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, December 13, 2011

December Meeting

December Meeting: A Night of Remembrance

The normal pattern of our December meetings in recent years has been a member’s night when some serious history is usually intermixed with some seasonal jollity. However, this year’s meeting proved rather different since it was the culmination of months of correspondence between ourselves and Mr Jonathan Skidmore on the topic of Resolven war memorial. Mr Skidmore, though a native of Bryncoch is now resident in Vienna with a young family where he works for the UN. The committee decided that since he was able to meet us on that particular night a change was needed in the nature of the meeting. Firstly, Mr Skidmore was invited to address the Society and also the meeting was made an "open" one in order to attract the maximum attendance form the locality. It was very pleasing therefore to have a full hall, when the weather had thrown all four seasons in one go on the evening.
Opening of War Memorial November 1925
Mr Skidmore began his talk by taking a general view of Wales in 1914. Recruitment to the army from Wales was traditionally low (2.6% of total), this was largely attributable to the social and economic conditions of the time. Most Welshmen were nonconformists and the army contained no non- Church of England padres, in addition the turbulent nature of the period between 1910-14 including riots and industrial unrest meant that there were socialist suspicions of the army. Many Welshmen were also monoglot Welsh speakers and the parade ground was rather a trying prospect for them. However there was a sea change in the level of recruitment in 1914 mainly attributable to the rhetoric of David Lloyd George who portrayed the fight as one between the “5 foot five nations” and their much bigger foes. Lloyd George appealed to a semi-mythical Celtic past of Welsh bowmen at Crecy and even issued Welsh soldiers with replica medieval swords. Recruitment rocketed and some 273,000 men volunteered representing 13.6% of the total Welsh population. It should be noted that there were no reserved occupations at this stage to stop colliers and steelworkers flooding to the carnage of the Western Front. Welsh regiments proved rather a problem to their officers; the linguistic barrier has already been alluded to, however there was a further problem in that the officers were often their own former managers or over men from work. This led to a great deal of insubordination with the Welsh considered “Bolshie” by their English counterparts
Mr Parsons of Sardis Chapel lays wreath

Mr Skidmore then turned his attention to the Resolven war memorial. He explained that he was researching the memorials at Resolven, Seven Sisters and Neath with a view of producing a volume to coincide with the centenary of the Great War in 2014. He stated that Resolven was a very fertile and enthusiastic recruitment area for the British Army with over 400 villagers enlisted by 1915, not all of which with Welsh regiments of which some 20% were later casualties. He then used Google Earth to show where the casualties had come from in the village with John St., being a particular hot spot.
The memorial at Resolven had been opened by Colonel J.N. Vaughan in 1925 whose own nephew Captain Mark Haggard (nephew of the author Rider Haggard) featuring on the monument. The memorial had opened later than either Neath or Seven Sisters, though the reason for this was financial or otherwise was not clear. One of the wreath bearers at the ceremony was named by the audience as being Mr Parsons, the oldest member of Sardis English Baptist chapel at the time. Individual photos and case studies were also discussed, including the double nationality of the Funnings (Founing) who fought on the French side gaining the Croix de Guerre.
The talk concluded with the various avenues that Mr Skidmore was pursuing regarding gaining information. Photos and newspaper cuttings were an obvious source though the availability was often tortuous, as was the “Burnt Record Series” of soldier’s papers which had been rescued from the bombed Somerset House in 1941. This incomplete record meant that many records were simply lost for ever. The last source of course being that of the collective memory of the host community, which was why he had come to speak to the Society. This was followed by a lengthy question and answer session which lasted well after the formal meeting.
Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Skidmore for a most memorable talk and hoped that he would be successful in completing his study.


Post a Comment

<< Home