Geraint welcomed everyone to the meeting with an especially warm welcome to new members ??????, and Brian Lawrence (Mr History of Rhayader) and his colleague David.
Marion explained that she has run into difficulties with the Archives and cannot guarantee that she can prepare something for the next session based on the Bennett family, she agreed to research Castles in the Ithon Valley- she will cover the Bennett Family in next year’s programme. September remains to be rescheduled.
Jennifer gave a short introduction for the October meeting on Family Histories. Jennifer is Secretary to the Family History Society and involved with other groups who are interested in Family History. She also runs a small business where she helps people research their family background. In the session she will give people hints and tips about how to undertake research. She would like members to do some homework before the next session and to contact her by email at least a week before the actual session. Questions that she would undertake to try and research include:
• Family history skeletons
• Why did relatives move away from the area
• Do you have relatives in the USA
• Grandparents – where did they come from
Jennifer cannot guarantee to find information as many mysteries do exist within families. There are some problems researching after 1911 due to data protection issues for Archives. Mary commented that she had some fantastic help and support researching the English side of her family tree.
World War 1 – 1914 to 1918 – Led by Geraint Hughes
Geraint started by saying that this topic is ‘work in progress’ and that there will be continuing references from now until 1918. Much has been written about the period but it is quite difficult to get a sense of the impact on the local community. Neil has unearthed many pictures and Nigel has an autograph book that has postcards of horses, planes, and rural village scenes, and short messages that are quite poignant. e.g.
“When this you see this, remember me. Joe”
Geraint then showed a series of pictures of troops at various stages of the War:
1914 Young innocent faces anticipating battle excitement and then home for Christmas
1915 Army discipline, almost smiling
1916 Worried faces
1917 Harrowed expressions
1918 Sleeping in the trenches, one soldier on look-out
1919 War graves
65 million troops were mobilised, 16 million were killed, 1in 3 were wounded, and 1 in 2 experienced some form of casualty. Losses in the UK were heavy but even Italy lost more young men – and Russia even more.
Marion as a rider to these statistics commented on the very limited medical care available to casualties.
The Situation at home
In the first year of the war the B&R made little mention of the war – it was seen, much as the Syrian war, Afghanistan, etc, today as something that was far away and did not impinge on life at home. The big item at the time were the marches and political fervour connected with the ‘disestablishment of the Church’.
In rural areas it was not until there was a significant impact on the percentage of people available to work on the land that the reality of this war came home to people. Increasingly there were ‘Patriotic Meetings’ that encouraged people to “go to war”. A lecture in the Iron Room in Penybont was reported in 1917. Bill Collard sanctioned ‘free use’ of the Iron Room as part of the patriotic effort.
It was not until 1917 that recruitment became compulsory. It the early years of the war life went on as usual. Radnorshire did not have its own Regiment. In many areas of the country there were Pals Brigades which gave a focus to the recruitment and the fellowship of shared action. This did not happen in Radnorshire. After the Somme when in one battle at Mametz Wood for example Cardiff lost 200 men, recruits were sent to where they were needed rather than to their local Regiment. Indeed there was a political move towards trying to ensure that losses were more spread out and families were often sent in different directions.
Recruitment from this area
Main Regiments where recruits were drawn from:
• The Radnor Rifles had been incorporated into the Herefordshire Regiment
• Brecon has a long military history
• Montgomery Yeomen – (1 million horses were killed on the western front)
• Kings Shropshire Light Infantry
At any one time there were more soldiers in training than on the front-line. Herefordshire was unique in its structure. They would have 1 battalion at the front, 2 training, and 3 at home training. More usually Regiments had 2 battalions at the front, 1 in reserve, and 5 training.
Many men from Radnorshire were taken on as Blacksmiths and grooms as they had skill with horses and horses were so important to the front line and the Welsh Cob was particularly favoured.
The Schoolmaster at Llanbadarn Fawr School volunteered to join up and there is reference to the children turning out to wave him well on his way as he left on his way to Aberystwyth. The Vicar at Knighton surprised his congregation when he volunteered to go to the front.
Marion Jones, who never married, had a picture in her collection of a young man in uniform who was ‘off to the front’.
In the recruitment of 1917 it also included requests for volunteers to work the land and this, for the first time, included women who could undertake ’light duties’.
Pensioners were also asked to help in agriculture.
Conscription led to the formation of Committees of Adjudication leading to intensive debate and controversy. Jennifer told the story of her Great Uncle, James Wilding, who applied for a temporary exemption for his second son, his first son having gone to the front. He felt that he would have to give up his farm if his second son also went to the front. Prior to the war he employed several people to run the farm. Despite these circumstances the Committee ruled he ought to go to the front straight away. His son was wounded at the front and lost an arm and a leg.
Support for the Men at the Front
Increasingly as the population at home became aware of the challenges at the front sending help and support became important. This led to major fund raising activities. The population of Penybont and District sent sand-bags, shirts, mufflers, etc to the front. Cigarettes were sent but were also part of the rations to overcome the ‘dastardly tactics of the Germans’. Territorials were given 250 cigarettes as part of their training.
This gathering support was galvanised by the appearance of men in the area. There was training for the Royal Medical Corps at Highland Moors which had become a military hospital. A lot of the trainees were billeted by local families. There is a report of a party at the Berkeley where the men ‘came out of their shells’ and ‘revealed themselves to the audience’.
The churches were swelled by these ‘incomers’ but there were also complaints about military damage to property.
By 1917 the horrors of the war had become more known and Llanbadarn Church built a ‘war shrine’. A Wooden Cross, which had marked the grave of an unknown soldier is still in the Church today. The congregation sent cards to ‘our boys’. Men who were killed began to be reported in the paper and as many as 6 might be in any edition with as much information as they could get. Freda Thomas made a presentation to Sidney Pugh, who had previously worked in the Shop, but now had a wooden leg. A Comrades of War was started in Penybont in November 1918. The Secretary was Captain J. Jones mentioned earlier as he set out from Llanbadarn School. There are 350 names on the Radnorshire War Memorial in Llandrindod Hospital.
Despite all of this there is comparatively little recorded locally. Both Carad and Llandrindod Museums are looking for material for exhibitions. Many men returning from the front did not want to talk about their experiences, many were traumatised, some were disillusioned on their return. Some even felt cheated. It was often the War Poets who gave vent to their feelings.
Marion told the story of her Grandfather who enlisted at the age of 14 years. He met his father when they both happened to be in Egypt marching in opposite directions. The columns would not stop. He said he joined up young and innocent but returned as a communist. He was completely disillusioned . He, as did all the men, had to make an accord with his life back at home.
Reports from Germany found that their young men had very similar experiences, they volunteered, were often previously unemployed, and suffering from boredom.
Returning soldiers who had experienced combat often found it easier to talk to other soldiers.
Stories told my members
Symbols of the Eastern Front included:
Cigatettes; Alcohol; Horses Feet; Railways; Fleas; Candles; Uniforms inside out; Biscuits; Hit by a rifle butt;
Never wanting beans or corned beef ever again
Richard told the story of Stan Owens of Nantddu Farm and Albert Oakley a neighbour of Stan’s. The story was told to Richard by Idris Oakley of Llandrindod Wells, and confirmed by Bill Bayliss, Stan’s son-in-law.
Both Stan and Albert were on active service for the Battle of the Somme. As the battle ranges there were so many deaths that bodies had to be moved to one side. In the process of this activity Albert noticed some ‘movement’ within the pile of bodies. Albert helped to turn this ‘body’ only to discover it was Stan his friend and neighbour. Stan had been heavily gassed but he did recover albeit he lost the use of one lung and he had been badly burned on his face and arm.
Subsequently, during the 1960s a group of local people, including both Stan and Albert, also Bill Bayliss and Reg Knill, visited the Smithfield Show in London during the ‘smog’ which reduced visibility to only a few feet. Stan’s breathing was badly affected and he had to be taken to Hospital where he was admitted for a lengthy period. Having survived these two trauma’s Stan eventually died at 73 years of age.
Humph told us about the ‘midges, and swinging shirts around to try and get some respite from their unwanted attentions. His great grandfather, on returning home, was stripped naked before he was allowed into the house as he was so filthy.
Brigadier Hercules Evans was due to fight in the Battle of Mametz and would have been slaughtered if he went. He was in fact cashiered as he was over age and sent back to Rhayader and missed the Battle. He did however return to the front at a later date.
Maureen had researched the connection between local horses and the war effort. In 1914 the B&R reported the commandeering of local horses with some of the best young men. The Cobs were particularly sought after as they were very versatile for pulling and riding. This had a significant impact on local farming and horses were bought in from the USA to carry out the work on the land.
Recognition of Service
Geraint has been particularly impressed with the memorial in Llanbister which gives recognition to all of those who served, not just the dead.
“The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth hold the Penralley Papers, which consist of documents relating to Penralley House and its occupants from 1656 to 2005.
The following links will guide you to further information on the families and Penralley House through history:
Powys Digital History
National Library of Wales, Penralley Papers
It was Edward Bennett who gave everyone recognition.
Geraint was then telling the group about the ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ that was given to the families of people who lost their life in service when Ida Davies passed around one that her family received on the death of her Grandfather.
Geraint then took us through each of the people who are mentioned on the War Memorial in Penybont. He has information about the lives on some of the men but for others very little is known.
Thomas Berry was just 19 years old when he died on a Hospital Ship following the battle at Gallipoli. He had worked in Jewels Shop in Middleton Street.
Henry Botwood’s mother received a solid gold medallion from Penybont and District inscribed with “Peace to our brave men”
John Brick, who was again just 19 years when he died is on both the memorials of Penybont and Llanddewi. The family had memorial cards printed in John’s memory.
Benjamin Davies was from the Vron.
Thomas Davies, no known information
Edward Hope died at 21 years and was the groom to the Chaplain Major Williamson.
There was a discussion about how the war started the change in the ‘social order’ as a result of the experiences that men had in the War.
David Lewis died a hero at 34 years. Family were told that he ‘died instantly, this was common practice but was seldom true. The other general term was ‘died of wounds’. This often hid the terrible circumstances faced by wounded soldiers.
George Lucas – No information
John Llewellyn – picture of John was found in the documents belonging to a maid at Llanddewi Hall
Reginald Mills was from BailleyMawr
Ivor Owens was killed during training at Oswestry. He was carried all the way from Penybont to Llandegley with full military honours even though he had not been involved in any action overseas.
There was some discussion about a measles epidemic that occurred about this time and was responsible for deaths to service personnel.
Henry Prince nothing known
Charles Pritchard was known to have been too ill to send a message home.
Giles Sommercott – nothing known
James Tunley – nothing known
Henry Vickery – nothing known
Then there was D.T. Jones who died too late in 1918 to be included on the War Memorial. He died of pneumonia following influenza. He is buried at Llandegley and has a black slate headstone.
Harold Whitfield, who was brought up in the Severn Arms, Penybont, won the V.C. for his bravery when he turned on the enemy to fire his gun, holding them at bay, while his retreating comrades were able to escape.
Changing World Order
The Liberal Government at the end of the war was faced with a much smaller male labour force that meant that ‘cheap’ labour was no longer available. This had a direct impact on the Estate in Penybont which was sold.
New occupations were beginning to emerge that increased the range of occupations open to women – e.g. – typists and telephonists
The devastating effect on the horse population during the war pushed forward the mechanisation of farms.
Many women found themselves unmarried – this was even more profound within the French population. This had an indirect impact on Health Services and the expansion of available healthcare. Nurses returning from the front had become much more skilled in treating and managing wounds, Hospitals had trebled in size to accommodate the wounded, and Nursing Associations had been established.
Pensions were granted for service in the First World War, and relatives were able to claim even if their husbands had died from a war related injury many years after 1918.
Improved transportation developed for the War effort led to a much more mobile society.
Mary told us about Fred Luckton’s uncle, from Sunnybank, who went to war to look after horses. When he returned there were no horses to look after. Society changed dramatically in the 20’s and 30’s. Men who had seen the terrors of war changed their world. It was meant to be the war to end all wars!
The world did become smaller. Men had travelled to far and exotic places, albeit in terrible circumstances, They had fought alongside troops from Australia. The Turkish people had become very close to the Allied Troops – “Your sons have become our sons.” They had witnessed the casualties of war, they recognised that the slaughter was often down to very poor leadership. They were deeply saddened . A poem ended:
“Did for them both with his plan of attack.”
Sadness did not end with the war itself.
At a commemorative meeting help just last night, Brian Lawrence told of the story of a young soldier from Rhayader had been due to start in the mine 4 years ago just before the outbreak of hostilities. He went to the Mine manager on his return in 1918 to ask for his job. The Manager told him to start tomorrow. He was killed in a mining accident 1 week later.
Then there was the even more poignant story of the ship that foundered off Lewis on New Year’s Eve 1918 – 5 to 600 men were killed on their way home! More people than were lost on the Titanic.
The evils of war did hasten many social changes – but at a terrible price.
Martin Williams was unable to attend the meeting but sent an account of ‘conscientious Objectors’ at the time. Penybont has a strong relationship with Quakers who have been at the forefront of this movement. This was not discussed at the meeting but will be included at the beginning of the next meeting in September.
“Actually, there’s very little locally on Conscientious Objectors. Trevor tried to do some work on this, but I’m sure it never really got anywhere, partly through lack of data, but also, I do genuinely think he ran into some pretty active dis-interest in the issue.
The best I can do for you concerns the Friends Ambulance Unit. As you will know, this was a Quaker-related organisation (never formally part of Quaker structures, but set up by and for Quakers) for COs who were not ‘absolutist’ (‘absolutists’ refused to have anything to do with the war in any capacity, and were usually imprisoned) ; other examples included Civil Defence, being policemen etc. (my grandfather, from Rhiwbina near Cardiff, was of this persuasion; he refused military service but was a part-time policeman. He had a bad time in his Church [Wesleyan] because he refused to stand when his Church decided to sing God Save The King every week as part of Sunday services. My mother, who was a schoolgirl at the time, remembered the vehement hostility this aroused with great pain.)
The FAU saw a very great deal of active service, in both World Wars, and quite a few died in non-combative front-line action. There is a FAU Memorial at the National Arboretum (see:
I have in my possession a little volume that purports to include the names and addresses of all those who served in the FAU from 1914-1919. (Hard Copies Available at Thomas Shop)
I’m attaching the two pages that deal with Wales. As you will see, there are ‘locals’, including two Jenkins, of Llwynmelyn, the farm in Penybont owned by John Owen Jenkins , long-time Clerk and Elder at Pales. They are presumably his sons. (He also donated the land and paid for Greenfields, the Quaker chapel in Pen-y-Bont now owned by the Tuffnells). There are also others from Llandrindod, but the names do not mean anything to me, I’m afraid.
So, clearly there were COs around. I had hoped I might research this area myself, but I’m afraid time now prohibits this.
There was another CO organisation associated with French, English and American Quakers, far less well-known, called “Mission Anglo-Americaine del la Societe des Amis”. They were more concentrated on post-war support and reconciliation. I have their book of members also, and whilst there are six from Wales, none are from Mid Wales.
I know one Quaker C.O personally, from around here, who served in the FAU. He is Harold Hughes, who lives at Abbey-Cwmhir. He attends Pales Meeting – he’ll be here on Sunday, I imagine. He loves to talk about his service (although he is now very old, and rather deaf – his service was Second World War, of course), so do pop up on Sunday if you want to catch him.
Well, I don’t suppose it’s cheered you up much, it’s hardly ‘stories’ – but at least we know there were some (surely very brave) souls around who saw things in a different light.
In friendship, Martin”
The next Meeting will be on 1st September at the Thomas Shop at 10.30 a.m. Hope to see you then. Hope you all have a peacefull summer. Rosemary Hughes has kindly offered to lead on ‘History of Medicine in Penybont area’.