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.

Remembering the War

  • July 15, 2013 - robphillips

Most of the items we have digitized as part of the World War 1914-1918 and the Welsh Experience project, dates from the war itself. They reflect the experience of the people of Wales as was written down actually during the War. We’ve also digitised some items of the post-war period that looked back on the experience; a good example of this category is the South Wales Miners’ Library oral history interviews. However, the legacy of the conflict was felt for many years after the ceasefire in 1918 and capturing this is also important. So great was the impact of the war on communities that there was a need to ensure the memory of the war; to remember the individuals who died and remember the sacrifice of those who served. It was part of building “a land fit for heroes” as promised by David Lloyd George.

conwy4bach  conwy1bach

Communities across the country formed committees to raise memorials in the form of statues, plaques, playgrounds or community buildings. Such a committee was set up in Penmaenmawr on February 3rd 1919 and the minutes of the committee are now held at Conwy Archives. This is one of the items selected for digitization, and the story is fascinating.

An the initial meeting, the committee decided to build a community hall with a library. Almost immediately there was a conflict with the Men’s Institute who were also planning to build a hall. There were problems raising funds and a further public meeting was called. The outcome of the meeting was a new committee and a vote amongst the residents on the options of a hall, library, playground or scholarships or various combinations. Once again the people chose the hall but by November it was clear that such a plan was unaffordable. The committee the decided to erect a memorial in the form of a Celtic cross but location was not confirmed until November 1920 and at that meeting there was further opposition. A proposal was then agreed to cooperate with the Men’s Institute and combine their plan for a new hall and memorial.

By November 1923 the committee discussed the wording of the memorial wall and by May 1925, they were organizing the unveiling. The last meeting of the committee was on 14 September 1926, almost 8 years after the war ended. The committee’s problems however were not over, there was a £400 deficit to raise but Penmaenmawr got its memorial and it stands proudly to this day.

Using World War I archives for teaching students at Swansea University

  • February 14, 2013 - morfuddniajones

As soon as the documents from the Richard Burton Archives had been digitised and returned to Swansea, they were being used as part of a course for the Department of History and Classics. The Practice of History is a compulsory second year module which discusses the variety of historical sources explored by historians, how they can be used and the intellectual and practical problems that can arise from using them.

In a fresh approach this year the module is being taught using primary sources linked to particular areas of research. One group is studying World War I, in particular the home front, the battle front, and women and the war. Last week they visited the Richard Burton Archives for an introduction to using archives and to start using the documents selected.


Elisabeth Bennett
Richard Burton Archives
Information Services & Systems
Swansea University

Calling volunteers throughout Wales …

  • February 6, 2013 - robphillips

The National Library of Wales is inviting volunteers to assist with a project collating the history of the Great War as it affected all aspects of Welsh life, language and culture.

The collection includes audio tapes of interviews with people from the South Wales coalfields, who lived through the war, sharing their experiences; the aim is to make this collection fully accessible.

The work involves checking and editing existing transcriptions of the audio tapes, as well as creating new transcriptions.  Volunteers will receive the audio tapes on a USB stick and will be asked to transfer the content to a ‘Word’ document, which can then be e-mailed to the project officer.  Guidelines will be provided.

Essential requirements:

  • The ability to work independently;
  • IT skills – ‘Word’, e-mail, and experience of working with Realplayer or Quicktime;
  • Excellent literacy skills in English and/or Welsh;
  • An eye for detail and methodical.

Volunteers can work from home at their convenience.
For more information, or to register an interest, contact:
Gwyneth Davies, Volunteers’ Co-ordinator,
Phone – 01970 632991

Digitization, commemoration, and sustainability: some thoughts about Rhyfel Byd 1914-1918 a’r profiad Cymreig / Welsh experience of World War One 1914-1918

  • November 4, 2012 - Lorna Hughes

The 100th anniversary of the First World War has been in the news lately, partly prompted by David Cameron’s announcement about plans for the commemoration of the anniversary of the start of the War in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the idea of using the anniversary to develop any kind of ‘celebration’, or force upon the occasion a sense of ‘national unity’, has met with a considerable backlash.  The events of this first “world” war were seen as early as December 1914, by Lytton Strachey, as “remorseless, terrible, gruesome”. Images evoked by the conflict, both seen at the time and recreated by our collective memory, have continued to evoke feelings of horror at the waste of life, at the consequences for the survivors, and for those on the ‘home front’ who dealt with privation and the loss of loved ones. The War was a deeply divisive event, and its aftermath has been seen as the effective beginning of the modern age. It’s appropriate that it’s been commemorated by somber reflection.

However, the centenary of the start of the War means that reflection will be reinforced by attention. There will be films, documentaries, and news coverage. Public figures will express views, and there will be an increased focus on what we know about the War – and, more significantly, what we don’t know. For an event that has been editorialized, remembered, and researched since the declaration of hostilities in 1914 (if not before), there are still significant gaps in our knowledge, and one of these is the Welsh experience of the War. It is difficult to envisage many aspects of Welsh society in the years immediately before and during the War. The changes wrought by the War on Welsh society and culture were are often claimed to have been dramatic and far-reaching and a major task for the commemorations of the War will be to evaluate and explain such changes.

For our project partners, developing the digitization project Rhyfel Byd 1914-1918 a’r profiad Cymreig / Welsh experience of World War One 1914-1918 was a response to the need for greater awareness, understanding, and reappraisal of the impact of the War on Welsh society, politics, culture, and language. Gwyn Alf Williams, in When Was Wales, described the War as “an unhinging shock of the first order”. Kenneth O Morgan wrote in Wales 1880-1980 “it is clear that the war marked an immense break with the past, in social and ultimately in political terms” The primary sources for this perspective are well preserved and available for consultation in the libraries, archives, and special collections of Wales. However, these source materials , such as  newspapers, letters, diaries, and official records including those of the comfort funds and the Welsh Army Corps, are presently fragmented, and frequently inaccessible, yet they collectively form a unique resource of vital interest to researchers, students, and the public, in Wales and beyond. Digitising this material will make it available to a far wider audience than can currently access these fragile and unique materials in special collections and archives, and by gathering them together they will form a rich resource which will be valuable for any scholar attempting to piece together a national picture.  We hope that the digital archive we are creating will provide an invaluable resource for teaching, research, and public engagement.

Making this material more widely accessible will enable historians to address many new research challenges, and to investigate more fully ongoing debates. For example, what is the social and political context for Kenneth Morgan’s claim that that Welsh were quickest of all to volunteer (see Rebirth of a Nation, p. 160)? How did the recruitment rate compare across areas in Wales, and was there an imbalance between Welsh and English speaking areas? The impact of the War on Welsh society was enormous, yet the common perceptions of the Welsh experience of the War (for example of a ‘blind patriotism’ leading the young men to volunteer) are not necessarily backed up by the primary sources. A reappraisal of these is required to analyse the different currents of the debate about the justification for the War, and how difficult issues were wrestled with by those who had conflicting feelings about going to war. Furthermore, the nature of this debate evolved with time, and took on different shades in different parts of Wales.

In order to address these, and related, research challenges, the digitization of a huge range of material from Special Collections will form an essential digital ‘corpus’ for research and teaching of WW1, a true mass digital archive of these sources that will enable their broadest use, re-use and interpretation across the disciplines.  The digital resource, like an analogue archive, will not be prescriptive, or foreground specific themes; instead, it will enable scholars, students and other users to explore the whole range of themes related to WW1 in Wales.

Prior digital humanities research has shown that students will find, and prefer to use, the available digital resources on a specific topic (for an example of this argument, see the essay by Tim Hitchcock, of the University of Hertfordshire, in his chapter in the collection of essays I edited with Mark Greengrass, “Virtual Representation of the Past”). We hope that our content will, therefore, be integrated into teaching, and have a significant impact on the undergraduate curriculum. In developing the project, we have worked with an academic advisory group to investigate how our resource can become embedded in university teaching and research, and also in the school curriculum in Wales. In particular, this project will support the teaching of history through the medium of Welsh. We hope this will foster a debate about the use and integration of digital resources in teaching and research generally. A digital corpus of material cannot, itself, impact on the history curriculum – it is the methods of evaluation, analysis and report that will determine the shape of the curriculum.  What this material can do is to contribute to enriching the context, extend the points of reference and introduce additional evidence into the process. The First World War, like the whole of the twentieth century, has featured far more prominently in the school curriculum than, say, medieval or eighteenth century history.  What the material created through this project may do is shift the emphasis away from politics and warfare towards social and economic change

The digital collection will be a truly ‘national’ digital resource to support and analysis and interpretation of the impact of ‘the Great War’ in a small country with a distinct cultural and linguistic identity that was nonetheless overshadowed by the English language and culture ‘official narrative’ of the War. Bringing these source materials out of the dark will develop a body of material to finally support a paradigm for interpretation that will be relevant to many countries with dual language and traditions, which saw transformative changes post WW1. Themes of interest to historians at present include evidence of the effect of the fighting on individuals; social changes (for example, women in paid employment); recruitment and British/Welsh patriotism; the nature of opposition to the war; the emergence of Nationalism, and commemoration and remembrance. Themes of interest to historical sociologists and language planners include the sharp decline in national self-confidence and speakers of Welsh following WW1. The artistic legacy of the War is also a topic of interest across the disciplines. We anticipate broadest use of the digital collection by scholars interested in the Great War and Celtic studies internationally, including the International Research Center of the ‘Historial de la Grande Guerre’, with a mission to provide an all-encompassing history of WW1, including its impact on culture and society throughout Europe and the rest of the world. A project focussing on Wales would provide a comparative history from a different perspective to the larger combatant nations.

Thinking about use – and re-use – of the resource is absolutely crucial to the sustainability of the digital archive that we are building. We have anticipated who will use the resource – academics and their students, teachers and pupils, the media and the public. We have anticipated some of the research questions, and lines of enquiry that the resource will open up. However, for this resource to be sustainable over the long term it will need to become truly embedded in teaching and research. The project team have committed to working with our academic advisors, the Welsh Government, and the museums, libraries and archives community in Wales in order to ensure the embedding of the digital archive in teaching, research and outreach and awareness raising activities, throughout the commemoration period of 2014-18, and beyond.  We will continue to make the resource available as long as it is needed, and used. Developing and sustaining this valuable resource for scholarship will be a significant contribution to Welsh commemoration of the First World War: and, we hope, a fitting one.


From the newspaper archives…

  • July 30, 2012 - Lorna Hughes

Scanning of the Welsh Newspapers from 1914-18 is now complete, and one of the items we have uncovered is this story, from The Llangollen Advertiser, 7th June 1918. In a report on the half-yearly meeting of the Governors of the National Library of Wales, there is mention of “the collection now being made of all records connected with the war so far as Wales was concerned.” The meeting also mentions purchase of “a new photography apparatus” to allow photographs of manuscripts to be taken – so #cymruWW1 follows a long tradition of NLW using new technology for education, research and outreach!