Friday, 26 June 2020

New Project - Prosiect Newydd!

Aberystwyth at War: A people's voices in a people's war  1939-1945

At the end of the WWI project Aberystwyth at War 1914-1919: Experience, Impact, Legacy, we applied to the National Heritage Lottery Fund for funding to do a follow up project on Aberystwyth during the Second World War. This application was successful in January this year and the project was due to start in March. 

Then came Covid-19!

Fortunately, the project start was only delayed by a couple of months.  The post of project coordinator/community engagement officer was  advertised in May and interviews held in June, and the project officially started on 22nd June.   

Initially, while lockdown slowly eases, the project will be run remotely with the hopes of physically returning to the Department of History and Welsh History in September. In the meantime, we are actively recruiting volunteers, so if you think you'd like to volunteer with the project, email Kate, project coordinator, on 

Project publicity will be appearing soon, on social media and leaflets around the town, giving full details of the project aims and the events and activities we are planning over the next 21 months.  

This project will be similar to the WWI project but with the addition of orally recording the memories of people who remember the Second World War in Aberystwyth.  If you have any memories, or would like to participate in recording them, please get in touch!

Go to WWII Blog 


Aberystwyth a Rhyfel:  Lleisiau pobl mewn rhyfel pobl 1939-1945 

Ar ddiwedd prosiect Aberystwyth a Rhyfel 1914-1919: Profiad, Effaith, Etifeddiaeth, gwnaethom gais i Gronfa'r Loteri Treftadaeth Genedlaethol am arian i wneud prosiect dilynol ar Aberystwyth yn ystod yr Ail Ryfel Byd. Roedd y cais hwn yn llwyddiannus ym mis Ionawr eleni ac roedd disgwyl i'r prosiect ddechrau ym mis Mawrth. 

Yna daeth Covid-19!

Yn ffodus, dim ond ychydig fisoedd y cafodd y prosiect ei ohirio. Hysbysebwyd swydd cydlynydd y prosiect / swyddog ymgysylltu cymunedol ym mis Mai a chynhaliwyd cyfweliadau ym mis Mehefin, a dechreuodd y prosiect yn swyddogol ar 22 Mehefin.

I ddechrau, tra fod y 'lockdown' yn codi yn araf bach, bydd y prosiect yn cael ei redeg o bell gyda'r gobeithion o ddychwelyd yn gorfforol i'r Adran Hanes a Hanes Cymru ym mis Medi. Yn y cyfamser, rydym wrthi'n recriwtio gwirfoddolwyr, felly os ydych chi'n meddwl yr hoffech chi wirfoddoli gyda'r prosiect, e-bostiwch Kate, gydlynydd y prosiect, ar

Bydd cyhoeddusrwydd am  y prosiect yn ymddangos yn fuan, ar gyfryngau cymdeithasol a thaflenni o amgylch y dref, gan roi manylion llawn o amcanion y prosiect, a'r digwyddiadau a gweithgareddau yr ydym yn eu cynllunio dros yr 21 mis nesaf. 

Bydd y prosiect hwn yn debyg i brosiect WWI ond gydag ychwanegiad o gofnodi atgofion pobl sy'n cofio'r Ail Ryfel Byd yn Aberystwyth. Os oes gennych unrhyw atgofion, neu os hoffech gymryd rhan yn y helpu casglu'r hanes hwn, cysylltwch â ni!

Ewch i Flog WWII

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Aberystwyth at War online digitial map

The digital map is one of the most innovative of the project legacy outcomes.  Over the course of the project, a succession of volunteers, guided by Sian Nicholas, project lead, have been compiling a database of every Aberystwyth serviceman that we can identify who served in WWI.  This database includes as much information as we have been able to find about the servicemen’s (and servicewomen’s) name, year of birth, Aberystwyth address, pre-war occupation, branch of service, rank, regiment or equivalent, location(s) of service, medals won, whether they lived or died, and if the latter, cause of death and where buried.  

This information has then been used to generate a digital map of both present-day and WWI-era Aberystwyth and surrounding area using ArcGIS software, that pinpoints the home addresses of all those who served and also enables the user to drill down and map such features as branch of service, rank, location of service, and other key details.  To date we have identified over 1200 individual service personnel, and their details are being updated daily.    A publicly accessible updated version will be made available via the website of the Department of History and Welsh History, Aberystwyth University, before the end of 2019 and archived for at least ten years, during which time we are likely to be periodically updating it. 

Everyone who has seen the early versions of the map, from volunteers to students to Penglais schoolchildren, has been hugely impressed by the scope and range of the information presented, the insights it gives into the town and its residents during the war years, the diversity of experiences of those who served, and the sheer impact of WWI on the demographics of the town and surrounding area.  It provides a model of what can be done with relatively simple computer technology to make history visible and alive to communities, and rooted in the very streets they walk down every day.

We would like to acknowledge with thanks the invaluable help of Professor Barry Robinson, of Queen’s University of Charlotte, USA, in introducing the PL to the ArcGIS software and in translating the database into the map itself.

One of our project volunteers, Jack Atherton, 'road tested' the map and this is what he had to say about it:

The Interactive Map is an incredibly useful tool and visual aid for seeing various pieces of information about soldiers in Aberystwyth. The map has seven templates that showcase the surnames, ranks and pre-war street names of the soldiers who fought in World War One. It also includes a population heat-map and places of interest as well as a list of all the contributors towards the map. All of these can be accessed via the tabs at the top of the page with the user’s cursor. A key of the information that is being displayed will always be on the right-hand side of the map. Below is a breakdown of the different pieces of data available, how they are displayed to the user, and why this data is important. 

The Home page, above, is the default page for the map and shows a World War One photograph, ie, the billeting of soldiers i the town. . On the map itself are around a thousand pins, each pin represents an individual from Aberystwyth who served in the military. If a pin is selected a list of basic information for the individual will be shown such as the one below. This is useful for seeing basic information quickly about an individual and includes fields such as names, date of birth, rank and pre-war street name. 

If the next tab on the right is selected the page outlines multiple spots of various colours that denote a particular surname; unsurprisingly, many people in Aberystwyth shared the same surname, in this case, Jones, which is indicated in red and very widespread throughout the town. 

The next tab indicates the rank of the military personnel from Aberystwyth. This is useful as it shows what kind of soldier the military were recruiting from Aberystwyth, such as more privates, sergeants or high-ranking captains. The map shows there were a lot of privates and drivers recruited from Aberystwyth, but there was still a reasonable number of captains brought into the military as well.

The heat-map tab, below, can also be useful, as this shows what areas of Aberystwyth contributed the most manpower to the war effort. The map will become more useful if compared to other towns with heat-maps in Wales, as we would be able to see where the hotspot areas of recruitment were in the entirety of Wales. The heat-map provides a sense of scale as to how greatly Aberystwyth was affected by the war.

Being able to see where each of the individuals served is also very important as we can see trends as to where Aberystwyth soldiers went collectively. The more data on the locations of soldiers the more interesting and accurate the trends are. From the data we have collected, we found that France was a location that multiple people from Aberystwyth went to in the war, and that there were multiple individuals who went to Egypt.

A colour-coding template for street names highlights which streets were affected most by recruitment and tells us where a lot of young men were living. Northgate Street and Greenfield Street were both highly populated as seen below:

The final tab of the Interactive Map pinpoint locations of interest, such as World War One Memorials. This is useful if the user wants to visit Aberystwyth and see the memorials for themselves or to just get some data. Like with the details of soldiers, the pins can be selected and expanded to give information and directions.  Finally, a list of the contributors towards the map and its data are shown in the tab named, ‘List of Contributors’ on the right side.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Broken Families: A Legacy of War

An Aberystwyth Soldier Family

From the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 13th July 1917 
There can be no doubt of the devastating social impact that the Great War had on Aberystwyth, and its surrounding area. Some came through the war miraculously unscathed, with one nearby village (Llanfihangel y Creuddyn) seeing all its men who served in World War One – and World War Two! – return home safely. But this extraordinary case was a unique one. Most families lost sons, brothers and husbands to this ‘Great War,’ the effects of which would ripple through generations to come. For instance, whilst searching through war service records and censuses, I discovered that one young woman (Mary Elizabeth Stephens, living at Spring Gardens) tragically lost both her husband and two sons during the war, taking away both her marriage and motherhood. 

Today however, I am focusing on the remarkable story of one family living in 17, Mill Street, who had four of its men serve in the war. Using an array of records and archived material, I have been able to piece together the story of this remarkable family.

Before the Great War

Our story begins in late 1874, when Emma Smith marries Samuel Bluck. Though the couple were living in Aberystwyth at this time, they were both born in Shropshire and it is therefore possible they met in their hometown before relocating to Aberystwyth. It seems they were a rather ordinary couple; they both operated as innkeepers, with censuses indicating they first ran the Prince of Wales Inn, and then later the Cross Foxes. They had six children together: Frances Louisa (1876), Samuel Dick (1880), Harry (1883), Samuel (1885) and Anne (1888). Tragically, their first son, Samuel Dick, died in early 1885, aged four. The high infant mortality rate associated with the Victorian era meant that losing a child was unfortunately not uncommon. It is likely that Emma was widowed in 1893, though the death record of her husband does contain some small discrepancies. It seems Emma never remarried; instead, she single-handedly raised her five children and ran a thriving community pub in Aberystwyth – a feat which indicates her strong will. The children did, of course, assist with the inn as they grew up, with both Samuel and Harry Bluck registered as barmen in the 1911 census. Even when they were just toddlers, Samuel and Harry were registered as innkeepers in their baptism records! 

The Mill Inn, George Street (formerly the Cross Foxes)

Emma’s eldest daughter, Emma Jr. married John Humphreys in late 1896 and had four children: Edward George (1897), John Llewellyn (1900), Harry Leslie (1904) and Glyn Samuel (1907). Her two eldest sons served during the war, both fortunately surviving.  Frances Louisa, Emma’s other daughter, married Frank Otterburne in 1907, and had at least two children before moving to Herne Bay (Kent) by 1911. This explains why she is not in the 1911 Census, and there are no further documents linking her to Aberystwyth.

From Aberstwyth to Australia

Emma’s eldest surviving son, Harry Bluck, led an extraordinary life. His school records state he was born in Borth (July 1883) and that he was able to speak English and Welsh. It is interesting to observe that whilst the three older children (Samuel, Harry and Emma) were all bilingual, the youngest daughter, Anne, and four grandchildren were not. This is possibly a reflection of the decline of the Welsh language, as education became increasingly anglicized.

It seems that Harry chose to emigrate to Australia in 1913. His emigration papers state he embarked on this long journey on 12th September 1913, abroad the ‘Otranto’, when he was 29. There is some ambiguity here, as there are records confirming Harry married a ‘Margaret Jones’ in 1908, a marital status which is confirmed by the 1911 census. Harry Bluck and his wife, Margaret, had a daughter (Catherine Gwenllian), who was born and died in the summer of 1908. It appears they separated shortly after this, with the 1911 census showing Harry living at his family home in Mill Street, and Margaret living with her brother in Great Darkgate Street.

On 27th February 1916, Bluck enlisted as a corporal in the 4th Field Artillery Brigade in the Australian Imperial Force. By 1922, Harry had remarried, and was living with his new wife, Alice, in Perth, Western Australia.

Samuel Bluck (102692)

Up until 1911, Samuel appears to have helped his mother run the Cross Foxes, before later becoming a railway clerk. Bluck enlisted in the army in December 1915 and was first posted out to France in June of 1916. He is listed as a Private/Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was posted out to France several times throughout 1916 and 1917. On 28 October 1916, Bluck is recorded as having sprained his ankle in the field and was invalided back to England to recuperate. This is where his fortune ends however. According to his Active Service Casualty Form, Samuel was posted to France on 13th June 1917, and was tragically killed in action on 25th June 1917, by a shell splinter. He is buried in Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, Belgium. 

Photo from West Wales War Memorial Project 

Samuel’s death is recorded in the Cambrian News, an article which gives us a small insight into the emotional devastation that war wrought. According to this report, Emma Bluck received a letter from her son, Samuel, on the morning of Monday 2nd July, detailing that he was well and safe. That very same afternoon, a letter was received from the Major of his regiment, informing her of Sam’s death. In this, he is described as a hero; apparently, ‘Some men were wounded by shell fire and he rushed off with other men to their rescue’, during which he was fatally hit by a shell splinter. It is difficult to imagine the sheer pain that Emma must have felt through that day. 

To feel such relief and joy at hearing from her son the very same morning of the day she receives news of his death is more tragic than we can comprehend. Though we cannot find the death record for Emma Bluck, it is possible that she died shortly after receiving news of her son’s death, for on his Army Service Records, she has been crossed out as his Next of Kin, and the details of his sister, Emma, have been inserted above. In a letter dated April 19th, 1921, Emma Humphreys names herself as Next of Kin, in order to receive his memorial plaque. 

Edward George Humphreys

Samuel’s nephew, Edward George, was born in Aberystwyth on 14th January 1897, and in the 1911 Census, is listed as a hotel proprietor – perhaps helping to run the family business. Though he was only seventeen at the time, he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 4th April 1914, before war had even broken out. No doubt, the abrasive rise of nationalism, militarism and imperialism meant one could have clearly seen war brewing in the heart of Europe. On his enlistment papers, Edward George has his trade as an apprentice hairdresser to a ‘Mr H Cadwallader’ of Great Darkgate Street.  At some point during the war, Edward George was transferred into the RAF, now being recorded under the service number 168359. He survived the war remarkably unscathed (though he did receive 3 days of field punishment in 1918 for not complying with an order) and continued to serve in the territorial forces after it was over. By the time he was discharged on 31st March 1920, he had served for 5 years and 330 days!

John Llewellyn Humphreys

We can see from an article in the Welsh Gazette and West Wales Advertiser, that Emma Humphreys’ second son, John Llewellyn was born on 25th July 1900. It seems he served both during the war, and afterwards, perhaps following in the military footsteps of his older brother. In January 1919, he lists his trade as a horse keeper. Intriguingly, John Llewellyn names his mother as a ‘Jane Elizabeth’ in his Army Service Records, living at the same address as his uncle, Harry Bluck. Though we know with all credible evidence that his actual birth mother was Emma Humphreys, it might be that Emma Humphreys had died shortly after the war ended, and John Llewellyn switched to using his wife as next of kin instead. There are no records to confirm this however, so sadly it is a question that will remain unanswered.  Between November 1919 and January 1923, it seems that John Llewellyn was posted to India. He was discharged on 9th February 1923 as a Corporal, with a ‘very good’ character remark on his records.

Blog by Alice Sargent, Project Assistant 
The Cambrian News
Welsh Gazette and West Wales Advertiser
West Wales War Memorials Project
Find My Past

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

The Volunteer Training Corps in Aberystwyth

Following the deployment of the BEF to Belgium in August 1914 and the first reports of British casualties sustained during the Battle of the Frontiers it had become increasingly apparent of the need for more forces on the continent to halt the German offensive. Territorial battalions such as the 4th Cheshire’s (billeted in Aberystwyth) who were previously assigned to home defence were now called on for service on the continent. As many more men joined up for active service concerns were raised about home defence and in November 1914 the already established Central Committee was renamed the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps and called on men passed military age to form battalions tasked for home defence. Many battalions were raised nationwide and in Wales there seems to have been calls for the establishment of such battalions however as The Cambrian News suggests in an article on 14th April 1916 “Wales, regarded generally, has not taken to the movement with enthusiasm."

The Volunteer Training Corps (VTC) struggled for official recognition from the war office for the duration of the war as the threat of invasion died away and the funding of such units deemed unnecessary. Yet by June 1915 there were estimated to be 2,000 separate Corps and roughly 590,000 volunteers. Yet Aberystwyth seems to have been slow to catch up with the rest of the country perhaps due to the unlikeliness of an invasion or enemy raid on the coast of Cardiganshire during this time. The first mention of a VTC battalion in Aberystwyth appear to have taken place at a Borough council meeting on 4th May 1915 when a letter was read out which requested the promoting of legislation which would enable local council’s to adequately fund any VTC units. It was then agreed on the 24th May that a letter be sent to the Prime Minister which was acknowledged 3rd July 1915. 

In The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard on the 7th January 1916 an advertisement called for all men over the age of 41 or men of military age with a “genuine” reason for not joining the regular army to register and muster for drill at the drill hall in town on Wednesday 3-4 and 8-9 and Saturday 3-4 and 8-9. The Commandant for this Aberystwyth Corps was to be Richard T Greer. There were calls for a Volunteer Training Corps in neighbouring towns such as Lampeter and Aberdovey with Aberdovey’s Training Corps appearing to be quite active with shooting competitions advertised in the newspapers. 

Recruitment for the Training Corps appears to be largely unsuccessful and at a meeting which was called to address the lack of members within the Corps just thirty members of the Corps were in attendance which was woefully short of the 600 needed to be officially recognized by the Central Association. At this meeting it was proposed that in order to form a battalion of roughly 600 men Aberystwyth should provide around 120 men, Lampeter provide 50, Cardigan provide 60 and Aberaeron 30. The rest of the battalion would be raised from the rest of the county. This proposal appears to have been unsuccessful however as a desperate appeal for volunteers for the VTC would appear in The Cambrian News on 23rd February 1917. 

Aberystwyth Town Drill Hall. Now Tesco’s supermarket
(c.) John Lucas
There appears to have been some very strong opinions on the formation of a Volunteer Training Corps in Cardiganshire with differences of opinion strongly expressed at meetings or through articles in the paper. A strong supporter for the VTC was Thomas H. Edwards who attended most meetings regarding the VTC in Aberystwyth. With two sons, Second Lieutenant Harold T. Edwards (later wounded in Italy in 1917) and Arthur Ewart Edwards a merchant seaman aboard the SS Erington Court he was met with cheers when suggesting that if Britain’s position was similar to that of Belgium the town ought to be prepared to defend itself. 

Not all members of the community were as keen on the idea of an expanded VTC and an anonymous letter sent to the Cambrian News on 6th April makes a mockery out of invasion fears suggesting “invasion is so improbable that it may almost be relegated to the realms of the impossible” and that all the Germans could hope for was to “pay a flying visit in a fast steaming destroyer”. The letter also criticizes a method of VTC recruitment at the time which was the granting of exemption from service overseas for men who in return must attend drill at their local VTC unit. The letter suggests that men involved in food production and farming who work 70-80-hour weeks should not be made to march up and down for 2 hours in the evening and ends the letter on “leave drilling to the army. It will be done quickly and efficiently there.”

It has been difficult to find any information regarding the VTC unit in Aberystwyth however a brief article in The Cambrian News on 10th May 1918 states that the volunteer battalions of Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire would be merged into one regiment which would indicate that a Cardiganshire volunteer battalion had been raised though its numbers would be questionable. 

Blog by Tom Morgan, Project Assistant
Cambrian News

Thursday, 26 September 2019

The Penparke or Darllenfa Sewing Circle - Part Two

During the war the Penparke group  frequently responded to direct requests from various groups and organisations. For example, they sent pyjamas and draw sheets to the Welsh Hospital at Netley where the Aberystwyth nurse Emilie Evans was the matron;  shirts and socks to The Welsh Horse serving in the Dardanelles  at the request of George Pryse: to The Motor Machine Gun Service at the request of Lieutenant Colonel R.W. Bradley and to the Women’s Patriotic  League in response to a request from Mrs Parker, sister of Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War,  to  send  comforts and clothing to Serbians who were in terrible need of anything that could be sent.

On 3rd August 1915 A Patriotic Fair was held in the Mission Room, Penparke to raise funds to purchase material for making winter garments for soldiers and sailors. The poster advertising the event was headed “ A Little Help is worth a Deal of Pity”   An opening address was given by Vaughan Davies MP praised the patriotism of the sewing circle in the comforts it was able to give to soldiers and sailors, among them thirty recruits from Penparcau itself. The event was followed in the evening by a concert held in Ebenezer Chapel.

The profit made at the sale was £66 and ten shilling from a variety of stalls plus donations from people unable to attend. By this time the Sewing Circle had already dispatched 290 garments to the Welsh, the Royal Flying Corps, Motor Machine Gun Service minesweepers and the Great Eastern and Belgian field hospitals.  A typical response of thanks came from Emilie Evans at the Welsh Hospital, Netley. She complimented Miss Powell Evans, the Treasurer of the circle saying, “You have organised your sewing circle to the highest point of perfection” and asked her to congratulate “your band of workers.” The event was followed in the evening by a concert held in Ebenezer Chapel which included Belgian and local artistes singing and giving recitations.

The Sewing Circle gained attention in the national press in an article in The Daily Sketch 25 September 1915 under the title “What Women are Doing” by Mrs Gossip. The sewing circle in “a tiny village” was described as “a very patriotic lot” having sent several parcels of woollies for our soldiers and sailors in response to the Daily Sketch’s appeal.

Later that year in October 1915 the Darllenfa Sewing Circle was involved in a disagreement in the town after receiving a letter from the Aberystwyth War Service Committee suggesting the need for more co-operation between the various groups who were providing comforts to the troops. The Sewing Circe was invited to a meeting and to appoint a member of the circle to serve on the committee.  However, following a meeting held in Penparcau on 15th November 1915 at which 21 adults were present, the group refused to agree to have a place on the committee as it was felt that it did not have the authority of a publicly appointed body. This difference of opinion does not appear to have had any impact on the activities of the Sewing Circle and it is clear from press cuttings that they continued in their work and indeed  responded to direct appeals from the War Service Committee, for example for fifty mufflers for which they were provided with wool in March 1916.

The urgent need for fund raising was constant problem and in July 1916 the Darllenfa Sewing Circle held another Patriotic Sale in aid of their funds. This time their poster was headed “If  we would that Britain live, we must give and give and give" As well as the usual stalls and side shows there was a special feature – a unique collection of antiquities including what the newspaper described as “The most interesting of all Welsh pre- Reformation relics– the Nanteos cup or the Holy Grail”. This cup had been in the possession of the Nanteos family for many generations and in earlier days had been lent to invalids as it was believed to possess healing properties. The exhibition was arranged by Mr George Eyre Evans whose two volumes of the Aberystwyth War Book were also put on display, with the notice “A penny a peep”. These books are at now the National Library of Wales along with the two later volumes all of which George Eyre Evans compiled along with his sister, Miss Catherine Powell Evans. The volumes consist of a collection of press cutting concerning local events and news throughout the war and what the brother and sister themselves described as “flotsam and jetsam” – an assortment of items such as letters, leaflets and programmes of events which provide an invaluable resource for research into Aberystwyth life in the Great War.

The second sale held on 8 August 1916 was opened by Dr Roberts, Penywern who warmly praised the work of the Sewing Circle which had worked without a break since October 1914. He reported that since that time they had made 730 garments for soldiers and sailors as well as some for patients at the Aberystwyth Red Cross Hospital. Dr Roberts said that he was afraid that the war would continue for a while yet so it was extremely important that the group should be provided with funds to continue their good work. It was also reported that the sale was attended by several wounded soldiers who were given a warm welcome. This time the profit made was £55 five shillings and a penny. Donations amounted to £12 and the Museum stall raised £1 1s and 10d.

Blog by one of our project volunteers
Sources: The George Eyre Evans papers, National Library of Wales
All images reproduced with kind permission of NLW

Monday, 23 September 2019

The Penparke or Darllenfa Sewing Circle - Part One

At the outbreak of war in 1914 women were faced with very limited choices in the ways that they could contribute to the war effort. The choice was basically between nursing or sewing or knitting items for the troops.  In Aberystwyth there were several groups which met together to sew or knit often linked to churches or chapels. One of the most active of the groups was the Penparke Women’s Sewing Society, also known as the Darllenfa Sewing Circle. The Society, inaugurated on October 14, 1914, consisted of 16 members. The group was non sectarian and met one afternoon a week in Y Darllenfa (The Reading Room,) a wooden building which at that time was located behind St Anne’s Church, Penparcau

To begin with a grant was received from the Red Cross Society through Lady Pryse of two rolls of flannel and five and a half pounds of wool plus an additional grant of £5 for extra material. When this supply was used up, friends kindly donated materials and members often used their own materials to make or finish garments. Supporters who were unable to attend the meetings knitted garments at home.

In spite of local people’s generosity, there was a constant need to buy more material to work with and the Penparke ladies often had to set about raising money themselves. A  collection in Penparcau raised £11 and eighteen shillings and nine pence  which  included £3  from a concert by John Jenkins in the church and £2 and six shillings from a lecture and recital held in Ebenezer Chapel. 

The society was very fortunate in having among its members some professional shirt makers. The cutting out was done by experts and close attention was paid to the quality of work so that the garments produced should, the words of a Cambrian News reporter, “bear no marks of the amateur needlewoman”.

In a few months 245 articles had been made including 77 Welsh flannel shirts (two members being responsible for 39 of these) 42 pairs of socks, bed jackets, balaclava helmets and mittens. These were sent out to a wide range of needy soldiers including the Motor Machine Gun Service, the Army Flying Corps, Belgian women refugees at Alexandra Palace and of course local Welsh soldiers  Some early items  for local soldiers were sent to Cambridge where The Cardiganshire Battery was stationed but later on  items to them had to be sent abroad. One parcel was described by the recipient in his thank you letter as being opened “not many yards away from the German trenches.”

Whilst on leave from the front Major Abraham Thomas, a doctor serving with the Cardiganshire Battery, paid a visit to the Sewing Circle at their usual weekly meeting. He offered to take items from the Penparcau Sewing Circle to six local men who were serving in his unit. His suggestion was promptly accepted and on his return to France Major Thomas took charge of a canvas bale containing shirts, socks, soap, candles and writing materials which was then divided up to make separate parcels for individual soldiers.  The soldiers all wrote back promptly, their letters being quite lengthy and often written in pencil. The items were clearly very much appreciated and as well as being very practical keeping the men warm they also helped to boost morale.

Here is a typical letter sent in January 1916 with the address “Somewhere in France”

I wish to thank the ladies of the Darllenfa Sewing Class on my behalf for their kindness in sending such a most useful parcel of articles which I received today from Major Rea.  As they were just what I required here as the weather has been so wet and cold here lately. We are all in the best of health and spirits here and all doing well. Again please convey my best thanks also accept the same yourself. I remain
Yours sincerely D.J. Jones

The Aberystwyth War Items books compiled by George Eyre Evans and his sister are full of many such thank you letters from people in places all over the world which reflect the gratitude of those who received the garments. Here are two examples:

Both letters reproduce by permission of NLW

During the war the Penparke group  frequently responded to direct requests from various groups and organisations. For example, they sent pyjamas and draw sheets to the Welsh Hospital at Netley where the Aberystwyth nurse Emilie Evans was the matron;  shirts and socks to The Welsh Horse serving in the Dardanelles  at the request of George Pryse: to The Motor Machine Gun Service at the request of Lieutenant Colonel R.W. Bradley and to the Women’s Patriotic  League in response to a request from Mrs Parker, sister of Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War,  to  send  comforts and clothing to Serbians who were in terrible need of anything that could be sent.

Blog by one of our project volunteers 
Source: George Eyre Evans papers, National Library of Wales 

Monday, 9 September 2019

The first Aberystwyth Branch of the YMCA

Many readers will have enjoyed a previous blog about establishing the YMCA in Aberystwyth in 1917.  Many branches of the YMCA were established at about this time, but there were also earlier efforts at the end of the previous century, as in Aberystwyth.

Formed in London in 1844, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) aimed to improve the ‘spiritual condition’ of young men engaged in trade or business. Branches developed in cities and towns and provided young men with intellectual and recreational activities in a non-denominational Christian environment.  When the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth appointed a new Professor of Chemistry in 1888, they acquired an enthusiastic participant in College’s activities, a Methodist lay preacher for the town who was a campaigner for peace and temperance, a driving force for many charities and general benefactor.  This was Dr Henry Lloyd Snape who, even at the age of 26, had already contributed to student welfare at the university colleges at Liverpool and Manchester and at the universities of Berlin and Göttingen.

Lloyd Snape was very conscious of the stark difference between the local young men and the College students in terms of opportunities. He felt that Aberystwyth was lacking in the environment and facilities the YMCA was providing for young men in other towns.  In 1889 he joined others in seeking suitable premises for a local branch, finally settling on the Old Savings Bank (now La Taberna) in New Street, which they were able to rent, furnish and equip at a total cost of £60 a year.  At the inaugural meeting of the first YMCA In Aberystwyth on 24th February 1890, Snape was elected Treasurer, with Captain GW Cosens of Bronpadarn as President.

Snape had another important role in this YMCA, namely President of its Literary and Debating Society, whose meetings were similar to those of the College’s Literary and Debating Society, where Snape was President between1888 and1890.  Over 100 members were able to discuss matters of religious and social interest and keep up with current affairs.  He also participated in soirées and ‘conversazioni’, and gave evening lectures on scientific topics and on his visits to continental Europe, including his impressions of the Oberammergau Passion Play.

In August 1891 Lloyd Snape attended the International Conference of YMCAs in Amsterdam, where he was elected a voting delegate on behalf of the British YMCAs. He described the conference fully in the Aberystwyth Young Men’s Magazine, the bimonthly publication of the local YMCA, which he managed as Chairman of its Editorial Board.  Snape’s services to the Aberystwyth YMCA were much admired in the local press.

This first establishment of the YMCA at Aberystywth in 1890 survived only six years.  There were difficulties as early as the second year in maintaining meetings and forming classes and they increased. In March 1896 Snape distributed cheques from the proceeds of the stock and furniture of ‘the late Young Men’s Christian Association’ to Aberystwyth’s Infirmary, to be spent on books for patients, and to the Public Library.  Many YMCA branches were in difficulty as few new associations appeared after 1895 and many smaller associations ceased to function.

Yet, this was not the end of the YMCA in Aberystwyth, because there was a proposal to form a branch in 1909.  It was re-established during the WW1 in premises adjacent to Siloh Chapel, at the junction of North Parade and Northgate Street.  At its opening in October 1917 by the Countess of Lisburne, Principal Owen Prys (Theological College) recalled that ‘The idea of a YMCA for the town was not a new one’, but the promoters of an earlier effort had been ‘daunted by difficulties which, though perhaps imaginary to some extent, then appeared to be insurmountable’.  

The success of the later effort has already been recounted in a previous blog.

Blog by Dr Brian H Davies (former member of staff at AU)