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, 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.