Cyfarthfa Castle Museum, Merthyr: a collaborative research grant success!

First World War Network member Meilyr Powel received a collaborative research grant from the network to undertake a co-production with a non-academic partner. In this blogpost, Meilyr discusses his work with Cyfarthfa Castle Museum in Merthyr and the men who are commemorated on the museum’s memorial plaque.


Background

Sometime in 2018 Peter Strong, a member of Gwent branch of the Western Front Association came across a discarded war memorial plaque in a second hand shop and decided to purchase it. After contacting my supervisor, Dr Gethin Matthews, at Swansea University regarding its existence, we decided to apply for the First World War Network Collaborative Research Grant in order to rehouse the memorial as a permanent exhibition at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum, Merthyr. We succeeded in the grant application and I got to work researching the names of the three men named on the memorial plaque.

The men

David Albert Stephens, Archie Vincent Evans, and Thomas Glyn Nicholas were all members of Elizabeth Street Presbyterian Church, Dowlais. The church itself was built in 1876 but was destroyed in the 1960s so it no longer stands. The church’s pastor at the outbreak of war, Reverend Thomas James, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and managed to serve at both French and Italian fronts during the war.

For the three men on the plaque, their service was quite different. David Albert Stephens, a stoker in the local iron works and originally from Llandovery in Carmarthenshire, joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in April 1915. He was soon assigned on board the HMS Invincible, the first battlecruiser to be built in the world, and launched in 1907. Stephens would be killed in the largest naval battle of the war at Jutland in May 1916, leaving his wife Catherine to raise his two young children, Katie and Thomas, alone.

After arriving at the battle at the vanguard of Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet and engaging the SMS Wiesbaden and SMS Lützow, the Invincible was hit in the turret amidships, detonating the magazines below, and causing a huge explosion, splitting the ship in two before sinking. It took just 90 seconds for the Invincible to sink. Out of a crew of 1,032 officers and men, only six survived. One reference notes Albert as a gunner, and it’s worth noting that the Invincible was one of the best firing ships at the battle. The local newspaper reported Albert’s death and described him as ‘a champion of the weak’ before commenting: ‘No death could be more fitting for such a hero in an engagement with the odds three to one against.’ Albert’s name also appears on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

For Archie Vincent Evans, it appears that he was conscripted to the Army in 1916. Born in Treorchy to father, Thomas, and mother, Henrietta, he worked as a grocer’s assistant in Dowlais before conscription. He had three younger brothers, Tom, Trevor, and Harold. Archie joined the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), which was part of 36th Infantry Brigade, 12th (Eastern) Division, one of Kitchener’s New Army divisions initially raised from volunteers.

In October 1916, 12th Division was preparing for an attack at Le Transloy in the Gueudecourt sector on the Somme. Archie’s battalion, as part of 36 Brigade, would take a leading role in an attack to capture the German position called Bayonet Trench, defended by the German 36th Regiment (Magdeburg) Fusiliers. With Archie in ‘C’ Company, the battalion’s war diary recorded the attack:

Contrary to expectations, very heavy machine gun and rifle fire was encountered immediately the first line reached the top of the ridge, also very heavy shelling. The three front Companies and two platoons of the supporting Company were practically decimated by the fire. B Company apparently swung out to their right to get into touch with A. Company and were enfiladed by two machine Guns (…)

The first objective was not reached by any company.

In this attack Archie was killed. His battalion lost nine officers and 313 other ranks that day, 190 of them killed and missing. On confirmation of Evans’ death, the Merthyr Express described him as ‘a quiet unassuming fellow’, ‘well-liked by all who knew him’ and ‘an active member of Elizabeth Street Presbyterian Church’. He was 24 years old. The date of the newspaper report was 30 June 1917: eight months after he was killed. His body was never recovered and his name appears on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme along with over 72,000 others.

The third name on the war memorial plaque is that of Thomas Glyn Nicholas. Thomas was the son of Thomas Richard and Mary Jane Nicholas, and brother of Rees and Dilys. His father was the manager of Lloyd’s Bank and his brother, Rees, a bank clerk. Born in Llandysul in Carmarthenshire, his family, like D. Albert Stephens, had moved to the more industrial area of the south Wales valleys. On 15 July 1915, Thomas received his commission as a Second Lieutenant and was assigned to the 18th Battalion Welsh Regiment. He was soon attached to the 14th Battalion Welsh Regiment, the Swansea Pals, part of the 38th (Welsh) Division.

On 18 February 1917 the Division was at the Ypres Salient, with Thomas’ battalion in Brigade Reserve, having been replaced on the front line four days earlier by the 15th Battalion Welsh Regiment. The Hilltop Sector, East Canal Bank, where Nicholas was stationed, had been familiar ground for the 14th Welsh since early September 1916, the battalion having rotated between the front line and reserve areas regularly since then. On a seemingly innocuous evening working party Thomas was killed, the only casualty recorded by the battalion that day. He was just twenty years old and is buried at Bard Cottage Cemetery in Belgium.

IMG_4408
The newly installed memorial plaque at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum.

The display

The money from the First World War Network Collaborative Research Grant allowed me to work with Chris Parry at Cyfarthfa Castle to form a permanent exhibition where the war memorial plaque is displayed.

As part of the exhibition, two large bilingual information panels were produced; one outlining briefly the story of the three men, and the other providing more information on war memorials and their purpose. In addition to the information panels, a booklet was produced too, with much more detailed information on the men named on the plaque.

Most of the money from the First World War Network grant was spent on the information panels, booklet, booklet stand, and copyright of several images used. I also paid a small fee to the Fusilier Museum for their assistance in researching Archie Vincent Evans after getting a little stuck myself, and it helped cover travel expenses to the National Archives and a few trips to Merthyr for meetings.

The display is exhibited in a corridor at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum alongside other local memorials and opposite an exhibition on Merthyr and the First World War.

The event

I also decided as part of the project that we would hold a public event to officially unveil the display at the museum. Efforts were made to trace down present relatives of the men who may have been able to attend but, sadly, to no avail. For the public event, I suggested Gethin and myself would give short talks on war memorials and the plaque itself, giving the stories of the three men. On Chris’ suggestion we also decided to include a couple of the local history group to give talks on Merthyr and the First World War.

IMG_4392
Meilyr Powel speaking at the unveiling ceremony for the memorial plaque.

The event was advertised to the local history groups and an afternoon of talks was held at Cyfarthfa Castle on Saturday 4 May where we officially unveiled the display of the war memorial plaque. Some of the grant money was used to purchase light refreshments for this event. Feedback on the event was very positive.

Thanks

Being a collaborative project I must thank a number of people and organisations for their help and / or permission on certain issues. Thanks to: First World War Network; Chris Parry and Cyfarthfa Castle; Dr Gethin Mathews; Peter Strong; Steve Brewer; David Collier; Imperial War Museum; National Museum Wales; Fusilier Museum.

Personally I have found the project very rewarding. I appreciate the opportunity given to me at this stage of my academic career to undertake a project which had public engagement at its heart. I have certainly benefitted from the experience and have learned valuable skills along the way. Thank you again for the opportunity; I hope the display goes some way to properly commemorate the three young men named on the plaque.

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Craven and the First World War: a collaborative research grant success!

First World War Network member Anne Buckley was the first recipient of a collaborative research grant from the network to undertake a co-production project with a non-academic partner. In this blogpost, Anne discusses her work with the Craven and the First World War project which resulted in the installation of an information board marking the site of a First World War training and PoW camp in Skipton, North Yorkshire.


Background

This research project into the First World War camp in Skipton started when staff at Skipton library brought a book, Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, to the attention of the University of Leeds in 2014. The book was written by 50 of the German officers imprisoned in Skipton during the First World War and was published in Munich in 1920. I have been leading the project to produce an English translation of the book which will be published by Pen & Sword in 2020. In a fitting parallel to the original the translation is a collaborative effort with contributions from staff and students and the University of Leeds and local volunteers. The book quite possibly represents the most detailed account of a German POW camp in Britain during the First World War. Hence, the POWs’ account is of international and national as well as local importance.

I have been collaborating with Craven District Council’s Craven and the First World War project since autumn 2015 when Professor Alison Fell, who heads the University of Leeds Legacies of War project, introduced me and my colleague Dr Caroline Summers to Project Officer Rob Freeman. As I live in Skipton collaboration has been very straightforward!

We have done a large amount of public engagement work including organising several archaeological digs on the site of the camp involving local schoolchildren. In addition, we have commissioned a professionally-designed project website, held exhibitions and given a large number of talks. One of the most rewarding activities was working with the children of Skipton’s refugee families to produce an animation film. The film told the story of the senior German officer in the PoW camp, Fritz Sachsse, and his incredible journey to Skipton, which started with his escape from a Japanese POW camp. You can see the film here: https://skiptonww1camp.co.uk/project/refugee-project/

On 12th July actor Wolf Kahler, the grandson of Fritz Sachsse, officially opened the information board and gave a moving speech in which he shared his personal memories of his grandfather. The event was attended by around 150 people including local residents, and academics and archaeologists who have been working on the project to uncover the story of the camp. Wolf Kahler was a familiar face to many of them, having had starring roles in films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark in which he played the Nazi Colonel Herman Dietrich.

Wolf Kahler speaks at the unveiling of the information board.
Wolf Kahler speaks at the unveiling of the information board. Photograph credit: Simon Lewis

Public impact

One of the aims of both my work and that of the Craven and the First World War project is to ‘rewrite the story of the First World War camp back into the history of Skipton’. The camp is very rarely mentioned in histories of the town, and our work aims to change this, reshaping accounts of Skipton and its past and also enabling local residents of all generations to understand more fully how the national narratives of commemoration and war relate to their own home surroundings.

The information board is now a permanent reminder of the training and prisoner-of-war camp that stood on the outskirts of Skipton a century ago. In his speech Wolf Kahler said that his grandfather would sign off his letters with the words ‘do not forget me’. The board will ensure that the people of Skipton will not forget Fritz Sachsse and his comrades who were imprisoned here during and after the First World War.

Wolf Kahler and Anne Buckley with the newly installed information board.
Wolf Kahler and Anne Buckley with the newly installed information board. Photograph credit: Simon Lewis

Media coverage of opening

BBC Look North Clip embedded into blogpost on project website:

https://kriegsgefangen.leeds.ac.uk/grandson-of-german-senior-officer-visits-skipton/

Newspaper reports:

https://www.cravenherald.co.uk/news/17771137.history-board-tells-story-skipton-pows/

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/people/from-the-gobi-to-gargrave-film-star-unveils-memorial-at-site-of-forgotten-pow-camp-1-9874860

https://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/skiptonnews/17771137.history-board-tells-story-skipton-pows/

https://www.cravenherald.co.uk/news/17756029.grandson-german-pow-officer-held-raikeswood-camp-visit-town/

https://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/skiptonnews/17756029.grandson-german-pow-officer-held-raikeswood-camp-visit-town/

Project websites and social media

https://skiptonww1camp.co.uk/

https://kriegsgefangen.leeds.ac.uk/

Twitter: @skiptonpow

 

Final keynote announced!

With just one week to go before ‘The First World War: Past, Present, and Future’ gets underway, we are delighted to announce the identity of our final keynote speakers!

The children of Sighthill Primary School have been working with the Young People’s Hub partnership project, and discovering the stories contained within the War Poets Collection at Edinburgh Napier University. On Friday morning, children from the school will be showcasing their work with the War Poets Collection and talking about their experiences of the First World War’s centenary.

To join them (and us!) at the conference, please make sure you register for your tickets as soon as possible. A very limited number of tickets remain, and the final day for registration will be Friday 21 June. To register, please follow the link below:

https://www.herts.ac.uk/about-us/events/2019/june/the-first-world-war-past,-present,-and-future

 

‘Strange Meeting(s): Craiglockhart, Poetry and the Cultural Memory of the Great War’

We are delighted to share the details of the keynote address taking place at ‘The First World War: Past, Present, and Future’. Dr Jane Potter, Oxford Brookes University, will draw upon her expertise to consider the special place that our conference location occupies within the cultural memory of the First World War. An abstract for Dr Potter’s address, entitled ‘Strange Meeting(s): Craiglockhart, Poetry and the Cultural Memory of the Great War’, is as follows:

 

Siegfried Sassoon arrived at Craiglockhart War Hospital on 23 July 1917, having been sent to ‘Dottyville’, as he called it, to avoid a court-martial in the wake of his outspoken public statement against the War. He was soon visited by an admirer of his poetry, a neurasthenic second lieutenant who had arrived a few weeks earlier fresh from the horrors of the Western Front: Wilfred Owen.  Under the care of Captain Arthur Brock RAMC, and his ergotherapy or work-cure, and with Sassoon’s advice, Owen learned to channel his experiences and memories of battle into poems that have come to define the Great War experience.  This talk reflects on the legacy of these ‘strange meetings’ at Craiglockhart and the ways in which the poetry of Owen and Sassoon not only remains central to the cultural memory of 1914-18, but has become the archetype for the representation of war itself.

 

Limited tickets for the conference are still available. For further details, to view the full programme, and to book your place, please visit the link below:

https://www.herts.ac.uk/about-us/events/2019/june/the-first-world-war-past,-present,-and-future

The First World War: Past, Present, and Future – tickets now on sale

Craiglockhart Campus, Edinburgh Napier University, 27 and 28 June 2019.

A limited number of tickets are on sale now for anyone wishing to attend the First World War Network’s upcoming conference, which will consider the past, present, and future of First World War studies. Both two-day and individual day tickets are available for the conference, all of which include lunch and refreshment breaks. Tickets are available from our web store, hosted by the University of Hertfordshire, via the link below:

https://www.herts.ac.uk/about-us/events/2019/june/the-first-world-war-past,-present,-and-future

Over the course of two days a combination of internationally acclaimed scholars, early career and postgraduate researchers at the cutting edge of academic scholarship, representatives of heritage agencies, museums, and community groups, and those working across the breadth of First World War-related subjects will come together to celebrate the first one hundred years of First World War history, to discuss the latest work in the field, and to consider the future of the subject within the poignant setting of the former Craiglockhart War Hospital.

The conference programme, which can be viewed in full by clicking this link, comprises academic panels on a wide variety of subjects, a keynote paper by Dr Jane Potter (Oxford Brookes University), a special consideration of work undertaken with young people during the centenary, a round table discussion featuring representatives from academia, the museum sector, and the battlefield tourism industry, and a free workshop on the creation of digital history projects. Those arriving on Wednesday evening are also cordially invited to join us at a special public lecture by Dr Nigel Hunt (University of Nottingham). For further details and to register for Dr Hunt’s talk, see the link below:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/narratives-and-stress-whr-rivers-role-in-helping-understand-the-importance-of-story-in-psychology-tickets-62130967396

We look forward to seeing you all there!

Free public lecture: Edinburgh Napier University

Ahead of our upcoming conference, join us at the site of the former World War One Craiglockhart Military Hospital for a very special free public lecture about the pioneering work of Dr W.H.R. Rivers, delivered by Dr Nigel Hunt (University of Nottingham).

Narratives and stress: WHR Rivers role in helping understand the importance of story in psychology

The narrative approach – understanding stories – in psychology has become, over the last few decades, very popular. It helps us understand how people’s minds work and gives us tools for helping those who have been through stressful and traumatic events. Dr Rivers worked at Craiglockhart Military Hospital during World War One, trying to understand and treat the men who were sent there as ‘shell shock’ or ‘neurasthenic’ cases from the trenches of the war. His approach became widely known through the novels of Pat Barker, but his influence on psychology (and other disciplines) cuts across many fields. This talk focuses on how Rivers’ work can inform our understanding of the importance of stories in resolving war trauma, even today.

To register for this event, please follow the link below:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/narratives-and-stress-whr-rivers-role-in-helping-understand-the-importance-of-story-in-psychology-tickets-62130967396

Doors open at 18:15, and a wine reception will follow the lecture.

Please contact events@napier.ac.uk for further information.

Conference update: Friday afternoon workshop

Preparations are ongoing for our upcoming conference at Edinburgh Napier University, and we are delighted to share details of a workshop taking place on Friday afternoon, to which all our delegates are warmly invited. Ian Isherwood, R.C. Miessler, and Amy Lucadamo from Gettysburg College will be sharing their experiences of working on a digital project linked to the First World War letters of Hugh John Chevallier Peirs (better known as Jack). You can visit the website by following the link below:

https://jackpeirs.org/

In ‘The Great War and the Digital Humanities: Creating a project and building a team’, they will provide attendees with insights into the creation of a digital history project, consider engagement with a range of stakeholders, and answer questions from our delegates.

Ian Isherwood introduces the workshop:

“The centennial of the First World War has provided ample opportunities for historians to engage with broader audiences on the subject of war.  In 2014, conscious of the challenges that teaching the First World War presents for educators at all levels, a small team at Gettysburg College (Pennsylvania, USA) began digitizing an archival resource and made it available to the public without an institutional mandate or dedicated funding. The First World War Letters of H.J.C. Peirs: A Digital History website began as a mechanism for publishing the correspondence of a British officer 100 years to the day they were written. However, as the team embraced the methodologies of the Digital Humanities, worked collaboratively on creative technological innovations, and discovered new avenues for combining archival and digital pedagogy into the classroom experience, the Peirs project grew into a pedagogy-focused, archives-based digital project that serves as an example of boundary-crossing, team-based Digital Humanities efforts. Through the framework of the Peirs project, this workshop will give guidance for team-building and project management, provide examples of Digital Humanities tools and methods that can be used with First World War collections, and outline pedagogical uses for digital history in the classroom.”

All attendees to ‘The First World War: Past, Present, and Future’ are warmly invited to join us at this fascinating workshop, and will have the chance to speak to the team behind Jack’s letters. Tickets are currently available to members of our mailing list, and the full programme can be viewed by clicking on the link below:

https://fwwnetwork.wordpress.com/the-first-world-war-past-present-and-future/

For the latest updates on our conference and all other news relating to the First World War Network, follow us on Twitter @FwwNetwork