Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

An Echo from the Great War 1914-18

Shot at Dawn
Thus far November has proved an inclement month of heavy rain and gloom despite the fact that according to the Met office we are experiencing “unprecedented warmth”, causing potential blackouts in the electricity supply this week? Nevertheless, the Chairman welcomed a healthy audience to hear Resolfen resident, noted author and commentator, Robert King. Robert this year, in this Week of Remembrance, took the contentious title “Shot at Dawn”, as his topic from the title of his latest book.
The subject of soldiers executed at dawn by a firing squad is a contentious one, and has intrigued Robert since the 1960s. Each of the six soldiers had a target on the heart of the sometimes blindfolded victim, though they knew at least that one of the rifles was not loaded. Under the “The Army Act”, soldiers could be executed for a number of offences during the Great War including insubordination, cowardice and desertion.  Robert stated that pre 1916, the soldiers in the British Army were largely volunteers, pressed into the Army by the lure of the King’s Shilling and the call to arms. Many were very young, and one ‘soldier’, was later found to be only fourteen years of age after his execution. In all, some 3,000 men were charged and some 347 were executed by firing squad during the War. Robert explained that they were literally “shot at dawn”, in order to avoid cluttering the rest of the day’s activities.  All the executions happened at the Western Front and sometimes these involved delivering deserters back to France even if they had succeeded in getting home. Some 15 of those executed were Welshmen.
Disquiet regarding the amount of executions was apparent during the War, and it is worth noting that no Australians were shot and only 44 Germans.  In 1953, one of the first acts of the recently crowned Queen Elizabeth 2nd was to grant the deserters absolution. However, the matter was not resolved until the third term of the Blair government in 2007 when those who had euphemistically “died of their wounds”, would be allowed to be named on war memorials and receive campaign medals posthumously. Despite the fact that some of those executed were convicted of murder, Robert contends that most of the misdemeanours were down to the stress of war. Not least was the liberal use of alcohol prior to the men “going over the top”, and the need to instill unquestioning discipline in the troops.
Robert then took some case studies from Wales. He divulged that originally his book was to be titled “Welshmen Shot at Dawn”, though this had been turned down by the publisher. George Povey from Connah’s Quay had been executed in a false accusation of desertion at the front. William Jones from Glynneath had returned home and was subsequently arrested and later executed in France. The case of Edwin Dyet of Albany Road in Cardiff who was a naval officer, showed the difference in the treatment of officers as against the ranks (only three of those were “shot at dawn”).  It appears that Dyet’s fate was sealed by a personal vendetta of a fellow officer and despite a three month trial still faced the firing squad. His father, a senior naval officer resigned his commission and he subsequently emigrated to Canada never to return, convinced to his dying day that there had been a miscarriage of justice.
The shame of having a relative “shot at dawn”, was felt by the families themselves. Robert related tales of his experiences when researching the book that some families were still reluctant to associate themselves with executed relatives. In the case of a soldier from Neath, his name appears in St Thomas’s Church and a similar name appears on the Gnoll war memorial. It is probable though not certain that this is the same person.
Lichfield War Arboretum
There is now a war memorial statue to those executed during the Great War at Lichfield, with the blindfolded image of a boy soldier a grim reminder of the horrors and injustice of war.

Mr Gwyn Thomas, thanked Mr Robert King for a powerful and detailed talk, which he had recounted entirely from memory.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Toc H

Mr Colin Evans has recently brought to the attention of the editor that there was a branch of Toc H in Resolven until the 1970s. Below is a synopsis of this rather esoterically named Christian organization with its roots in the horrors of the Great War of 1914-18 .

Toc H (TH) is an international Christian movement. The name is an abbreviation for Talbot House, 'Toc' signifying the letter T in the signals spelling alphabet used by the British Army in World War I. A soldiers' rest and recreation centre named Talbot House was founded in December 1915 at Poperinghe, Belgium. It aimed to promote Christianity and was named in memory of Gilbert Talbot, son of Edward Talbot, then Bishop of Winchester, who had been killed at Hooge in July 1915. The founders were Gilbert's elder brother Neville Talbot, then a senior army chaplain, and the Reverend Philip Thomas Byard (Tubby) Clayton. Talbot House was styled as an "Every Man's Club", where all soldiers were welcome, regardless of rank. It was "an alternative for the 'debauched' recreational life of the town".
Talbot House 
In 1920, Clayton founded a Christian youth centre in London, also called Toc H, which developed into an interdenominationalassociation for Christian social service.[2] The original building at Poperinghe has been maintained and redeveloped as amuseum and tourist venue.[1] Branches of Toc H were established in many countries around the world. An Australian branch was formed in Victoria in 1925[3] by the heretical Rev Herbert Hayes.[4] Another was formed in Adelaide the same year.[5]
Toc H members seek to ease the burdens of others through acts of service. They also promote reconciliation and work to bring disparate sections of society together. Branches may organise localised activities such as hospital visits, entertainment for the residents of care homes and organising residential holidays for special groups.
The organisation suffered a progressive decline in membership and closure of branches during the later 20th century. In 2008, continued operation was ensured by dispensing with paid staff. In the 21st century, Toc H trustees have planned for it to become a stronger, voluntary movement still guided by the ethos of the original Talbot House.

Foundation in World War I

At the outbreak of World War I Neville Talbot, a senior Church of England chaplain in the British Army, sought to recruit chaplains who would minister to the battalions on the front lines. One of his recruits was the Reverend Phillip Byard Clayton, who was assigned to the East Kent and Bedfordshire regiments. In 1915 Clayton was sent to France and then on to the town of Poperinge in Belgium.
Sitting a few miles back from the trenches around Ypres (nowadays known by its Flemish name Ieper), Poperinge (or "Pops", as the soldiers called it) was a busy transfer station where troops on their way to and from the battlefields of Flanders were billeted. Clayton, universally known as "Tubby", was instructed by Neville Talbot to set up some sort of rest house for the troops.
Clayton chose the Coevoet house – temporarily vacated by its owner, a wealthy local hop merchant - to use as his base, paying rent of 150 francs a month. The house had received significant damage from shellfire, especially the hop loft and the garden. Repairs were begun in September by the Royal Engineers. It opened on 11 December 1915.
Clayton decided to steer away from the traditional church club and set up an Everyman’s House. It was named Talbot House in honour of Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot (Neville’s brother) who had been killed earlier in the year. Of course, soldiers being soldiers, Talbot House soon became known by its initials TH, and then, in the radio signallers’ parlance of the day as Toc H.
View of the Upper Room at Talbot House
The Upper Room at Talbot House, Poperinge
The focus of religious services and devotions was a chapel created in the attic, known as the "Upper Room". After the war's end, in 1918,
the interior of the Chapel was sent to London, and temporarily displayed in the crypt of All Hallows-by-the-Tower. From the concise guidebook Clayton compiled for its visitors, we learn why precisely these objects had to be taken home, and why they would return to Poperinge in 19
The spirit of friendship fostered at Toc H across social and denominational boundaries inspired Clayton, the Rev. Dick Sheppard andAlexander Paterson to set out in 1920 what became known as the Four points of the Toc H compass:
  • 1. Friendship ("To love widely")
  • 2. Service ("To build bravely")
  • 3. Fairmindedness ("To think fairly")
  • 4. The Kingdom of God ("To witness humbly")
This followed the foundation of a new Toc H House in Kensington in 1919, followed by others in London, Manchester, and Southampton. The Toc H movement continued to grow.
(Taken from a Wikipedia Entry)
Colin is interested into how many memories of Toc H in Resolven still remain - stories, photographs, cuttings etc. It was certainly a product of its time, which also produced the Women's Institute

Monday, October 26, 2015

November meeting

November MEETING
mr Robert King
“Shot at Dawn”.
Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  9th November
Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)
Visitors: £3.
Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October meeting - The Celts in south Wales

The Celts: an enigma?
Mr John Richards has visited the Society several times in the past and this year took the Celts in south Wales as his topic. A large audience was in the Church Hall to hear him speak. In fact.the talk ranged far wider than his initial brief and it was quite obvious that the stereotypical view of the Celtic people was far from clear.

Celtic Motif
Mr Richards began by stating that modern research indicates that there was no Celtic nation or ethnic group as such. They were a people of northern Europe whose influence, culture and language had a distinctive imprint on the continent of some 2,500 years ago, a period known as the iron-age. Wales and the Welsh consider themselves to be Celtic, but in fact few of the tribes inhabiting Britain in the pre Roman period were actually Celtic. The Belgae, came from modern Belgium and the Parisi came from the present  Isle de France region of northern France. However, most of the inhabitants hailed from a pre- Celtic Brythonic or Iberian people which was greatly influenced by Celtic culture and trade, described by Mr Richards as a cultural osmosis.

The name “Celt”, itself is obscure. The Greeks discounted anyone who was not Greek as “Barbarians”, in reference to the strange sound of their tongue,but used the word Keltoi to describe an amalgam of tall, fair haired peoples in northern Europe. The Romans preferred Galli (as in ‘Gallic’ or ‘Pays de Galles’). However, Celt may hail from the word “celu ”, ( still used in modern Welsh meaning ‘hidden’ ). The Greeks referred to the British Isles as “Pretannae”, referring to the “painted people”, and the Romans called the island Britannia. The main reference point to the Celts is primarily linguistic since they did not have a written culture. The centre of Celtic culture in central Europe at Hallein and Hallstadt  refer to 'halen', salt which is evidently obvious to a modern Welsh audience.

Turning to Wales, reference was made to the principal warlike tribe of south Wales, the Silures. When the Romans actually arrived the area which is now known as Wales was largely a war zone, and the fierce Silures fought a largely guerrilla campaign for some twenty five years. Meeting the Romans in pitched battle was a military mistake as “Caradog” or Caratacus found to his well known cost after he helped the resistance of the Silures. The other large tribe of southern Wales the Demetae, (still recognised in the mabinogion's Dyfed)  had a more peaceful relationship with the Romans and this is shown by the distinct lack of Roman military presence, though gold was mined at Dolaucothi in Carmarthenshire. In contrast, south Wales was dotted with Roman forts including one at Neath ( Nidum) a marching camp at Tonna and a signalling station above Resolfen along the Sarn Helen Roman road.

Round House
The talk then turned to the archaeology of the Celts. From the 200 or so hill forts in Wales alone, the round houses, Celtic design, coins  and customs. Since they lacked a lacked a written language our knowledge of how they appeared relies on the biased perception of Roman or Greek historians. From this we know that they did shave but kept a moustache and went naked into battle. Interestingly, the use of woad dye was not just for effect since it also had antiseptic properties and was even an anti-coagulant. The use of torques also referred to the belief of the Celts that to behead your enemy was a sign of power and heads were often kept as trophies preserved in cedar oil. Reference was made to local areas of interest such as the iron-age hoard of Llyn Fawr near Rhigos.

The talk ended with a reference to the end of the Roman period when in 410 AD as the Celtic Brythonic people became the Romano- British. Statues of the period show Roman auxiliaries with Celtic torques indicating how far the assimilation had gone. Indeed the modern Welsh language hails from this period and its roots owe almost as much to Latin as they do to Brythonic. 

Maiden Castle
An artists impression of a Celtic settl

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Richards for a very interesting talk and made comment as to the large number of members who had attended the meeting.
Golden Torque
Llyn Fawr and Cauldron.

The BBC is currently running a series on the Celts, Monday Nights on BBC2 at 9:00.

Monday, September 28, 2015

October Meeting


october MEETING
mr john richards

“The Celts in South Wales”

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  12th october

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)
Visitors: £3.
Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


The AGM was well attended once again this year at the newly refurbished Church Hall. A minute's silence was held to note the sad passing of former Chairman Jim Kent and Maggs Jones the wife of the Secretary.

There was little change in the officers or general committee, with Olwen Woosnam joining the committee as the only revision.

The Treasurer gave a detailed financial breakdown and reported a small profit on the year.

Both the Chairman and the President addressed the meeting in turn. They praised the hard work of the Society's officers and the loyalty of the membership in what was a very successful history society. Mr Phylip Jones spoke warmly of Mr Jim Kent and how he had made a great effort to immerse himself in his adopted community. Mr Gwyn Thomas stated that Maggs Jones had been a support to the Secretary and would be greatly missed.They both noted that the  lectures, trips and outings had all been successful and everyone was looking forward to an equally exciting new season

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Here we go again!!! Cyfarfod Blynyddol/ Annual General Meeting

September MEETING:
Annual general meeting

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY 14th septembeR.
Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)
Visitors: £3.
Croeso cynnes i Bawb