rent the night with the roar of their explosion, and a salvo of “woolly bears”, the first fruits of retaliation, burst high up in the air over the ground we had just vacated.

The article, “A Trench Raid” was written by Lt J.P. Lloyd of the Welch Regiment in September 1917, and is one of 150 or so articles and stories he wrote. His work is the sole surviving archive of military propaganda from a secret outfit designated MI 7b. All the official documents of MI 7b were thought to have been destroyed at the war’s end.

Jeremy Arter
August 2013

Copies of paper from the archive will soon be available to view as part of the Welsh Experience of World War 1 Project via the People’s Collection Wales website.
An e-book about the collection is also available.

Lt James Price Lloyd and the “Tales of the VC”

  • August 15, 2013 - morfuddniajones

Lt James Price Lloyd was my paternal great uncle and as a Second-lieutenant, he had been shot and wounded in the first Battle of the Somme in the fighting at Mametz on Friday, the 7th July 1916. Whilst recuperating, he responded to a War Office trawl for officers to write articles about the war. His work was accepted and on 7th July 1917, a year to the day since he had been wounded, he reported for duty with MI 7b.

He thought he was joining a unit set up to counter Hun propaganda, but that was just a cover story. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he was joining a strategic propaganda offensive aimed directly at the Home Front, and the home fronts of the Empire, her dominions and colonies. Allied nations too were targeted, as were neutral nations who needed to be swayed towards our cause.

MI 7b (1) had been set up in response to the perceived threat that support for the war was waning, that revolution was in the air, that there was discontent in the factories, and saboteurs active amongst us! In the autumn of 1916, through to the dread dark days of early 1917, disaster loomed. The nation, traumatised by the horrendous losses on the Somme front, faced insurrection in Ireland, revolution abroad, and was in danger of losing the battle at sea. The fear of losing the war and the prospect of famine brought home the reality of a modern, total war. To have any hope of preparing the nation not only to accept the huge losses that the strategy of attrition would inevitably demand, but also to sustain their faith that the cause was just and noble, and the sacrifice necessary, there had to be a counter-balance to the Roll of Honour.

The authorities recognised that they had to seize the agenda, set the tone, improve and sustain morale. To that end, the War Office trawled for officers with some time on their hands to write about the war, especially the human interest side. Capt Alan Dawson fielded their submissions and set up what became MI 7b (1).

It attracted some of the finest literary talent of the day, many of whom were serving in the Army and had connections to the popular newspapers and magazines of the time. Similarly illustrators and artists were recruited and so it was that MI 7b (1) was able to produce high-grade propaganda material in both graphic and text media from the outset. Given its connections and the newspapers’ insatiable appetite for war news, MI 7b (1) became a major source of news that was then reported by the press all over the English speaking world.

From August 1917, Lt James Lloyd wrote first-hand accounts of battles and daily life in the trenches, and Captain Bruce Bairnsfather provided cartoons and illustrations that gave the imagination a visual hook. It is clear that their work was integrated as a result of a clearly developed editorial strategy. Bairnsfather’s cartoon character “Old Bill” and his “Fragments from France” were a national sensation – Old Bill became the archetypal “Old Contemptible” and a much loved figure world wide. Lloyd’s retrospectives on fighting in France, along with Bairnsfather’s illustrations, allowed those on the world’s home fronts to identify with the men at war, and get that much closer to what they thought the war may be really like.

Lloyd had much to learn about writing propaganda as many of his drafts were too close to reality to have been passed fit for publication. Some of the most poignant and moving accounts he wrote, never made it beyond the manuscript. These “rejected” articles contain much that would otherwise remain hidden. In my view, these articles are that much more interesting and shed a truer and brighter light on events that went unreported.

As the propaganda agenda moved on, Lloyd was tasked with producing “Tales of the VC”, and so that his reports on the fighting in France weren’t stale, he was sent back to the Western Front to observe first hand. It is clear that Lloyd wasn’t the only MI 7b officer to undertake such travels, as A A Milne, too, undertook secret work in France at some time during 1918. Officers from MI 7b travelled the Western Front extensively witnessing, as opposed to taking a further active part in, the battles and major campaigns of the war from early 1917 onwards. Those accounts were their main source of war news reporting and were then distributed for publication around the globe. There are examples of newspapers carrying 2 or 3 articles sourced from MI 7b on a single page.

With War Office support, what had started out as a “one man and his dog” operation in early 1916, became a highly successful broadcast medium with global reach within 18 months or so, producing an estimate of 7,500 articles for syndication world wide. Had the “Green Book” – the secret valedictory house journal of MI 7b (1) – not been discovered by chance, those writing for MI 7b (1) would have remained incognito, and its secret work only imagined, as so little of its official archive is known to exist. A A Milne is now the best known member of MI 7b, and the current media interest in his role risks eclipsing the wider story. Milne was not the only surprise to be found on the inside cover of the Green Book, posted elsewhere on this forum. The list of members and their literary achievements is truly astonishing.

The 150 remaining articles in the archive are of a high literary standard and the articles and stories each stand on their own merit. They would be interesting enough on their own, but in the context of their being examples of a secret campaign, they are an invaluable source. Written by someone who had served and been wounded in the front line trenches, Lloyd’s stories provide a fascinating glimpse into the realities of the fighting, and of life in France. His published work for MI 7b (1) is extensive, and I am very grateful to everyone who has helped me find examples. However, not everything was published, and the unpublished drafts provide tantalising glimpses into the realities as perceived at the time and written in the lingua franca of that era with its richness of slang, its wry observations on the detail of daily trench life.

It is also fascinating to view the propaganda production process in action; from idea to pencil draft, to manuscript and green-ink correction and censorship, to the typing pool and beyond to the higher echelons of the War Office food chain where it may be “Passed for publication.” Then, the article is there on the page of a Tasmanian journal, sitting alongside other articles from MI 7b. Each of the articles are under the name of the serving officer who wrote them giving no indication that they are the principal parts of a highly secret and sophisticated propaganda offensive.

If the newspaper articles indicate the scale and reach of the operation, the discovery of the Green Book indicates the calibre of its operatives and like the Rosetta stone, unlocks some of the mystery.

Why were so many talented and intelligent men willing to write propaganda in support for a war that each of them knew would result in further widespread slaughter? I believe that that they knew it to be their duty. They were recruited ostensibly to take part in a counter-propaganda offensive, and although that may have been plausible for a while, it is clear from what is written in the Green Book, that by the war’s end, some of these were men who felt that their integrity had been compromised.

If all their work was meant for publication, what was the secret? The real secret of MI 7b (1) was that the Crown and Parliament had a very great need for it, far greater than history may yet have acknowledged.

Why was it disbanded so quickly? The rapid disbandment of MI 7b did not affect its role and function, for that carried on. I think that Lords Northcliffe and Beaverbrook recognised that MI 7b (1) was a first class news agency with global reach, in effect, the information superhighway of its day. They took control of its infrastructure to further their newspaper interests, and MI 7b’s role and function morphed via the Ministry of Information through to the BBC.

From Adelphi House to Bush House!

With its records destroyed, and all its members bound by the Official Secrets Act, the story of MI 7b (1) might have remained an interesting, but obscure, footnote in history. With any luck, this discovery may yet inform our thinking about the First World War, and play a significant role in our understanding of the true nature of the conflict and the context in which it was reported.

Jeremy Arter
August 2013

“Tales of the VC”, 96 of the 150 or so articles can be found on:  http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en/

Copies of paper from the archive will soon be available to view as part of the Welsh Experience of World War 1 Project via the People’s Collection Wales website.
An e-book about the collection is also available.

Collecting and sharing the Welsh experience of World War One

  • March 14, 2013 - morfuddniajones

Do you have letters, photographs, postcards or other memorabilia from those who experienced the war either at home or at the Front? We aim to capture the personal experiences of the Welsh involved in the War. The war affected everyone; those who fought, and those who stayed behind.

If you have items relating to any aspect of life during the war years, please bring them along to Ruthin Library on the 18th of March or to Picton Community Centre, Haverfordwest on the 20th of March to have them preserved and shared digitally.

 

ww1_ruthin_m_hanner                      ww1_haverfordwest_m_hanner

 

For more information, read the press release on the National Library of Wales website

Participatory Design Workshop

  • March 12, 2013 - morfuddniajones

A Participatory Design Workshop was held at the National Library of Wales on the 6th of February 2013.
The workshop was collaborated by staff at the National Library of Wales and a team from the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield who are working on a project entitled Participating in Search Design: a study of George Thomason’s English Newsbooks. The goal of the workshop was to pilot a participatory design approach to the development of the library’s World War I digital resource by engaging with potential end users. The range of different media present in the archive means that compiling the digital resource has posed significant questions and challenges to the design of the interface.

The report by the Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield can be seen by clicking on the link below

NLW WWI Design Group Report

Here are some photographs taken on the day.

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DSCN2316hanner      DSCN2320hanner

 

Creating metadata at Caernarfon Archives

  • March 4, 2013 - morfuddniajones

A team of us visited Caernarfon Archives today to prepare metadata for Gwynedd Archives that is to be included as part of the ARCW material for the project.  Members of People’s Collection Wales will be going there on Wednesday to digitise the material prepared today.

Rhys yng Nghaernarfon

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Archives and the First World War

  • September 18, 2012 - niawilliams

During this project we’re going to be digitising two main archives held at the National Library. The Aberystwyth Comforts Fund Papers and the Welsh Army Corps Records. The Aberystwyth Comforts Fund is made up of reams of bills and thank you letters written by the boys of Aber in thanks to Mr. Fear (Aberystwyth Comforts Fund leader) for his generosity in sending them out parcels of cigarettes etc. The amount of cigarette bills is pretty impressive considering.

Every now and again something interesting in the archives will catch your eye. There is the odd letter that makes you think. For example I saw yesterday a letter from an Aber boy saying that he would like to join the Aberystwyth YMCA however he couldn’t as he had a wife and three children waiting for him in Canada. This man had evidently emigrated to Canada before the war to have a family there, and yet he must have come back to Wales in order to fight. He must have really believed in the war. Then there are letters that come around the end of the war proclaiming the armistice and thanking God that it looked as if peace was coming at last. Many of the letters talk about God and the hope that He would guide the world to peace again. It shows a different world.

In the middle of the tenders and bills and general Paperwork that makes up the Welsh Army Corps Records  luck found a member of staff,  she found a button or a badge (see insert) which had the Welsh Dragon on it.   This made all the boring bills and tenders worth it as you never know what you’ll find in the treasure hunt that is looking through the Archives.

So watch this space you never know what we’ll find next.