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, May 14, 2019

Ray Milland

A Report on the May Meeting of Resolfen History Society

Ray Milland

Former headmaster and BBC Wales Pop Historian, Phil Davies has been a speaker at the meetings of the History Society for several years, and this year he took, Neath film star, Ray Milland as his focus.

He began by describing a visit to cocktail bar in the town of Ray Milland’s birth and was surprised to see that there were twelve cocktails on offer named after famous film stars, of whom only two had Oscars. Notably absent from the list was a drink named after a film star, born in the Cimla who actually DID possess one.  He noted that there was no plaque to him, no recognition in the Gwyn Hall or Civic Centre and even the Milland from which he took his stage name is a natural feature. Much of the details of Milland’s life actually came from his autobiography “Wide Eyed in Babylon”, a well written if a little embellished version of his life.

Reginald Truscott- Jones, was born on January 3rd 1907 in Neath. He spoke Welsh as a boy but was also of Spanish descent. His father was a former British  Army officer who had served in the Second Hussars which relieved the siege of Mafeking in the Boer War. His mother was described as a typical well to do housewife of the period, who would like to “twitch the curtains”, in curiosity. Following their separation, the young Ray, was brought up on a farm in the Cimla with his aunt. Here he became a good horse rider, which alongside his impressive 6 foot, two inches of height and good looks gave him a lot of the skills he would use in his later career. He attended the Gnoll School and came under the influence of Gomer Jenkins the famous headmaster of that school whom he described as his muse.

Later,Ray, went to a private school in Cardiff, and then became a clerk in the steel business. He then decided to join the army and enlisted in the Household Cavalry for some three and a half years, an experience which helped him with another range of skills regarding an acting career since he had already developed an interest in pantomime and general perfoming. On leaving the Army, he remained in London and mixed with the thespian community. He met Estelle Brodie an American actress who encouraged him to find an agent. This led to a small part in the silent movie “The Informer”, in which a fortuitous injury to an Austrian Marksman, gave him the chance to usurp the part by showing his prowess with the rifle. Since he then had to apply for an equity card, a stage name was devised with Reginald becoming Ray, and Truscott-Jones replaced by Milland. A later appearance as a fireman, in “The Flying Scotsman”, in 1949, brought him to the attention of MGM studios and he was offered a contract in Hollywood with the option of an extension.

Even though his first foray in to the American film industry did not prove very successful, he did at least meet his wife Mel, a marriage which lasted all his life. In 1932 , Ray Milland returned to London, but owing to the advantageous exchange rate of the pound  to the dollar was able to purchase a return ticket for Los Angeles and this time was signed by Paramount studios. His first film was “Bolero”, where he starred alongside Dorothy Lamour. He specialised in action roles such as aviators (he was a pilot) cowboys and playboys. In those days, a film was completed in a few weeks and there was a multiple turnover of roles. However, in one scene, a saddle broke and gave him a serious injury. Banned from flying for a while, he took up joinery and then managed to give himself a hand injury with a buzz saw!!! This made him unfit for military service during the second world war,though he did serve (unlike the more famous John Wayne) by training American pilots for the US Army ( which has its own air force, Ed)and by both visiting the troops and general fund raising for the war effort.  His film career, now became playing smooth, suave, characters in a vein similar to Cary Grant.

Mr Davies then turned to his film career. Ray Milland had a part in 165 movies over 40 years and also produced 6 films himself. Perhaps his most famous film is “The Long Weekend”, in 1945, produced by Billy Wilder. In the film, Milland played an alcoholic alongside Jayne Weyman and several scenes of this powerful film were shown to the audience. This most decorated of movies also gave an Academy Award to Ray Milland. He went on to take parts in “Dial M for Murder” (1954), “Love Story” (1970). He also had parts in TV series such as Hart to Hart and cameo roles in more modern science fiction movies such as “Battlestar Galactica”.

Mr Davies concluded his memorable talk by reading passages from Ray Milland’s autobiography. He returned to Neath in the 1970s and though the book was obviously written for an American audience, Milland is still very much a Welshman and proud of his Welsh heritage and he could quite easily become a Neath boy once again without much effort. For a man who starred alongside George Raft, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich it is incredible that his memory is not better kept in his home town. Ray Milland died in 1986, of cancer, and his ashes were scattered the next day in the Pacific off the coast of California.

Update: The Editor has spoken to Anita Morgan, and she recalls meeting Ray Milland while working for the BBC and covering both Milland's return to Neath and his visit to the Castle Hotel. She recalls a very courteous and approachable man. 

Mr Trefor Jones , thanked Phil Davies for a most enjoyable evening and hoped that he would return next year.

The History Society will now take a short break over the summer, though there will be an annual trip on June 15th to the Royal Mint if anyone is interested. It will reconvene on the second Monday in September at the Church Hall, with a new and varied programme of talks. Please join us then.

Monday, April 29, 2019

May Meeting: Ray Milland

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Coombe Tennant - what a story!!

The Remarkable tale of the Coombe Tennants of Cadoxton

Before commencing on the report it is only fair to note that the meeting began in sombre mood following the death of Society President and founder Phylip Jones. In the absence of Chairman Gwyn Thomas, the Society’s Secretary Trefor Jones, after a minute’s silence, gave a short address regarding Phylip’s contribution to the study of history in the village. A fuller article on his role within the History Society will appear in a future post.

This month’s speaker was Mr Bernard Lewis of Cimla, a local historian who has written several books on an eclectic variety of topics including Neath Rugby Club and the workhouses of Swansea. His topic, the Coombe Tennants of Cadoxton Lodge revealed a remarkable tale of mysticism and valour, summed up in the title of the talk “From Cadoxton to Carnage”. In particular, Mr Lewis focussed on the fortunes of the sons of Charles and Winifred Tennant, Christopher and Henry. 

Mr Lewis began by explaining how the Tennant family came to the Neath area, when in 1817 George Tennant a Lawyer, bought what was then a redundant canal and extended it to Swansea at Port Tennant where a fortune was made in exporting the industrial goods of the area. The Tennant Canal remains in the possession of the Tennant family and still supplies water to a local tissue works. In 1895, Charles Tennant (notice the name Coombe did not appear until the year1929) married Winfred Margaret Pearce Serocold a well-connected local woman, JP and friend of David Lloyd George the future prime minister.

In 1897 their first son, Christopher was born and at aged nine he was sent to a preparatory school near Winchester. It appears that Christopher was a very sensitive child and he was badly bullied and very homesick. His academic prowess was mixed and he missed out narrowly on a place at Cambridge. His parents bought him a commission in the Welsh Guards (he was a tall man) however, before he could take up that post he had to attend Sandhurst in 1916. In 1917, he went to the Tadworth Army Camp where he drilled troops and acted as the paymaster. Following a visit home, he was sent to the Western Front. His mother, a noted spiritualist, was convinced that she was able to contact the deceased and that the human spirit survived death. She convinced her son that whatever happened in the War they would remain in in contact. In fact Winifred spent over thirty years of her life in disguise as her alter ego under a pseudonym, Mrs Willett.
Cadoxton Lodge now Stanley Place.

Christopher Tennant
He was posted to Belgium, and fought in the most deplorable conditions. He was not devoid of initiative and once on the orders of his superior had to inspect the forward positions twice in one night thus crossing “no man’s land” and returning twice! His luck however was about to run out since in September 1917 he was killed by a stray shell, ironically while crossing the duck boards on his way to some leave in Paris , at only nineteen years of age. Back at Cadoxton Lodge (now the housing estate Stanley Place) his distraught mother tried to contact her son via spiritual “automatic writing”. Memorials were place to him in several places including Ypres and at a restored church near the spot of his demise in Flanders.
Mrs Willett???

Mr Lewis now turned to the life of the far more charismatic Henry Coombe Tennant, the story also takes a more bizarre twist compared to that of his sibling. Firstly, Charles was not the natural father of Henry, who was born in April 1913. Winfred hosted the luminaries of the day at Cadoxton including H M Stanley, Lloyd George and Gerald Balfour (brother of former Prime Minister A J Balfour). Gerald was indeed henry’s natural father and had been “instructed”, by the spirits to perform the deed in order to spawn a “New Messiah”. It appears that Charles who was very hard of hearing was present in the house at the time! The secret was not discovered by Henry until 1941.

Henry proved a very precocious child and even described himself as “the wise one”. Following Eton, where he taught himself Chinese, at Cambridge he studied under Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Maynard Keynes. He also went on a tour of China in the 1930s, a very dangerous place, in the company of renowned polymath journalist and diplomat/spy Gareth Jones. Jones was himself a very interesting character who had exposed the great famine in Russia much to the wrath of Stalin, and also met Hitler. He was later killed by bandits in China.

After graduating with a double first from Cambridge, Henry could have chosen any career he wished, including that of a professional pianist. However, perhaps in deference to his late brother followed him into the Welsh Guards and served at Gibraltar. In May 1940, the Welsh Guards, in a crumbling Europe were posted to the Netherlands in order to hold the road between the Hague and the Hook before the blitzkrieg of Hitler. In doing so, they rescued the  Royal  Dutch gold. Later, the Guards were sent as the rear-guard at Boulogne to fight to the end to stop the Germans reaching the main British force at Dunkirk. On the 25th of May, Henry was captured by the Germans and sent to an Officers POW camp at Warburg. He then played a notable part in a break out from the prison when, 50 prisoners scaled the wire following the fusing of the camp’s lights and escaped into the darkness in teams of three in August 1942. Remarkably, Henry was only one of three who managed to make their way back to Gibraltar and home via an underground network of resistance fighters. Remarkably, the driver who met Henry Coombe Tennant to drive him was none other than a certain Princess Elizabeth, where he was entertained at Sandringham.

Henry on the run!

This was not the end of Henry’s military service, since he volunteered for the SOE (fore runner of today’s SAS) commando and became a member of an elite within an elite – the Jedburgh team. In 1944, in extreme weather he parachuted into the Ardennes in order to link with the resistance. This proved to be less successful, though there were several skirmishes with the Germans. He later re-joined Hnthe Welsh Guards and was involved in an attempted attack at Colditz. Following the war, he was posted to Palestine, helped in the formation of NATO and went to the Hague. He later joined MI6 where he worked with the traitor Kim Philby and ended his work with a deployment to Baghdad.

Remarkably, after such a full action packed life, Henry underwent a religious conversion and reverted to researching the spiritualism of his now dead mother. He finished his life as a monk, dying in 1989  - what a life!!

Mr Trefor Jones, thanked Mr Lewis for a very memorable talk which had indeed been a mystery to him until the meeting.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Mr Phylip Jones wedi huno/ The passing of Phylip Jones

Phylip yn ei sedd arferol yn y blaen/ Phylip in his usual seat in the front.

Tristwch o'r mwyaf yw cyhoeddi bod ein Llywydd a sylfaenydd y Gymdeithas Hanes , Mr Phylip Jones ,wedi marw heno yn ei gartref wedi tostrwydd hir . Pob cydymdeimlad i Ann a'r teulu.

It is with great sadness to announce that the news arrived tonight of the passing of our President and founder of the Society, Mr Phylip Jones. Our deepest sympathies are extended to Ann and the Jones family.
Diweddariad /Update:

Cynhelir yr angladdd yn Capel Jerusalem, Resolfen ar ddydd Sadwrn 6 Ebrill am 11:30.

The funeral will be held in Jerusalem Chapel, Resolven at 11:30 on Saturday April 6th. 

April Meeting

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A Busy Month

A  Report on the March Meeting of Resolven History Society

March has proved a busy month for the History Society thus far. On the 8th, the Society held their annual dinner at the Angel, Pontneddfechan, attended by twenty three members and a good time was had by all. On the following Monday, a good attendance awaited Mr Huw Williams of Dowlais at the Church Hall.

Mr Williams has visited Resolven many times and used to conduct a WEA History group at the Community Centre. Last year, he spoke on the Cynon valley and such was the scope of his talk that he was invited to give a second course, by discussing the culture of Aberdare and district in the 19th century.

He began by revisiting several of the industrial themes which gave rise to the society which spawned the culture. Reference was made to the industrial rivalry with both Merthyr Tudful and later the Rhondda valleys in terms of coal production. Powell Duffryn’s access to the 4’seam had sparked huge production of coal and the spawning of a dual parliamentary seat between Merthyr and Aberdare.

In essence the culture of Aberdare could be focused through the prism of four distinct themes. Firstly the chapel culture of the valley, nicknamed “Sweet Bêr Dâr”, produced meeting places and became the venues for cymanfaoedd canu ( singing festivals) and Eisteddfodau. Some chapels even ran sports teams though this was rather diminished in the revival of 1904. Central to this was the discipline of “adroddiad” ( formal recitation) which was a common feature of Welsh society, where children and adults would learn scripture by rote in order to repeat in chapel ( a tradition familiar to many of those present,Ed). This showed itself in the minister style public speaking style, so evident in the politicians of the period with its clear enunciation.

The second theme was that of the choirs. Aberdare had Male, Feamale and mixed choirs. Most famously was the Côr Mawr led by Caradog which famously sang for Queen Victoria at the Crystal Palace and was so large that the Male Voice Choir that it was counted in hundreds and travelled in its own train to London. The innovation of Curwen’s modulator and the tonic solfa produced a society which could read and perform music and was indicative of the fact that by 1870 the population was more literate and educated. Indeed in 1878, Henry Richard the famous pacifist from Tregaron,( yr Apostol Heddwch ) was elected as MP for Aberdare.

The third theme was that of the growth of the printing industry in Aberdare in the nineteenth century. The valley was the centre for the printing of religious tracts and newspapers in both English and Welsh. “Tarian y Gweithiwr”, a Welsh language newspaper written  for the working man was produced there . The main company performing this work was Stephens and George, a company which still produces programmes for the Welsh Rugby Union. Even though, the area ironically became a hotspot for Rugby League in Wales in the early twentieth century.

The final theme, which is often overlooked today was that the Society operated almost entirely in Welsh. By 1900, Abedare had a population of 14,999. The Society was fueled by Calvinistic Methodism which gave the population a sense of confidence and drive.

Mr Williams finished his highly entertaining talk by musing as to the meaning of the term “popular culture”, but was still no wiser. He stated that the valleys needed a cultural revolution fueled by a renewed sense of community and citizenship.

Following a lengthy question and answer session, Trefor Jones deputisng for Chairman Gwyn Thomas, thanked Mr Williams for his illuminating talk. He stated that in essence, each valley community was similar in tradition, but were also unique in other ways.

Monday, February 25, 2019

March meeting.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Lost images of the Second World War

Mr Powell writes: Rare 1945 photos are found -
These photos are well worth your time to see - and read the history, helping those of you too young to remember the times to understand so much of what the world endured during WWII.
Rare World War II photographs

Aerial view of Hiroshima, Japan, one year after the atomic bomb blast shows some small amount of reconstruction amid much ruin on July 20, 1946. The slow pace of rebuilding is attributed to a shortage of building equipment and materials. (AP Photo/Charles P. Gorry) #The Destruction at Hiroshima.
Russian troops at the Brandenberg Gate.Red Army photographer Yevgeny Khaldei (center) in Berlin with Soviet forces, near the Brandenburg Gate in May of 1945. ( #
The Destruction of Hitler's lair the Berchsdesgarden :A P-47 Thunderbolt of the U.S. Army 12th Air Force flies low over the crumbled ruins of what once was Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden, Germany, on May 26, 1945. Small and large bomb craters dot the grounds around the wreckage. (AP Photo) #
                                               A  scene from the Nuremberg Trial:  "interior of the courtroom of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials in 1946 during the Trial of the Major War Criminals, prosecuting 24 government and civilian leaders of Nazi Germany. Visible here is Hermann Goering, former leader of the Luftwaffe, seated in the box at center right, wearing a gray jacket, headphones, and dark glasses. Next to him sits Rudolf Hess, former Deputy Fuhrer of Germany, then Joachim von Ribbentrop, former Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilhelm Keitel, former leader of Germany's Supreme Command (blurry face), and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the highest ranking surviving SS-leader. Goering, von Ribbentrop, Keitel, and Kaltenbrunner were sentenced to death by hanging along with 8 others -- Goering committed suicide the night before the execution. Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment, which he served at Spandau Prison, Berlin, where he died in 1987. (AP Photo/STF) #

Letter from the Americas

 A recent e.mail from former Resolven resident Mr Erich Powell has given the Society some very rare photographs from 1945. These will be posted in due course. Ed.

Dear Mr. Jones,

When I left Resolven for Treforest, one of my fellow students there and a good friend was Billy Lewis of Pontypridd. At the time I went off to India, Billy emigrated to Canada. We kept in touch and when I emigrated to Canada some years later, we met up again and have been in a close friendship ever since. Billy is very active on the internet, usually searching historical information, including the history of South Wales and the coal mining industry which he shares with me. Included in the latest flow of information are "Rare 1945 Photographs". However they do not include events in South Wales, nevertheless are of interest to anyone whose life span includes the Second World War. I am sending these photos on to you as there may be members of the Resolven Historical Society that will remember the time span covered in the photos and which will evoke memories of that period in our history.

Kindest regards,

Eric Powell.