Posted in Abergele history people WWI

Remembering the people of Abergele who took part in WWI

On 11 November 1918, ‘the war to end all wars’ came to an end. Abergele is remembering this on Remembrance Sunday. The poppies and cutout soldiers as you drive into the town have been a thoughtful reminder for the past weeks. This website has published many articles about WWI (keep clicking the Older Posts link at the bottom to see all the biographies and articles)

Photo from @abergelecouncil Twitter account
Photo from @abergelecouncil Twitter account

We thought we’d look back at the Cofia Abergele Remembers project in which AbergelePost.com worked with local historian Andrew Hesketh and Ysgol Emrys ap Iwan learners to list and record the names in audio of the people of Abergele and surrounds who participated in WWI. Click the triangle at the top-lift of this Soundcloud widget to hear the audio recording.

 


emrysP1070439

Here’s a list of students who made the recordings:
Jordan Harwood
Chloe Merrison
Anna Humphreys
Teigan Thompson
Scott Carney
Alice Naylor
Chantalle Cox
Eleanor Lloyd
Iwan Coghlan
Cian Hanna
Mike White
Ben Stone
Sophie Peake
Laurie Wilson
Lara Wagstaff
Abbey Jacklin
Jamie Edwards

 

We’re grateful to Andrew Hesketh and the Emrys students for this touching tribute. We join with the whole nation, 100 years after its end,  in remembering those who participated and those who died in the First World War.

Posted in history Kinmel Camp WWI

Surprising first-hand account of the Kinmel Camp Riots of 1919

Two Abergele Post readers – Doug Colter and John Michael Care – have been in touch with remarkable original accounts of the Kinmel Camp Riots (or Mutiny) of 1919. For background information you can read a BBC Wales account by Phil Carradice of the riot on the BBC Online website.

Doug Colter writes:

“My Grandfather John L. Colter(from Petrolia near London, Ontario, Canada) was born in 1898 and like most lads at the time was eager to sign up for action. So he enlisted on March 3, 1916 in London, Ontario, Canada.

“He trained in Camp Bordon, Ontario, then over to Britain for further training and preparation. He crossed the channel and traveled, and marched to Bourlon Wood in front of Cambrai, which was taken next day at a big price in men September 17, 1918.

“Fortunately (I suppose) he took a piece of shrapnel in his foot and had to find his way back on his own to a field hospital. That trip was quite the adventure as documented in his biography. From there, he eventually made his way to Mount Holly Convent, Tottington, to convalesce.

“Soon after the war was over and the long period of waiting to return to Canada had begun. This brought him to Kimmel Camp, where the famous riot took place.

“My grandfather kept a four volume diary from the time he enlisted to his return home. Most entries were very brief, and it would appear that it rained nearly every day while in the field in Europe.  Can’t imagine what it must have been like before Gortex…

John L. Colter
John L. Colter

“From his extensive writings and recollections is the following:

‘… “But all things come to him who waits.” Waiting is the thing we do mostly in the Army. We left Whitby 5:30 a.m., March 3 and bypassed London to get to Kinmel Camp, Wales, about 9:00 p.m. It is exactly three years ago today (March 3, 1916) that I enlisted in the Army at Petrolia (Ontario, Canada).

‘Now followed a period of “On Draft”, “Off Draft”. But finally the “On Draft” won. We left Abergele about 10:00 a.m., March 3 for Liverpool and boarded the S.S. Regina about noon. About midnight we sailed away from dear old Blightly.

‘Now came a time of boredom and frustration. “You are on Sailing Draft; You are off Sailing Draft.” Others came into the Camp, were put on Sailing Draft and were away while you were still waiting. I am of the opinion that kind of treatment was the chief cause of the Riot of March 5th.

‘In the plans for demobilisation the men were put into camps according to the Military District to which they were going. London was (is?) Number 1 and Toronto, Number 2, and so across Canada. London and Toronto were adjacent camps and each said their camp was much better than the other. As I was in the London Camp, my ideas may be biased. I can tell only the London side.

‘I believe the trouble started in the Beer Canteen, over what or where, I do not know, but the taps were all opened and left running. If you had your mess tin with you it was a case of “All free, help yourself”. No harm in all that. But when the rioters starting burning the Orderly Rooms with all the records in them, that was different. No one could be sent home until copies of the records could be obtained from London, England.’’

‘The London Camp O.C. explained this to the men and placed an armed guard around the camp to keep everyone OUT. With or without orders, an Officer filled his pockets with live ammunition to give to these sentries (I was NOT one of them). Who fired the first shot? No one knows — “Mr. Nobody”, I guess. The rioters then broke into the arsenal and helped themselves to rifles and ammunition. I do not think any London men were in this crowd. They then dropped into trenches that had been made for training and shot for heads. The number of killed and hurt in this riot was a well-kept secret. Rumour placed the figures at: killed, 3 Officers, 14 men, and one man wounded. None of the London men were hurt. It is reported that London Orderly Room was the only one left intact.

‘Where was I? Sitting on the stone wall behind the hut ready to drop into the private property on the outside if the bullets started coming my way. None did so I went back into the hut when it was over.

‘Now followed a period of “On Draft”, “Off Draft”. But finally the “On Draft” won. We left Abergale about 10:00 a.m., March 3 for Liverpool and boarded the S.S. Regina about noon. About midnight we sailed away from dear old Blightly.

‘The “Regina” was a new ship – newly launched and not completed inside. We had to sleep in hammocks slung over the mess tables from the beams. They had to be taken down every morning, folded and piled against the wall. Sleeping in a hammock is not comfortable as you are doubled up until you are more sitting than lying. Their good point was that as the ship rolled, the hammock swung in the opposite direction so that you were horizontal at all times. No sea sickness. At night if it was rough the hammock rings creaked quite musically and you kept bumping the guys on each side. (The hammocks were slung lengthwise of the ship.)…’ “

That’s the end o John L. Colter‘s diary entry as related by Doug Colter.

I wanted to ask local historian Andrew Hesketh for his opinion of Doug’s grandfather’s story. He says: “Fascinating. It ties in with my understanding and certainly had a lot to do with Canadians being denied passage home (by the Canadian Gov’t and not the British incidentally), so relations between natives and colonials was somewhat tense. …Julian Putkowski (is) the only man to have written a serious account of the riots. However, this was some time ago and his chief source was newspaper accounts (which were affected by censorship) and the records of the inquiry which seemed motivated by a need to place the blame on a pseudo-bolshevik ringleader who was killed in the riot and is buried in Bodelwyddan. It was rather convenient to be anti-Bolshevik in 1919 and even more convenient that the target for blame was unavailable for questioning!”

Now here’s what John Michael Care wrote:

“The story I have came from my great uncle Philip Chambers, originally from West Bromwich but who had emigrated to Montreal, Canada and had volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force from Montreal. His story of the riots was that he was sleeping on his bunk in the camp when a bullet came through the wall just missing him. As he said, he had survived the war and was one of only 12 of his regiment that survived the Somme and did not want to be killed on home soil. So he managed to sneak out of the camp in the chaos and make his way back to West Bromwich to stay with family, probably ours. There he waited until he heard that the government had arranged ships to take the Canadian troops home when he returned and sneaked back into the Camp in time to be shipped home. His story must have been equally difficult for his family as his brother died of typhoid in a camp in Northern France in 1919, also while waiting to be shipped back to Canada, and well after the end of hostilities.
My personal connection with Kinmel Bay was to attend a school CCF camp under canvass in the mid 1950’s long before I heard of the above story as I first met him in 1961 when I had a summer job in North America.”

Posted in WWI

1916-2016: Abergele & District Commemorations: Hugh Thomas Davies

Private 16023, Hugh Thomas Davies, 10th Battalion, 76th Brigade, 3rd Division. Died of Wounds, 26 February 1916, aged 21. Buried Plot IV. D. 13A. Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. Commemorated on the Abergele War Memorial and Abergele Town Memorial. The inscription on his headstone reads: Death Divides but a Loving Memory Ever Clings, Mother & Father.

Son of John and Matilda Davies, of 15, Mount Pleasant, Abergele. Born Abergele, April 1894, enlisted Colwyn Bay. Arrived in France 27 September 1915. The family was living at Nelson Terrace in 1911, at Mill House c.1917, and at 15, Mount Pleasant, towards the end of the war and immediately afterwards. In 1911 the family had consisted of 7 children, and the oldest three boys all served. Based on the 1911 Census their details were: Hugh Thomas, aged 16 and a Fishmonger’s Errand Boy, Robert Edward aged 14 and a Telegraph Messenger, and John Christopher, aged 12 and at school. A younger brother, David William, aged 10 in 1911, probably narrowly escaped conscription towards the end of the war.

Hugh was badly wounded in the same artillery barrage on 17 February 1916 that fatally wounded John Robert Davies (click here for further details of what was happening at the time). Both Hugh and John lie buried in the same grave at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Poperinge, about 7 miles west of Ypres

Posted in WWI

1916-2016: Abergele & District Commemorations: John Robert Davies

Private 15470, John Robert Davies, 10th Battalion, 76th Brigade, 3rd Division. Died of Wounds, 20 February 1916, aged 23. Buried Plot IV. D. 13A. Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. Not commemorated in the Abergele district, but commemorated on the Llanfairfechan War Memorial. The inscription on his headstone reads: Y peth yr wif fi yn ei wneuthur ni wyddost ti yr awrhon, Ioan XIII.7 (You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand).

Born in Llanddulas, the son of John and Ann Davies who both died whilst he was young. In 1901 he was living with his grandparents at 17, New Street Abergele. By 1911 he had become the adopted son of his Aunt, Sarah Jones, of Washington House, Llanfairfechan.

As an original volunteer member of the 10th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, John had arrived in France, at Boulogne, 27 September 1915. Until December 1915 the battalion’s experience had been one of routine periods in the front line trenches, south of Ypres, and periods of rest in rear area billets. It was during the battalion’s third stretch in the trenches that Richard Maurice Evans, the battalions first Abergele casualty, had been killed.

The battalion returned to the trenches 17 December 1915 until Christmas Eve and, as before, daily casualties from occasional shelling and the ever-present German snipers were incurred. That stint cost 4 men killed, 14 wounded and a further 4 who died of wounds. The steady erosion of the battalion through the attrition of trench warfare led to the battalion receiving it’s first batch of reinforcements from the 3rd (Reserve) RWF battalion at this time.

On New Year’s Eve, 10th RWF returned to the trenches. Over the next few weeks the usual rotation between being in and out of the trenches continued, and the usual casualties were incurred. January saw 4 men killed, 18 wounded, a further 3 who died of their wounds and 1 sent home as physically unable to continue.

The start of February saw the battalion less frequently in the line as a period of movement and relocation followed. However, by 15 February they were in Poperinge, Belgium, and the following day returned to the trenches. Sadly, a new Adjutant’s hand had taken to the writing of the battalion war diary. Whereas before it had been very detailed, the entries now become rather vague. All that is noted for 17 February, the day that John was fatally wounded, is that the battalion experienced it’s first major trauma above and beyond the routine casualties of trench warfare, and yet the diary merely names the deaths of two officers, the wounding of 3 others and then blandly states “other ranks – 18 killed and 35 wounded” . The following day is little different: “casualties – other ranks 6 killed and 6 wounded” . The following day, 19 February 1915, the battalion were relieved from the trenches.

What exactly had happened? Following a period of rest the 10th Royal Welsh Fusiliers re-entered the front line trenches north-east of St. Eloi, Belgium, on 16 February 1916. The trenches they inherited were old and in poor condition. At 5.30 a.m. on the 17th a furious German artillery bombardment began falling on the battalion’s part of the front line. Over the next half an hour there was little that the men could do other than ride the storm and hope for the best. Casualties were heavy. Eighteen men were killed and 35 wounded. Amongst the wounded were two local men, John Robert Davies, who died three days later 20 February 1916, and Hugh Thomas Davies. The two Abergele and district men are buried in the same grave.

Posted in WWI

1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: Richard Maurice Evans

[My sincere apologies to the memory of Maurice that I neglected to post this in time for the centenary of his sacrifice. He is not forgotten.]

Private 15089 Richard Maurice Evans, ‘A’ Company, 10th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 76th Brigade, 3rd Division. Killed in action, 9 December 1915, aged 28. No known grave, but known to have been buried and is commemorated on a Special Memorial in Hedge Row Trench Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium. Not commemorated in the Abergele district.

Known as Maurice. Born Holloway, London, the son of Richard and Anne Elizabeth Evans, of 3, Narrow St., Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire, but lived at Mountain View, Llanddulas. Enlisted Colwyn Bay in 1914. Gave his residence at that time as Liverpool. Brother of Lance Corporal D. R. Evans of Towyn and Lieutenant J. T. Evans of Pensarn.

Richard Evans senior, formerly a councillor in Montgomeryshire, had moved to Abergele shortly before the outbreak of war. One of his sons, Maurice, had emigrated to Canada c.1911-1912 but returned to join the army shortly after war was declared, enlisting into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in Colwyn Bay. His brothers, Lance Corporal D. R. Evans, of a territorial battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and Second Lieutenant John Thomas Evans, later of the Machine Gun Section, 9th South Wales Borderers, were also early entrants into the war. D. R. Evans was wounded in Gallipoli in the summer of 1915. John Thomas Evans initially joined the 16th Royal Scots but received his officer’s commission in May 1915 and joined the South Wales Borderers. Both returned home from the war.

Maurice was posted to the 10th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers (10th RWF) which was set up in Wrexham 16 October 1914. It began training its new, enthusiastic recruits at Codford in Wiltshire before shortly moving to Bournemouth. In April 1915 the battalion moved to Romsey and finally, in June 1915, to Aldershot.

Maurice went to France with the battalion 27 September 1915, landing at Boulogne. From there the battalion moved to Belgium and was transferred, with the whole of 76th Brigade, to 3rd Division 10 October 1915. Five days later the battalion moved into the trenches for the first time near Ypres, suffering its first fatality as Private Lawrence Eede was shot through the head by a German sniper. Over the next four days, six more men were hit and wounded by snipers and five by shrapnel, one of whom subsequently died. For many of the citizen soldiers of the 10th RWF, like Maurice Evans, these few days must have provided them with a stark reality of what they had signed up for.

Withdrawn to billets at Eecke for the next few weeks, the battalion was selected to send a detail to Reninghelst to be inspected by the King’s of both Britain and Belgium and the French President on 27 October 1915. But for one man the combined pressures of life at the front and the prospect of an imminent return to the front line must have become too much. On 3 November Colour Sergeant Major Fisher broke up a fracas in which 28 year old Private Charles William Knight “….was firing his rifle indiscriminately inside a billet, and who had already killed a comrade and wounded another” . Found guilty of the murder of 22 year old Private Alfred Edwards of Ruabon, Private Knight was executed by firing squad on 15 November.

The battalion returned to the trenches south of Ypres 21 November 1915 and trench attrition set in once more. A combination of snipers and occasional shelling killed 3 men, wounded 7 and another died of his wounds. That German snipers were active was recorded in the war diary of 27 November: “Two Germans, one of whom had just shot Pte. Owens, were killed by one of our snipers and a sentry respectively”. Nevertheless, the next day Private Thomas Lynch was shot in the head by a sniper and Private Michael Murphy was wounded when shot in the shoulder before the battalion was withdrawn to Dickebusch for rest.

The next tour of the trenches, in the same vicinity as previously, began 4 December. For Maurice, it would be his last time at the front. Unfortunately, the battalion war diary, which up until this point had assiduously recorded casualties, did not note Maurice’s death on 9 December. Whether it was from a sniper or shelling is therefore unclear, but it would most likely have been by one of those causes.

The first news at home of Maurice’s death (whom his parents had not seen for three years since before his emigration) came in a letter from his CO as transcribed below.

“It is with the deepest regret that I have to inform you of the loss of your son, Corporal Maurice Evans. He was killed in action today whilst doing his duty and had a quite painless death at 3 p.m. All his comrades regret his loss very much, and offer you their deepest sympathy. Your son always did his duty well and cheerfully, and I always felt him to be one of my most reliable N.C.O’s. Once more offering you my heartfelt sympathy, believe me to be yours sincerely,
R. A. Adamson,
Capt. O.C., ‘A’ Company”

Although known to have been buried in Hedge Row Trench Cemetery, Ypres, the cemetery suffered very severely from shell fire, and after the Armistice the positions of the individual graves could not be found or reconstructed, thus the precise location of his grave was lost and he is recorded on a special memorial.

Posted in photos WWI

Abergele’s War Memorial at St Michael’s Church

Armistice Day photo of Abergele's War Memorial taken in November 2014 by Sion Jones
Armistice Day photo of Abergele’s War Memorial taken in November 2014 by Sion Jones

Abergele’s War Memorial at St Michael’s Church.

Dyma’r Cofeb yn Abergele i’r hogiau na ddaethant adre o’r rhyfeloedd 1914-1918. Hefyd 1939-1945.

As Wikipedia says: “Armistice Day (which coincides with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, public holidays) is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. While this official date to mark the end of the war reflects the ceasefire on the Western Front, hostilities continued in other regions, especially across the former Russian Empire and in parts of the old Ottoman Empire.”

Posted in WWI

1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: John Owen Gilmore

Private 12847 John Owen Gilmore. 1st Battalion Scots Guards, 2nd (Guards) Brigade, Guards Division. Killed in action, 27 September 1915, Battle of Loos, aged 19. No known grave. Commemorated Panel 8 and 9, Loos Memorial, Loos-en-Gohelle, Pas de Calais, France. Not commemorated in the Abergele district.

Born Abergele 1897 and lived 17, Mount Pleasant, Abergele until at least 1911. The eldest of the six children of Owen and Harriet Gilmore. Enlisted in Liverpool with an address of 269, New Chester Rd., New Ferry, Wirral, Cheshire.

Before enlistment he had worked, from at least the age of 14, as an Iron Ore Miner, like his father. He landed in France as a reinforcement for 1st Scots Guards 12 July 1915. He was reported as missing during the Battle of Loos on 27 September 1915, and with no further evidence to his fate he was presumed to have died on that date several months later. See here for more details of Loos and Abergele.

Posted in WWI

1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: Daniel Owen Lloyd

Sergeant 9444 Daniel Owen Lloyd. 1st Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 22nd Brigade, 7th Division. Killed in action, 25 September 1915, Battle of Loos, aged 30. No known grave. Commemorated Panel 50 to 52, Loos Memorial, Loos-en-Gohelle, Pas de Calais, France. Also commemorated on Abergele War Memorial and Abergele Town Memorial.

Lloyd, Dan O (2)

Son of Henry and Mary Elizabeth Lloyd, of “Rhianws”, 2, Granville Terrace, Abergele. Born Bodfari, enlisted Rhyl, lived Abergele. A professional soldier and formerly of 2nd Battalion, RWF. Promoted from Corporal to Sergeant January 1915. Brother of Griffith Lloyd, also of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. One of 12 children, one of whom had died young. The family had moved from Bodfari to Abergele between 1891 and 1894 and they initially lived at 3, Twll Llwynog Cottages until after 1901, before moving to ‘Rhianws’, Granville Terrace, by 1911.

Dan Lloyd was already serving when the war began, with the rank of Bugler. He was also a member of the 2nd battalion’s band. He was in France very quickly, landing 13 August 1914 with the 2nd Battalion . Dan wrote home regularly. For example, in early October 1914, whilst briefly hospitalised in St. Nazaire with a sickness, he wrote that with a bit of luck he would be home by Christmas, but added, “still, it may last longer than we expect” . He was quite right about the war, but not about being home for Christmas. Instead he was posted to the 1st RWF upon his release from hospital

On 20 December 1914, Dan wrote to his father.

I received your welcome letter about a week ago. That’s the first letter that I’ve had since September. It contained some Capstan cigarettes…I am with Griff’s battalion and in the same company that he used to be. I am glad to say that I am in good health at the time of writing. We are well treated – plenty of food, clothing, smokes etc. There is but one thing more that I would like – and that is some cake. XXX [name removed by censor] told me that you had sent some underclothing. I have not had them; it was probably owing to my being away from the 2nd battalion that the parcel went astray. Well, this is my tenth Christmas away from home, but it cannot be helped, can it? I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Dan and his brother Griff had so narrowly missed serving together. Dan had started the war in the 1st Battalion, but was now in the 2nd, and Griff had started in the 2nd but was now in the 1st. Griff had been shot in the leg near Ypres in October 1914 and, upon his return he had transferred battalions. It was whilst Griff was recovering in hospital that Dan had moved the other way. But in March 1915 a most bizarre thing happened. The two brothers bumped into each other, “in the trenches“, as the pair put it in separate letters home. They had not seen each other in nine years. This would be their last meeting.

Dan was home on leave in July 1915 whilst temporarily serving with the 22nd Brigade’s Trench Mortar Battery, which he remained with until the end of August 1915 when he was promoted to the rank of Company Sergeant Major. A few weeks later he was killed at the Battle of Loos (see here for details of the events of the day).

Some six months after Dan’s death, Corporal Bert Roberts of Abergele, serving with the 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, found himself in the same town as the 1st and 2nd Battalions and got talking to a fellow Corporal who had been in Dan’s platoon at Loos. According to the Corporal, just before the battle Dan had been saying “it will either be a VC or a bullet for me“. [Letter from Bert Roberts, North Wales Weekly News, 13 April 1916]

The Abergele and Pensarn Visitor printed a pen picture of Dan when his death had been officially confirmed, which is worth quoting in full.

A War Office intimation, as well as a letter from his brother, Private Griff Lloyd, reached his home at Rhianws, Grenville Terrace, yesterday morning to the effect that Sergeant Daniel Owen Lloyd, of the 1st Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, had been killed in the recent severe fighting on the Western Front. The deceased had been serving in France since August 1914. He was home on furlough in July last. Sergeant Lloyd had been in the army about ten years, the greater part of which he spent with the 2nd Battalion of his regiment in India. He returned to this country twelve months last Easter. At the beginning of the war he was Lance Corporal, thence he was successively promoted full Corporal, Lance Sergeant, Sergeant, to Company Sergeant Major, which rank he held at the time of his death. Though he had fought right along from the famous retreat from Mons, where the Welshmen were in [the] charge of Colonel Ratcliffe, Tanyfron, who is now serving in Kinmel Park, the deceased escaped without a scratch until he was killed in the great advance on the 25th September.” [Abergele & Pensarn Visitor, 23 October 1915]

In a letter home in November 1915 Griff Lloyd wrote;

Try and keep your heart up. I will try to find poor Dan’s resting place. I have been told that he was buried very honourably after the great battle and had a nice funeral. His battalion was on our right in that terrible battle on the 25th September. It was an awful day, but we gave the enemy something to be going on with, though for three nights afterwards they did their level best to piece our lines. Their repeated attempts, however, were of no avail, for we hurled them back with terrible losses. I was sent out in front to set up wire entanglements, and dead Germans met my gaze in every direction. We collected as many of them as possible and interred the corpses. It was different in Dan’s case, he being killed whilst our men were driving the enemy before them. He was buried at night. I shall certainly endeavour to find his grave when next I am in that part of the line…I would very much like to come home for a few days, but then there are poor fellows out who have not been home during the fifteen months. So I must hold back and give them a chance.” [Abergele & Pensarn Visitor, 6 November 1915]

It is hard to imagine that Griff got much of a chance to look for his brother’s grave. If he did he was unsuccessful, for Dan’s grave was subsequently lost or, if his body was removed for reburial in a concentration cemetery after the war, it had lost any marker to indicate his identity. It is possible that he lies in one of the many unnamed graves in the Loos area, but he will always remain one of the missing.

On the third anniversary of his death in 1918, Dan’s family placed an ‘In Memoriam’ in the Abergele & Pensarn Visitor:

The hardest time is yet to come,
When the heroes all return.
For we’ll miss among the cheering crowd
the son and brother we loved so well.
Sleep on, dear son and brother, in a far off grave,
A grave we may never see;
But as long as life and memory last.
We will remember thee.

Posted in WWI

1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: David Williams

Private 6381 David Williams. 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 19th Brigade, 2nd Division. Killed in action, 25 September 1915, Battle of Loos, aged 33. Plot H. 21., Cambrin Churchyard Extension, Pas de Calais, France. Also commemorated on Abergele War Memorial, Abergele Town Memorial and Towyn War Memorial.

Son of John Williams. Born Towyn, enlisted Wrexham. Lived 5, Manchester Cottages, Towyn. His brother Edward served in the Welsh Guards.

David Williams enlisted into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in Wrexham 15 March 1900, aged 18. By 1914 he had left the army and in civilian life he was a Carter employed by the London & North Western Railway Company. He was recalled 5 August 1914 as a reservist.

He was a shade under 5′ 6″ tall with brown eyes and brown hair. He gave his religious denomination as Church of England and was married to Jane Williams of 3, Sportsman’s Terrace, Afonwen, Flintshire.

He was recalled 5 August 1914 as a reservist. He went overseas 6 October 1914 as a 1st Battalion man and was wounded almost immediately, being shot in the leg and also the head. It was a lucky escape, with the bullet passing through his cap and travelling along his scalp. Whilst in hospital in the UK his sister Martha died suddenly in November 1914. He was briefly home on leave at Christmas 1914 whilst still recovering. Having recovered from his wounding he was posted to 2nd Battalion RWF. Further details of the Battle of Loos, in which he was killed 25 September 1915 can be found here.

He had 4 children. The youngest, also named David, was born just 24 days before his father was killed. He would never see his son. His ‘1914 Star’ Medal was received by his widow in June 1919. By this time, four years after David’s death, she had moved to Woodbine Cottage, Bodfari and was remarried with the surname of Rundle.

Posted in WWI

1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: John (Jack) Edwards

Private 8998 John (Jack) Edwards. 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 19th Brigade, 2nd Division. Killed in action, 25 September 1915, Battle of Loos, aged 31. Plot H. 21., Cambrin Churchyard Extension, Pas de Calais, France. Not commemorated in the Abergele district. Dwygyfylchi War Memorial.

Edwards John 2nd RWF

Known as Jack. Son of Robert Edwards, of Pen Pyra Farm, Sychnant Pass, Dwygyfylchi. Born Penmaenmawr, enlisted Wrexham. Lived (1914) at 20, New Street, Abergele. Awarded the Medaille Militaire by France.

Born in Penmaenbach in 1884, Jack Edwards joined the army from school and served with the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers in India. He left the army in 1912 but remained on the reserve. He was working on the railway extension and widening work at Pensarn for the London & North Western Railway when the First World War began, and was living at 20, New Street, Abergele. As a reservist, he immediately re-joined his old regiment at Wrexham and was posted to France, arriving 13 August 1914 with the 2nd Battalion.
What happened to Jack at Loos is described here.

Jack had earlier distinguished himself in the Battle of the Marne in 1914 and it is worth recounting his exploits. Unfortunately, there is an ‘accepted’ version of what happened and a true one. Both versions follow. The first is based on an article published by historypoints.org. It is, however, almost totally incorrect. Afterwards I offer a more accurate version merely to illustrate how oral testimony and newspaper accounts from the war can be terribly misleading.

Account 1

During the Allied retreat after the Battle of Mons in August 1914, soldiers realised at a roll call that a Lieutenant Thompson, of the Dorset Regiment, was lying wounded in a village which by then was in German hands. Unknown to anyone, Jack Edwards went out into the night and eluded the enemy sentries to reach the village. He eventually found the young officer lying badly injured. Avoiding detection again, Jack carried the officer on his shoulder to British lines. When he re-appeared in the trenches he was given a “hearty ovation”. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Thompson died the next day. A few days later, a senior officer approached Jack, who later recalled that he thought that he was “in for it” and was going to be court martialled for his foray into enemy territory. It came as a “pleasant surprise” when he learned he was to be recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He was one of the first Welsh soldiers to receive this honour in the First World War. The incident also caught a French officer’s attention, and the French Government awarded Jack the Medaille Militaire. His deeds also resulted in him being Mentioned in Dispatches in the London Gazette of 20 October 1914 (though, sadly, mistakenly by the name E. Edwards).

This account is incorrect in several ways. For a start, there is no record of the death of a Lieutenant Thompson of the Dorsetshire Regiment in 1914. In fact, nobody named Thompson from that regiment died in 1914. The local newspaper report also carries a very different version, suggesting that Edwards rescued a higher ranking Officer and no fewer than ten other wounded comrades. However, this story is total nonsense. Quite how the additional claim, that Jack had carried a further ten wounded men to safety, made its way into the account – given that it was totally untrue – is a reminder of how ‘war stories’ can often grow in the telling, especially when placed in the hands of local journalists eager to enhance the glory of local soldiers. As will be seen below, what Jack actually did was heroic enough, without the need for ridiculous embellishment. The additional claim that “he was one of the first Welsh soldiers to receive this honour (the DCM) in the First World War” is also incorrect. He did not receive the DCM. No such award can be found in the London Gazette, there is no reference to it on his Medal Index Card, and it is not recorded in Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-1920. The truth is that Jack Edwards may have been recommended for a DCM, but he was not awarded one. Furthermore, in the correct version below we are offered eyewitness testimony that the DCM was never awarded.

Account 2

Early in the morning of 8 September 1914 the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers began marching along the Crécy-Sameron road towards the River Marne. They came under artillery fire and changed direction towards the hamlet of Signy-Signets near La Ferté-sous-Jouarre. Upon arriving at the river the battalion halted and “within a couple of minutes we came under traversing machine gun fire” [Major Geiger, quoted in ‘The War the Infantry Knew’, J. C. Dunn, 1938, p.53]. A Company were “lying down, firing and being fired at, mostly by machine guns” [Lieutenant Colonel Delmé-Radcliffe, quoted in ‘The War the Infantry Knew’, J. C. Dunn, 1938, p.54].

The following day the battalion were in the same place, facing the river near the Perreuse Chateau. Private Frank Richards of the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers would later describe what happened next.

The street below was full of our men. Some were drumming up – that is, making tea – others wandered about on the scrounge, when suddenly a machine gun opened fire from across the river, sweeping the street. Second Lieutenant Thompson of my battalion was badly wounded and most of the men had taken cover when the gun opened out. Two men named Jackson and Edwards rushed forward, in spite of the machine gun, and carried him to safety, Jackson getting shot through the wrist. The young Lieutenant, who had been shot low down, lived about half an hour. Jackson was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and also the French Medaille Militaire on the recommendation of some French staff-officers who were in the village and happened to be witnesses. Edwards only got the French Medaille Militaire, because his wrists escaped injury. Jackson went home with his wound but came back to France to the First Battalion, and I was told he got killed at Festubert; Edwards was killed at Loos”. [Private Frank Richards, ‘Old Soldiers Never Die’, p.17, annotated edition by H.J. Krijnen and D.E. Langley, 2004 (first published 1933)]

The ‘young Lieutenant’ that Jack Edwards rescued was neither of the Dorset Regiment, nor was he a Colonel, as claimed in the accounts quoted above. He was, in fact, Second Lieutenant James Edward Vibart Collingwood-Thompson of the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Private Richards is incorrect in stating that he lived “about half an hour”, as in fact he died the next day. Another witness, though neglecting to mention Collingwood-Thompson’s rescuers, recounted:

I was sent by the CO with a message to Williams….while we were there German machine gun fire started again. We were scarcely back at the château when young Thomson [sic] was brought in seriously wounded; he had been standing at the corner of the open space calling to Wynne-Edwards” [Major Geiger, quoted in ‘The War the Infantry Knew’, J. C. Dunn, 1938, p.58]

From these accounts, it would appear that Privates F. Jackson and Jack Edwards ran into the open space, under heavy machine gun fire, to rescue their wounded Second Lieutenant. The German machine gunners clearly tried to kill the two men, with Jackson being shot through the wrist in the process. Jack came back unwounded.

He also came out of the experience somewhat unfazed. Back in Abergele there was some excitement at the thought of a local man being honoured, but all that Jack could write about the war in a letter to a friend in Abergele was, “it is a fine life we are having out here. Only the weather makes it a bit uncomfortable at times” [Liverpool Daily Post, 16 December 1914].