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.

Monday, April 24, 2017

April Meeting


janet John  “The victoria cross”

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  8th  May.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dallas 1963

Former headmaster, Mr Phil Davies is better known as the BBC Wales Pop Historian, yet he would now seem to have reinvented himself as a historian of post war Americana. This year he took the career of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as his topic, universally known as JFK. He described his topic as being one which was shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories, most of which will never be unravelled.

Beginning at the assassination of Kennedy, Mr Davies explained that Texas with its 24 seats in the Electoral College was essential to the 1964 Presidential Campaign of JFK and LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) and a visit to Dallas was needed to shore up the support of the reactionary ‘Whig’ Democrats of the South despite also being a hotbed of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy. Ironically, he had said prophetically “All it takes to kill a president is a high building, an open window and a long range sight”. Even more ironic, was the probability that the last words he heard were those of the wife of a local politician “You can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you”.

Born in New England in 1917,the second son of Irish Roman Catholic immigrants, Joe and Rose Kennedy. The family became deeply involved in both politics and the organised crime of the period. His father, controversially became the American Ambassador to the UK in 1938, being both a presumed supporter of Sinn Fein and with some sympathy for the German cause. JFK attended private school and Harvard, and during that period he sustained a back injury playing American Football, worsened by Addison’s disease, which meant he wore a back brace (ironically this made him a less agile target in Dallas Ed.) though this did not stop his later indulgence in the family trait of philandering. During his studies at Harvard, JFK visited Eastern Europe including Soviet Russia and it is probable that this helped him in later life in his dealings with Kruschev.

Following Pearl Harbour, the USA joined the second world war,and Joe Kennedy was anxious that his sons should serve. JFK’s elder brother was a fighter pilot killed in action, so making him the heir apparent to the Kennedy dynasty. Despite his injury, JFK showed bravery in action as a naval lieutenant in charge of a torpedo boat near the Solomon Islands, and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy Medal. This was later made into a feature film “PT49”.

Following the war, Joe Kennedy retired from active politics but remained a puppet master for his sons’ careers in politics. In the period between 1953 and 60, JFK entered Congress, married the vivacious Jackie Kennedy and had two children. The decade was dominated by the Republicans under both Harry S Truman and Dwight Eisenhower with his infamous future president VP, Richard M. Nixon.  Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, played an important part in making his older brother embrace the nascent civil rights agenda which would later play a part in his election and short presidency. Bobby Kennedy’s role as his brother’s ‘conscience’, seems rather bizarre considering that he spent his early career working for Senator Mc Carthy unearthing “reds”, from under beds.

Despite, being unsuccessfully nominated as Vice President in 1956, JFK gained the Democrat nomination 1960 when he beat popular Hubert Humphrey . The WASP press did not like Kennedy’s Catholicism, however this was allayed by a brilliant speech when he described himself as a democrat who happens to be a catholic. The race for President was very close and it might be described as the first modern election in that Nixon agreed to televised debates with his telegenic opponent. It transpires that listeners on the radio came down on the side of Nixon but those who watched the televised debates saw Nixon as a rather unsavoury character with ‘five o’clock shadow and sweating profusely under the lights, so giving the advantage to JFK. The undercurrent of support from ‘the Mob’, cannot be discounted in the election of Kennedy with the backing of such celebrities as Frank Sinatra.

JFK became President in January 1961 and began his term with the famous “Ask not”, speech. The tenor of his early presidency showed tensions with Russia over the fate of the western enclave around Berlin. Nikita Kruschev, enflamed the situation with a fence in Berlin, which later morphed into the infamous Berlin wall. In his dealings with JFK,the abrasive Kruschev ( after all he had survived the purges of Stalin)judged him to be intelligent though politically weak. This sentiment was echoed by J Edgar Hoover, the formidable Director of the CIA, who had not forgiven Kennedy for withdrawing US air support from the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Castro’s victory had not needed to be a communist one, since the main cause of his concern had been the corrupt mafia inspired American business interests on the island. With Fidel Castro now firmly in the Moscow sphere of influence, spy planes picked out Russian bases on Cuba resulting in the Cuban Rocket Crisis of October 1962. Kennedy showed his steel by making the Russian convoy turn back as against all-out attack, averting a third world war. Historians have discovered however, that it was diplomacy that won the day, in that a “tit for tat”, deal had been done in the removing of NATO missiles targeting the Black Sea ports. However, Cuba was blockade dfor many decades until the glacial tension was partially thawed under the Obama administration.

Despite the relief at the successful resolution of the Cuban crisis, CIA involvement embroiled the USA in Indo China with the sending of military advisers to Vietnam and the fight with the communist insurgents. Kennedy developed a policy of “Mutual Tolerance”, towards Russia and this was followed by a tour of Europe including the famous visit to Berlin (famously incorrectly describing himself as doughnut). Bobby Kennedy was also taking on the Mafia as Attorney General , Civil Rights for the black minority and also equal pay for women were all coming to the fore. Incidentally, Kennedy also made the brave promise that man would walk on the moon by the end of the decade so heralding the space race and the extra funding of NASA.

The multitude of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas will be the subject that Mr Davies will return to finish in the next season of the history society. Suffice to say that the legacy of JFK was sufficient to guarantee a record victory for LBJ in 1964 over Barry Goldwater.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Davies for a memorable talk and looked forward to hearing “part two”, in a year’s time.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

April Meeting



Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  10th  APRIL.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Neath Abbey

Neath Abbey – Ruins not Ruin

Firstly, apologies for being so tardy in delivering this report on the March lecture, sometimes  days should include double the amount of waking hours!!! (Ed)

This was the sixth time that Mr John Richards has spoken to the History Society and the packed hall was evidence that the other five had also gone down well. His topic this time was the well-known local ancient monument - Neath Abbey. Mr Richards was at pains to emphasise that the site include several ruins, as against that of the ancient abbey itself. The Norman lord Richard de Granville had bequeathed the land to site a monastery in 1130. The Normans had a reputation for being a blood thirsty race, yet their code meant that they were forbidden from spilling Christian blood. In order to overcome this encumbrance to conquering other countries, the Normans employed the clever device of penance. Pilgrimages, would atone for past sins, or indeed bequeathing land  to religious orders , the appearance of Norman monks at Neath.

There is some evidence of a pre-Norman Christian presence on the site, however, the Abbey itseld was commenced in 1147. The dozen or so monks hailed from Sauvignac in Normandy, but fairly quickly joined the Cistercian (White Monk) order based at Citeaux. This began a rivalry with another Cistercian Abbey at Margam, which sometimes included fights between the lay brothers of Neath and Margam along the granges of the Neath valley. Three English kings had visited Neath Abbey during its time as a monastery, King John, Richard the First and Henry the Second. Indeed, it is reputed that Henry was captured at Neath Abbey. The Abbey itself fell into ruin in 1539 with the dissolution of the rich monasteries forced by Richard Cromwell in the service of the impecunious Henry VIII.  The monks then disbanded to become the parish priests in local churches.

The Herbert family then bought the site and converted one of the wings into a Tudor style mansion. Mr Richards pointed out the divergent architectural styles of the mediaeval Abbey with its local Pennant sandstone blocks and Sutton stone English style doorways. This contrasted with the Tudor Windows and which had been constructed by the Herberts. Following the demise of the Tudor mansion, the Abbey entered an industrial phase with traces of smelting iron on the walls of some of its interior. It was later to lend its name to the Neath Abbey ironworks.

The last phase of the Abbey was the development of the Abbey as a tourist attraction and archaeological  research in the twentieth century. CADW is currently a major development at the Abbey. Mr Richards made the evident point that the significance of the Neath Abbey site is not appreciated locally and indeed some local people are not really aware of its existence. Mr Richards then gave a detailed illustrated tour of the site to emphasise the history of the Abbey.

Following a lengthy question and answer session, Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Richards for giving the Society a very informative talk.

Saturday, March 04, 2017


The Annual St David's Day dinner took place at the Old White Horse, Pontneddfechan and was a
great success. Some 23 members attended and enjoyed a lovely three course meal. Heads were scratching at the ordeal of the annual quiz, which this year featured the Oscars. The film buffs showed themselves and it resulted in a four way tie on 17 marks out of 24. The prize was generously shared out to all. Many thanks to David and Olwen Woosnam for organizing the event and to the staff of the White Horse for the enjoyable service.

                                                     Julie and Val discuss the Oscars!!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cyfarfod Mis Mawrth/March Meeting

Happy "Dydd Gwyl Dewi",  on Wednesday and remember the Annual St David's Day Dinner on Friday. The bus leaves the square at 6:15 for the White Horse in Pontneddfechan.


Mr John Richards – “ThE HISTORY oF Neath ABBEY”     

Meeting begins at 7:00 pm in the Church hall on MondAY  13th  MARCH 2017.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb !!!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Choirs of Resolven

Mr Hugh Lewis has sent us some fascinating photographs of Resolven Juvenile Choir of 1923 and of Melincwrt Choir in 1928.
Hugh’s uncle, Idris Griffiths lived in Rose Cottages, next to the New Inn ( now stores)  and formed both choirs.

He has also sent us a hyperlink to the Resolven and District News site which includes a "Memories of Resolven", feature. Diolch yn fawr Hugh, we are shaken but not stirred!!

Melincourt Male Choir 1928

The Causes of the Great War

A War of Numbers

This month’s speaker was Mr Huw Williams of Merthyr Tydfil, a lecturer in the adult education part time degree course in History. His lecture was titled “The Causes of the Great War”, yet it became abundantly clear as the lecture progressed that the variety of contributory factors that led towards the first world war was an accident of fate in many ways as against a direct consequence of one factor.

Mr Williams, began his talk by stating that he had been looking at Resolfen’s war memorial prior to the talk and was reminded that this was one of thousands around the UK and Europe and was emblematic of the drastic and lasting memories of what was a totally unrivalled conflict in terms of combatants, machinery, capital, transport and weaponry. He noted some relevant facts regarding the war itself. No conflict in history has been pored over by so many historians, more people were killed (though more were killed in the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1919) than any other war and more soldiers took part. It was the first conflict to be captured on real time photography and revealed the absolute inhumanity of some of the tactics employed such as the use of gas. On a positive note it also spawned some fantastic  art and literature and other cultural output.

Mr Williams then looked at a number of Gobbet’s of the period including a range of contributors which exemplified how people saw the period at the time and how it is interpreted today. Excerpts ranged from those of the fictional Blackadder’s batman Baldrick,

“A bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry”

   to that of the journalist  Jeremy Paxman who wrote disparagingly of today’s political correctness,

“The war was a disaster, but we don’t need the right on prejudices of a generation far removed from what happened”.

It was evident from other quotes that the view of the political establishment varied from the more optimistic view of the volunteers rallying to the Colours on both sides. Foreign Secretary’s lamp-man was euphemistically putting out lights of Europe for a generation, while at the same time soldier’s expected it to not come to much and be over by Christmas.

Private Godfrey Buxton expected to resume his studies at university once the crisis was over,

“We were quite clear that Germany would be defeated by the 7th of October and we would go back to Cambridge (for rowing practice!)”

In similar fashion a German soldier chalked on a troop wagon taking soldiers to the front,

“Auf zum Preiss-schiessen nach Paris/ Off to Paris for a shooting prize!

The brutality of the fighting was portrayed vividly by the War Poets such as Siegfied  Sassoon and Rober t Graves and Wilfred Owen MC, who died five days before the Armistice.

“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning……..”

Mr Williams then turned towards the main theories of the causes of the War. The orthodoxy, that Germany caused it and deserved to be punished by the reparations of Versailles in 1919, was counter balanced by the fact that prior to “the Entente Cordiale”,  with France our Gallic neighbours had been the traditional rival. No one had expected, with the possible exception of the Socialist International and Keir Hardie that a war with Germany was remotely possible before 1912. The esteemed English historian AJP Taylor, added credence to the “cock up”, theory of the commencement of hostilities “ as a war of railway timetabling”, since a mile long munition train had been intercepted met a Serbian train coming the other way.

The Great War could well have been a naval encounter. The European Great Powers had embarked on an arms race surrounding “Dreadnoughts” since 1905. The British Navy held sway over large swathes of the globe, fuelled by Welsh coal and relayed by bunkering stations such as Gibraltar, Aden and the Falklands.  The battle of Jutland in 1916,was the only occasion when this hand was played and it ended in a military draw, with the more severe horrors of the U-boat campaign a greater menace to allied shipping. This in turn brought the USA into the War in 1917, following the sinking of the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland.

It was a war of technology, machine guns. tanks, aircraft, tunnelling/sapping on an epic scale, barbed wire and hundreds of miles of trenches. The casualties were colossal, and the level of mobilisation unprecedented. Britain and its Empire alone had 8.9 million combatants and incurred 1.1 million casualties. Mr Williams also pointed out that some historians refer to a blood spat, in that the three predominant heads of state were all cousins, yet only one head of state’s   position, George V, survived intact. The Russians, as in the second world war incurred the greatest casualties despite the fact that they were only combatants for three years prior to the Bolshevik Revolution.

Mr Williams concluded his talk, by stating that only those born in the twentieth century could now appreciate the feelings of those who had taken part. Combatants were usually sullen and silent regarding the events of 1914 -19 and perhaps could be summed up as a collective if not unique madness of circumstances.

Mr Gwyn Thomas, thanked Mr Williams for a fascinating lecture.