Hello. Welcome to the December edition. In this edition, we have a North Wales meander from Keith, a short article from Caroline, and the piece de resistance - the fixture list for 2016. As ever, I am grateful for the “day by day” material that Jim Morris produces and which he lets us use for the Facebook page. There will not be a January edition of this newsletter.
The Programme for 2016
January 9th - Beer and Blather at the Albion in Chester
February 6th - Two Men, a Dog and Cannock Chase - The Cannock Chase Project
March 5th - Territorial Force 1908-1919 - Paul Knight
April 2nd - Three Vicars in the Great War - Martin Hornby
May 7th - The Easter Rising - Denis McCarthy & Trevor Adams
June 4th - Lionel Rees VC - Alistair Williams
July 2nd - General Sir Horace Smith Dorrien - Arthur Aston
August 6th - Lesser Known Heroes of WW1 - Andy Johnson
September 3rd - Profiles of the Great War, Silhouettes of Captain Oakley - Jerry Rendell
October 1st - Lord Ninian , 6th Welch and the Battle of Loos (Two weeks in the life of a Welsh Battalion on the Western Front - Marietta Crichton- Stuart
November 5th - Mountaineers in the Great War - Anne Pedley
December 3rd - Branch Social
Last month’s speaker
Marietta Crichton-Stuart talked about “Alice in Wonderland and her Lost Boys”. Alice does of course have a connection with Llandudno, in that the little girl on whom the books were supposedly based did in fact holiday there with her family. Her father’s colleague, of course, wrote under the name of Lewis Carroll.
The WWI connection is that the grown-up Alice had three sons who served in WWI, and two of them were killed. Captain Alan Hargeaves is buried at Le Trou CWGC cemetery, and was killed at Aubers Ridge in 1915. Captain Leopold Hargreaves is buried at Guillemont Road and was killed on the Somme. The third son survived the war. Alice never shook off the mantle of Lewis Carroll and even her grave has a plaque associating her with the books.
A North Wales Meander
I started my North Wales meander at the village of Fron-Goch near Bala to look at the WWI prisoner of war camp.
The first German prisoners came to the camp in March 1915. They were held in the old Welsh whisky distillery buildings, later wooden huts where added. After the 1916 Easter Rising, the Germans were removed and approximately 1,800 Irish prisoners were held there.
After David Lloyd George became Prime Minister, he ordered some of the Irish prisoners be put in civilian prisons and many others were released. In 1917, the German prisoners of war returned. On its closure in 1919 it held 2,106 prisoners of war.
What surprised me was the sheer size of the site. There is a plaque in the lay-by on the A4212 (see photo above). Talking to some people in the village, they informed me there were some plans for an event in 2016 (watch this space).
From Fron-Goch we travelled along the A4212 to Trawsfynydd to look at the statue of Hedd Wyn. Hedd Wyn is the bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans who won the “chair” posthumously at the National Eisteddfod in Birkenhead on the 6th September 1917.
Ellis Humphrey Evans was born on the 13th January 1887 to Evan Evans and his wife Mary. He was born in his grandmother’s house Pen-Lan which is still on the main street in Trawsfynydd. After a few days, mother and child moved back to their family farm Yr-Ysgwrn which is situated a couple of miles outside the village. Ellis was the first of 13 children born to the family. He had only elementary education, leaving school at 14.
Ellis was given a book by his father Evan Evans when he was 11 years old on the strict-metre of Welsh Verse. Ellis started to write poetry. He won his first prize at the age of 12 at Ebenezer Chapel Trawsfynydd. His first chair was won at Bala in 1907 when he was 20 years old. He won his second chair at Llanuwchllyn in 1913, and the chair at Pwllheli in the same year. He worked on the farm as
Top photo – OS map showing the camp area in red (and note the railway line)
Bottom photo – aerial photo of the same area, where the camp area is recognisable from the roads and property boundaries
Please see the February newsletter for part two of this article where the map and aerial photo appear.
a shepherd. When the war broke out in 1914, Ellis showed no interest in joining the Army. It was not until the Military Service Bill was passed on the 24th January 1916 which deemed that unmarried men of between 18 and 41 had to enlist. Ellis’ father had tried to get him exempted on the grounds of essential work (farming) but when Ellis’ brother became 18, the father could not argue for two sons to be exempted. The farm, Yr-Ysgwrn, was too small for three workers.
Ellis decided to enlist instead of his brother and did so in January1917 at Blaenau Ffestiniog, in the 15th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was given the service number 61117. He then reported to the regimental depot at Wrexham Barracks. From there, he was transferred to the Royal Welsh Training Depot at Litherland in Liverpool. He did his basic training in three weeks and was then given one week of home leave.
In March 1917, there was a call at Litherland for ploughmen and farm workers. Ellis was chosen and sent home to help with the ploughing. He was there for a number of weeks. At the beginning of June, Ellis was given two week’s leave. This was the last time he saw his home. The war was now calling.
Ellis returned to Litherland and on the 9th June 1917 he and his battalion were sent to France. Preparations were being made for the third battle of Ypres, which we now know as the Battle of Passchendaele (31st July to 10th November 1917).
We can follow Ellis Humphrey Evans into this battle. In the second week of June, Ellis landed at Le Havre. He was transferred to Rouen to the 5th Infantry Base Camp. From there on the 1st July he joined his battalion at Flechin on the border between France and Belgium.
The battalion left Flechin on the 15th July and marched through the village of Steenbecque on the 16th. They then went through the village of Abbey-St-Sixtus on the 19th. They reached the camps known as Dublin Camp and Canal Camp on the 20th.
The war diary states that on the 23rd they were at Dublin Camp and marched to Tugela Farm to dig assembly trenches. On the 29th, they moved from Dublin Camp to Rousell Farm into the assembly trenches ready for the attack. On the 31st July, the attack started.
The bombardment of the German trenches had been going on from the 22nd July. It has been estimated that a quarter of a million shells were fired. Zero hour for the attack on the 31st was 03.50 hours.
The exact circumstances of Ellis death are somewhat confusing. There are reports that he fell in the first attack between 04.30 and 04.45 and that he lay wounded in no man's land for up to three hours before being found and taken back to the dressing station which was situated in the Chateau near Boesinghe. He was declared dead, and was buried in the Chateau grounds. After the war his body, and many more, were concentrated at Artillery Wood Cemetery. His grave reference is plot 11-F-11. I am led to believe that a visitor centre will be built at Yr-Ysgwn in time for the centenary of Ellis’ death in 2017. [Ed. – the Irish poet Francis Ledwidge is also buried in Artillery Wood Cemetery, a few rows away, with the same date of death as Hedd Wynn].
From Trawsfynydd, we travelled to Penrhyndeudraeth. On the site of the Cook's explosives factory which made gun cotton and munitions in WWI, there is now a nature reserve run by the North Wales Wildlife Trust. After a good look around we moved on. Our next stop was Criccieth to look at the houses of David Lloyd George and the story of two brothers who died in WWI.
(To be continued).
The Alexandretta Incident
In August 1914, the Ottoman Empire signed a secret alliance with Germany. Between then and their formal entry into the war in November 1914, Germany provided men and equipment to assist the Ottomans modernise their sea defences in the Dardanelles and Bosphorus to protect Constantinople. Their plans, however, confined the Ottoman Mediterranean fleet to the Dardanelles and left their Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea ports vulnerable. The Russian fleet attacked the Black Sea port of Trabzon and the coal mines in Zonguldak.
The Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, a combined Allied fleet, fired on Izmir with the unintended consequence that the Ottomans sunk 3 British merchant ships at the mouth of the harbour, trapping 6 other merchant ships from United States, Greece, Bulgaria, Netherlands and Germany, till the end of the war. They also tried to disrupt the railway where it came close to the coast near the border between Anatolia and Syria.
The railways were vital for the transportation of troops, equipment and stores from the provinces to the fronts. In the Gulf of Alexandretta, the Baghdad railway ran along the coast. At Adana, it was joined by a branch line from the port of Mersin. The French attacked Mersin, the British attacked Alexandretta.
In December 1914, the British light cruiser HMS Doris arrived in the Gulf of Alexandretta and worked its way along the coast, bombarding the railway line. An ultimatum was sent to the town of Alexandretta demanding that all rail stock and war materiel be surrendered for a British landing party to destroy. Otherwise, the Doris would bombard all port, rail and administrative buildings. The British had therefore fulfilled their obligations by giving fair warning before firing on an unfortified port.
Cemal Pasha, one of the three Young Turk leaders of the Ottoman government, had recently taken up the post of commander in chief in Syria. He had interned many of the British and French subjects in the area. He refused to surrender any rolling stock or equipment and threatened to destroy a British property in Syria for each property damaged in Alexandretta and to shoot a British citizen for each Ottoman killed. Fortunately, the American consular agent, H E Bishop, intervened. Negotiating with Ottoman and German officials in Alexandretta and the commander of the Doris, he worked out a compromise. He was assured that all munitions had already been transported away from the port (he later discovered this was not accurate) and persuaded both sides to accept the destruction of two locomotives. These were blown up in the presence of Mr Bishop, an Ottoman captain, the harbour master and a warrant officer from the Doris, using explosives provided by the British. It can safely be assumed that the British internees in Syria were highly relieved at this outcome.
Reference: The Fall of the Ottomans. Eugene Rogan
On 16th November, 1914, the Nottingham Guardian publicised a fundraising campaign for the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Comforts for the Troops Fund. Readers were asked to give 'one shilling and upwards' to send Christmas parcels to Nottinghamshire troops and POWs to show them that their city and county had not forgotten them.
The Imperial War Museum archive has the letter sent with the first parcel by fund assistant honorary secretary Miss B Whitby. It went to Private Pownall, a POW in Germany:
'I am desired by the Committee to forward you a box containing the following: 2lb plum pudding; 1lb Cad block chocolate; 1 pr woollen mittens; 1 pr laces; 1 tin dubbin; 10 postcards with lead pencils; 1 tin peppermint; 1 tablet soap; 1 packet caramels; 1 tin Boracic ointment; 1 tin Vaseline.
...kindly reply at once. We are anxious to know whether you receive this parcel; if you do, it is our intention to send one box containing the same goods... to every Nottinghamshire prisoner in Germany.'
Private Pownall must have replied appropriately as 5,000 parcels were sent out in less than a fortnight. The fund sent out similar parcels every Christmas of the war and Miss Whitby received many letters and cards of thanks. After the war the commanding officer of the South Notts Hussars depot wrote to thank all the fund members for their efforts.
FT Weekend Magazine, November 28/29, 2015