The Great War Stories

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Losing Betsy

William and Sera Thomas were married in 1885 and were determined to make a good future for themselves and their family.

They stretched themselves financially by buying Nant Gwynau Farm near the village of Llansawel in Carmarthenshire, Wales and had to work from dawn to dusk to make ends meet. They eventually had six children which increased the workforce but also the number of mouths to be fed.

My father Jack was their third son who could be relied upon to be up in time to help with the milking and still be ready to walk the three miles to the village school, singing as he went. When I was a child he would tell me of the delight of having two eggs for breakfast on his birthday. He would eat his very slowly just to make his siblings jealous! (more…)

Friday, April 29th, 2016

A young soldier’s miraculous survival after being gassed.

ARTHUR DAWSON:  3116 Machine Gunner 12th Middlesex Regiment 10th Army Corps.

Information collated from his personal War Diary July 1915 – November 1915. His personal footnotes and from his son and daughter – my uncle and aunt.

My Grandfather, Arthur Dawson’s story epitomises a young man’s courage and fortune in surviving the horrors of WW1. His unedited war diary exists to provide a description of his experiences:

Arthur was 15 years old when he ran away from an unhappy home life to enlist, having been falsely told that his mother was dead: claiming that he was 19 years of age and that he had received Notice.

Arriving in La Havre aged 16, passing through Rouen, his first destination was a village called Talmas where his Battalion discovered a nunnery where the Germans had murdered all of the nuns.  He was required to do 24 hour guard, with the sound of Artillery fire throughout the night. The soldiers kept themselves well supplied with fruit from deserted orchards. Church services were attended. They engaged in Parades with ‘smart turn out ‘and sports of all kinds and ‘grub’ was ‘absolutely it’. London papers occasionally reached them. They were paid in paper money which they had trouble changing. (more…)

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

The Jones Boys of Garth, Pontardawe, South Wales

In 1924 they later changed their name to their mother’s family name of Penderel.

Dougles Jones the eldest of three brothers from Pontardawe

Dougles Jones the eldest of three brothers from Pontardawe

At the outbreak of war in August 1914, three brothers from Wales volunteered to join the British army. Amazingly, when the war was over, they all returned to their home, decidedly battered and scarred, but alive!

The eldest, Douglas, (1887-1963) unlike his younger brothers, was a committed pacifist, but on 4th September 1914, aged 27, he enlisted and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private, although by the end of the war had been promoted to temporary Sergeant Major. For over three years, Douglas was attached to the London Field Ambulance 56th Division, evacuating wounded and dying soldiers from the battlefields, mainly at Ypres and Paschendale, to casualty field stations. The horses were his particular responsibility as the field ambulances were horse driven. He was ‘mentioned in dispatches’ and awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

Godfrey Jones, later Penderel, from Pontardawe was awarded the Miitary Cross.

Godfrey Jones, later Penderel, from Pontardawe was awarded the Military Cross.

The next brother, Godfrey (1890-1943) joined the Welsh Regiment and fought in the battle of Sulva Bay, Gallipoli in 1915. He was wounded in the battle and hospitalised in London. He then learnt to fly, joined the Royal Flying Corps and in July 1916 was a fully fledged flying officer. He was soon in action but was twice wounded winning the Military Cross and the Italian medal for ‘military valour’. The citation in the London Gazette of March 1917 stated that ‘he received his M.C. in recognition of conspicuous gallantry in action. With a patrol of three scouts he attacked a hostile formation of ten enemy machines. Although wounded, he continued the combat and drove down an enemy machine. Later, although again wounded, he remained with his patrol until the enemy retired.’

Godfrey survived WWI, but remained in the RAF as it was called after the war. His obsession with flying and speed remained, competing in the King’s cup race of 1925 where he was reported to have made the fastest time but came second, owing to the handicap system. Although still in the RAF, he continued to race aeroplanes, cars and motorbikes. He also bob-sleighed for the British team in Moritz!

He was in command of the first flight from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope and was, based at Helopolis. The RAF were an important presence in Egypt, ostensibly to map the desert, but also for strategic military purposes. When in 1932, Godfrey joined the expedition, which successfully found the ‘Lost Oasis of Zerzura’ in the Libyan desert, his experience was invaluable. This expedition was led by Count Almasy, the central character of the 1982 film ‘The English Patient’, based on the Libyan expedition. Godfrey was depicted as Madox.

In WW2, Godfrey Penderel was a test pilot.  He was killed in 1943, whilst on a secret flight in a Hurricane HV895 over Orfordness, Suffolk. He was 52.

Harold Jones of Pontardawe

Harold Jones of Pontardawe

The youngest brother was Harold (1896-1967). In August 1914, declaring his age as 19, when he was still 18, signed up for the 21st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, as a private. Eventually, on November 15th 1915, he went with the brigade to France and in January 1916 was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the newly formed Tank Corps. At the age of twenty, he was commander of a seven man crew and two years later was in the Somme as Captain in the battle of Cambrai where, according to a telegram from the War Office, he was ‘wounded in the head by flying shrapnel’.  Although Harold returned home for a short time, he was back in France when the armistice was signed. He remained in the army until 1922, then returned to Wales.

Ypres in ruins taken by Dougles Jones and Harold Jones (on right in front of his tank).

Ypres in ruins taken by Dougles Jones and Harold Jones (on right in front of his tank).

Godfrey Jones with The Royal Flying Corps c. 1917 and Officers accommodation behind the trenches in the Somme.

Godfrey Jones with The Royal Flying Corps c. 1917 and Officers accommodation behind the trenches in the Somme.

A selection of items relating to the Jones brothers can be viewed at Casgliad y Werin / People’s Collection Wales.

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Pvt. John F. Joyce – 55th United States Infantry

John Francis Joyce, taken in France, 1918

John Francis Joyce, taken in France, 1918

Pvt. John F. Joyce
55th United States Infantry
Company G 103
26th Division

He received a Congressional Medal of Honor in 1919 for his service behind enemy lines.

“My grandfather lost his hearing from shell shock in France during the war in 1917/18 — he was an infantry messenger delivering notes behind enemy lines. He never learned sign language, so we always communicated by writing words in the palm of our hands. He became a sign painter and cartoonist for a living and on the side, trained and raced greyhounds — I still have his twin-collar, dog release/leash and treasure his paint box and brushes to this day.  It would be an honor to work on this project in some capacity in recognition of his sacrifice and for that of many others who never made it home.”

Tom Joyce

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

First allied airmen to be shot down

2nd Lt Vincent WATERFALL and Lt Charles George Gordon BAYLY, 5 Sqn RFC, took off on 22 August 1914 and at around 10:50 the pair was over German marching troops in the Enghien-Soignies area (south-west of Brussels).

Their plane (an Avro 504) was hit by enemy ground fire and crashed by the side of the Ath-Enghien road, both occupants being killed. They were the first allied airmen to be shot down and killed in Belgium. Their grave can be found in the cimetière du sud in Tournai.

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The burnt remains of the aircraft and occupants

For futher reading visit www.westernfrontassociation.com

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Roy (Poppa) Hamilton

Roy (Poppa) Hamilton, aged 17 in 1916

Roy (Poppa) Hamilton, aged 17 in 1916

Poppa, my great grandfather fought in WW1. He was a dairy farmer and enlisted as an infantry man at the age of 17 (declared age of 19) in the Australian 34th Battalion. These fellas travelled on steam ships for a month and a half to England for training before coming over to France to enjoy the terrible winter of 1916-17 and fighting on the Western front including the Ypres sector of Belgium. Luckily for me he survived these years. After the war was over he met Nana (my great grandmother) in England got married and eventually returned to Australia. During the journey home the men and women travelled in different areas of the ship newly married couples included. Upon their return Poppa again took up dairy farming and started a family.

Story submitted by Will Maguire

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Lemuel Thomas Rees – saved by a Bible

Lemuel Thomas Rees
Service number: 12/29573
Rank: Private
Regiment: South Wales Borderers, 6th Battalion.

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Thomas with sister Elizabeth Ann and brother David Griffith Rees

Lemuel Thomas Rees, known to his family as Thomas lived at Cross Inn, Blaenannerch, Cardigan in 1896, the eldest son of John and Sarah, brother of Elizabeth Ann and David Griffith Rees. He volunteered for service at the start of the war but was rejected on medical grounds but in 1917, he was conscripted into the army as a Private in the South Wales Borderers, 6th Battalion.

Thomas served in the trenches in the Battle of Passchendaele, also referred to as the Third Battle of Ypres, where he encountered the full horrors experienced by thousands of his comrades. As a pioneer Battalion, the 6th spent most of their time on the army lines, where they were tasked with repairing and making communication trenches, tramways and roads and building a bridge for tanks over the river Douve. Under the continuous German bombardment and heavy rain, the trenches were in a fearful state, the mud thigh deep in places, making movement impossible. Under these difficult conditions, the working parties were constantly shelled by heavy artillery fire and machine-gunned by aircraft.

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Bible that saved Thomas Rees’ life

It was during these attacks, Thomas took the brunt of the force of an exploding German shell that landed in the trench along side him. As the shrapnel, debris and mud was strewn across the area, he was hit. His life was saved by the small pocket Bible that was presented to him by the Cenarth C. M. Sunday School, which he kept in his breast pocket. He was seriously wounded and spent four months in a field hospital before being sent home on leave.

lemuel-thomas-rees-newspaperDuring this home leave his brother witnessed his nightmares, shouting and bayoneting imaginary German troops as he slept. Whilst at home, a reception concert was held in Cenarth in his honour where he was presented with the usual soldier’s comforts, the gift of the Cenarth Sewing Class and a sum of money collected, amounting to £4. The concert was reported in the local newspaper.

Thomas returned to action in and for the duration of his time in northern France, Thomas wrote letters to his sister Elizabeth, and she responded by writing verses, mostly in Welsh to him. One of the verses reads:

“Er dy fod, fy mrawd anwylaf
Ym mhell o’th gartref annwyl cu
Draw ar feusydd Ffrainc yn ymladd
A’r gelynion creulon cry’
Nid oes dydd yn mynd heibio
Nac un funud chwaith yn wir
Pan nad ydwyf fi yn cofio
Am fy mrawd mewn estron dir.”

the closest English translation being:

“Even though you are, my beloved brother,
Far away from your loving home
On the battlefields of France
Fighting the mighty, cruel enemy;
Not a day passes by
Nor yet a single moment
When I am not reminded
Of my brother in a foreign land.”

In July 1918, the 6th Battalion were in the Godewaersvelde area struggling unsuccessfully to find accommodation for the troops. Diary records show that on the 14th ‘very little cover available and the men were very wet before shelter could be found’. By the end of  October 1918 numerous soldiers had been evacuated to field ambulances owing to the combination of influenza. Thomas died, aged 23, of bronchial pneumonia and the effects of gas attacks in a hospital in Boulogne on 13th November 1918, just two days after the peace treaty had been signed. Thomas’ belongings, including the Bible that saved his life were returned to the family after he was buried in Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France.

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Thomas Rees’ memorial card