The Dragon’s Voice
Hello. In this edition, we have articles by Keith on the Bodelwyydan practice trenches, the Gwersyllt headstone, and an account of Welsh memorials both far-flung and closer to home. 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.
The Programme for 2016
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 (March)
Paul Knight talked to us about the Liverpool territorials in the Great War, and ultimately more general information about the “Territorial Force”, as it was known at the time. It and the Officer Training Corps were the reserves for the army. In 1920, the territorials became the Territorial Army and in 2014 it became the Army Reserve.
The King’s Liverpool Regiment was organised as the 1st and 2nd battalions being the regular service battalions, the 3rd btn was the special reserve where individual replacements for the 1st and 2nd btns were sourced and the 4th btn was the extra reserve. The Territorial Force was the 5th to 10th btns, and the “pals” btns were the 11th to 20th btns. The territorial battalions were expanded in 1914, so that the 1/5th btn was the overseas service battalion, 2/5th was the home defence battalion and the 3/5th battalion was the home service depot battalion. So, now you know the reason for the “funny” battalion numbers!
Paul is an Army Reserve major and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a book on the Mesopotamia campaign in WWI (which of course is the same place). He also came up with the fascinating piece of information that John Buchan’s book “Greenmantle” has the only surviving account of the battle of Erzurum, which was between the Ottoman Turks and the Russians. Paul has just finished writing a book on the Liverpool Territorials in the Great War, and we will give it a “plug” when it is published. Part of Paul’s brief in the Army Reserve is to explain the nature of the reserve and he is happy to talk to local groups in order to do so.
Bodelwyddan WW1 Practice Trenches
On Saturday12th March, Fiona, Philip and I spent a wonderful day at Bodelwyddan Castle at a one day seminar entitled “In these soul deadening trenches”. The seminar was to present the results of the work at Bodelwyddan WW1 practice trenches by the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, in collaboration with other researchers.
The seminar was opened by Mr Paul Belford the director of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust. He introduced the speakers to us. He then showed us the displays and the book stall the trust had provided.
The first talk we heard at the seminar was by Mr Martin Brown. Martin is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Member of the Institute of Archaeology. He works as a consultant for the WYG Group. His television work includes Time Team, Ancestors and Finding the Fallen. He co-authored
“Digging up Plugstreet” with Dr Richard Osgood and which was published by Haynes in 2009.
His talk told us the book relates the story of the Australian 3rd infantry division from their training on Salisbury Plan to the battlefield at Plugstreet before the Battle of Messines in June 1917. The book has a number of illustrations of some of the finds Martin and his team found.
He also showed us some of the other WW1 practice trenches in and around the UK where some archaeological work has been done. At RAF Halton, the Royal Air Force apprentice training centre,
the apprentices are building replica WW1 trenches, which gives them a feeling of the past, but also gives them the opportunity for team work and team building, just like the soldiers in WW1.
Our second talk was given by Mr Roger Thomas. Roger works for Historic England. His talk concentrated on the development of the trench systems. He explained how in the Boer War the British Army changed its tactics because of the increase in fire power of the new weapons coming on to the battlefield. The British Army changed its uniform to khaki as a form of camouflage and also started digging shallow trenches for cover from the enemy fire. No more fighting in Red uniforms in squares’ etc. He also explained how Historic England was working with other partners on many WW1 sites in and around England as well as working with CADW in Wales.
Mr Robert Evans gave us the third talk. Rob works for the Gwynnedd Archaeological Trust as a project archaeologist. His talk was based on the field work his team did at the practice trenches on Angelsey. The sites were at Tan-y-Coed farm and Cichle farm near Llancoed. He explained how the trenches where used by the Royal Engineers from the training camp called Kingsbridge. The camp held some eight hundred men of the Royal Engineers. These areas used by the Royal Engineers were interesting, in so much as they used the wooded area and an open field. On the Cichle site, there was some evidence of a mining shaft.
At this point we all had a well-earned lunch break. This gave us a chance to meet our fellow delegates, get our books signed, and try out the cafe. After a quick look around the castle, we returned for the afternoon session.
The afternoon session was started by Mr Jeff Spencer of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust who gave us the fourth talk on the excavations that took place at Bodelwyddan. Mr Jeff Spencer has a BSc (Hons) in archaeology and an MA in Cultural Landscape Management. He showed us some of the aerial photos taken by the RAF in 1946 of the Castle and parkland. The team using these together with ground seeking radar, Jeff's team, were able to come up with a map of the whole area. This map plotted all the trenches and shell holes on the site. This map along with the aerial photos will be incorporated in the report that the team hope will be available by the end of this year.
He then went on to explain how the team decided where to start the excavations of the site. A small area was chosen and the dig commenced. They found a number of artefacts, thirty which were preserved and twenty discarded. Some of the artefacts were on display for us to look at. Jeff told us the extent of the Kinmel camp and of other practice places within the camp which in the future the team hope to explore.
Our fifth and final talk was given by Dr Richard Osgood. Richard is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Member of the Institute of Archaeology. He works for the Ministry of Defence as their head of Archaeology. His television work includes Time Team and Meet the Ancestors. He also co-authored the book “Digging up Plugstreet” with Mr Martin Brown. Richard’s talk was about his last project which was a programme for BBC Wales. The programme follows Richard and his team on some excavations of the area in and around the Mametz wood. In the programme, Richard relates the story of the 38th(Welsh) Divisions attack on Mametz wood on the 7th to the 12th of July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. Part of Richard’s team was soldiers injured in Afghanistan and Iraq so it is their story as well. Richard told us how archaeology is helping these men and women to recover from their injuries, and promotes their future career prospects. Richard then went on to explain how his team found the remains of a German soldier. On display for us were parts of this man's kit - his boot, belt, webbing water bottle and some ammunition. Some of his personal kit was also present - his pipe, spoon, fork, and a pencil.
What little human remains were found were buried with full military honours in the German Military WW1 Cemetery at Fricourt.
Jeff Spencer (above)
German soldier’s kit (left)
At the end of this session we all went and walked the parkland to look at the practice trenches where we were guided by Mr Jeff Spencer. After two hours of walking the trenches, we returned to the castle to bid our farewells.
You can get a copy of: “Scoping report on the Bodelwydden Castle Park Trenches” CPAT Report No1255 by downloading it from Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust web site at www.cpat.org.uk
Also from the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust web page at www.heneb.co.uk you can download report No1248 “First World War Military Sites -Military Landscapes“
“Digging up Plugstreet” by Martin Brown and Richard Osgood. Published by Haynes 2009.
Moss Bomb Tragedy
9th March 1916
In our newsletter of April 2014, we reproduced an article from the Wrexham Advertiser dated May 1916 on a story of four children killed in the Moss, near Wrexham. This terrible accident happened when their father Private John Bagnall s/n 6738 4th bn RWF returned home on leave bringing with him a German shell fuse as a souvenir. On the 9th March 1916 Pte Bagnall was showing this fuse, which he thought was disarmed, to a neighbour, when he dropped it. The fuse exploded, killing four children and injuring three other people including Pte Bagnall who lost a leg.
On the 9th March 2016, a headstone was placed on the grave of the four children at Gwersyllt Holy Trinity Churchyard.
Some background to this story: Mr Robert Webb found this story when he was looking at the newspaper archives in Ruthin in 2012. He brought the article back to the Broughton District History Group. After some research, it was found that they could not find the children's grave.
Headstone on the children’s grave
In the 1990s, an arson attack on Gwersyllt Church took place. Most of the church records were destroyed, including the burial records. All that could be found on the burial records were four badly written notebooks. These were transcribed by Ms Rosalyn White. She together with Mr Philip Coops and Mr Michael Grose undertook some detective work within the church and graveyard and in 2013 they found the children's grave.
It was decided to try and place a headstone on the grave. First, the Group made an appeal to try and find the families concerned and get their permission to place a headstone. The next step was with the church authorities for their permission to do it. After much work and negotiation, with all the interested parties, permission was finally given.
On the 9th of March 2016, one hundred years to the day, a dedication service was held at Gwersyllt Churchyard. This service was well attended. Some forty people came, including members of the families of the children. The service was covered by BBC Wales, BBC Radio, Wrexham Leader and Daily Post. The headstone was paid for by donations received from the families and other individuals. The amount was oversubscribed. The remaining money will go to a children's charity. After so much work having been done by the Broughton District History Group, this was a fitting conclusion.
As a thank you to the Gwersyllt Holy Trinity Church, the Broughton District History Group are doing a Monumental Transcription project in the churchyard to replace some of the records lost in the arson attack.
At Gwersyllt Churchyard there are 14 casualties buried, seven from WW1 and seven from WW2.
Of interest to us, is RSM Alexander Augustus Stewart Thomas of the Grenadier Guards D.O.D 15th March 1915. On his headstone is a memorial to his son Samuel Augustus Stewart Thomas s/n 3387 of the Oxford Bucks Light Infantry D.O.D 19th July 1916 who is commemorated on the Loos memorial panel 83-85.
Welsh memorials but not necessarily in Wales!
Stuart Hadaway contacted me through the Facebook page for our branch. He has a book out "From Gaza to Jerusalem: the campaigns for Southern Palestine 1917", obviously on the subject of the Palestine campaigns. It deals with the 53rd Divn and the RWF. The following account on some Welsh links is from Stuart. His nain was from Angelsey!
Captain Robert Newton Thomas and 2nd Lieutenant John Wesley Howells of No. 14 Squadron were killed on 23 July 1917, when their BE2e (A1803) was hit by anti-aircraft fire over the south-west corner of Gaza, and crashed into the sea. Their bodies were never recovered, and they are commemorated on the Jerusalem War Memorial, as well as a smaller memorial (now in Beersheba War Cemetery) that was put up by members of No. 1 Squadron AFC and No. 14 Squadron RFC in 1918.
Thomas came from the landed gentry in North Wales. His father, Owen Thomas, was a farmer, councillor, alderman, businessman and (later) MP on the island of Anglesey, and had been heavily involved in the Militia and Volunteer movement in the 1880s and 1890s. He had been commissioned into the Essex Regiment on the outbreak of the Boer War and served in South Africa from 1899 to late 1900, when he returned to Wales to raise and lead the Prince of Wale’s Light Horse in service with the Imperial Yeomanry. When he returned to South Africa, he took his sons with him, and so Robert Thomas first saw action as a bugler, at the age of 12. His youngest brother, who also later joined the RFC, was with him but aged just 8 years old. On the outbreak of the First World War, Owen Thomas again volunteered to help, and this time became a Brigadier General in charge of recruiting and training the Welsh Army Corps, which was later renamed 43rd (Welsh) Division, a position he held throughout the war and for which he was knighted in 1917. Again, he literally enlisted the help of his sons. One of his sons had died aged 16, but the three surviving ones all joined their father, and all three were commissioned into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (RWF).
Robert Thomas served in France as a Captain in the 15th RWF for eleven months, receiving the Croix de Guerre. He transferred to the RFC in 1915, and learned to fly at the Military School, Birmingham, where he passed his RAeC test on a Maurice Farman on 11 May 1916. He later served with Nos. 34 and 12 Squadrons, but returned to the UK by the summer of 1917, as his obituary in Flight magazine on 2 August 1917 records that “he left England only a few weeks ago”. In Egypt, he joined No. 14 Squadron at Deir el Belah, near Khan Yunis on the border with Palestine just south of Gaza. He was flying an artillery spotting sortie from there when he was shot down.
The youngest of the three Thomas brothers, Trevor, had been killed in France in January 1916, but the middle brother had also joined the RFC. Lieutenant Owen Vincent Thomas had trained at the Military School at Farnborough and had received his license on 30 January 1916. He had served in France with No. 32 Squadron and possibly No. 41 Squadron before returning to the UK in June 1917. On 7 August 1917, following the arrival of the news of his brother’s death, a note was appended to his official record stating that he was ‘not to be sent overseas in any circumstances’. Instead, he remained in the UK with No. 39 (Home Defence) Squadron, reaching the rank of Captain and Flight Commander.
On 29 July 1918, Owen Thomas was piloting Bristol F2B B1331 on a night flight near Epping when a parachute flare became stuck in the drop tube and ignited the fuselage. The aircraft dived rapidly towards the ground, hit a hedge and crashed in flames. Both the pilot and his observer, 2nd Lieutenant A. F. Cairns were killed, and Thomas is now buried in St Alban Churchyard, Coopersale, Essex.
All three Thomas brothers are commemorated on a special plaque on Llanfechell War Memorial, outside St Mechell’s Church, near Cemaes on Anglesey. Their father went on to serve in Parliament and be a part of Lord Milner’s Mission to Egypt in 1919-20 to report on conditions there. He died in 1923, and was survived by his widow and a daughter.
Robert Thomas’ observer also had an unusual background. 2nd Lieutenant John Wesley Howells had been born in Tenby in 1887, and had been brought up as a Methodist and trained as a teacher. He became a teacher at a Wesleyan School in Seacombe, and had become a Minister at the Wesleyan Manchester Mission. In May 1915 he had given up his good work and joined the army, being commissioned into the 7th Lancashire Fusiliers in August. He served with them at Gallipoli, and been withdrawn to Egypt afterwards. According to de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, he then served in Mesopotamia as well, although no unit is recorded. He then volunteered for the RFC and trained in Egypt, before joining No. 14 Squadron, where he was known as ‘the reverend’.
The de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour quotes a letter written by a ‘brother officer’:
It struck us as strange that a clergyman should be in a fighting unit, particularly one of such scholarly attainments. But the fact that he had chosen and taken the path of exceeding danger increased our respect tremendously, and made us realize how burning the conviction was that made him lay aside the duties of his office for the rough work of the field. He met his death, as he would have wished had he known—doing what he counted the prime duty of British manhood to-day, and in a country which, from his previous knowledge of it and its association with his faith, meant more to him than to most. We grieve at the loss of a good comrade and a plucky soldier.
I should perhaps just add that Stuart has been to what is today Israel to do research for his book.