- 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 27, 2013 - morfuddniajones
Here is a selection of photographs taken at the project launch in Merthyr Tydfil last Thursday, 28 November 2013
John Griffiths, AM, Welsh Government Minister for Culture and Sport launching Cymru1914.org
Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths, AM and the Chief Executive and National Librarian, Dr Aled Gruffudd Jones chatting following the launch.
Avril Jones, NLW; Paola Marchionni, Jisc; and Lorna Hughes, NLW looking at the website of the digital archive.
Elgan Davies, Aberystwyth University; Elisabeth Bennett, Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University; Sian Williams, South Wales Miners’ Library, Swansea University; and Lorna Hughes, NLW looking at the content of the digital archive.
The audience paying attention to the speeches.
Rhys demonstrating the resource to the guests following the launch.
The event receiving media attention.
One of the guests having a great time browsing the brand new digital resource.
- 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 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.
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)
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)
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)
- 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 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.
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.
- 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.
“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.