Thursday 22 February 2024

A Desert Escape

The church of St Edith in Church Pulverbatch, a small village about eight miles south-west of Shrewsbury, has a Roll of Honour related to the First World War. The church must also have been greatly improved by the installation of electric lighting to the memory of five men from the village who made the “supreme sacrifice” during the Second World War. Among their names is that of Flying Officer Dennis Bebbington MM. Dennis lost his life in March 1943 when the RAF squadron in which he served was moving westwards, behind the retreating Afrika Corps, to the airfield at El Daba in Egypt. The aircraft which he captained was lost without trace on a bombing mission. He earned his Military Medal however as a result of an earlier escapade during the war. He was flying as Second Pilot in a Wellington bomber when it was caught by searchlights and intense flak over Tobruck. The loss of the starboard engine forced a crash landing 350 miles behind enemy lines. All of the crew emerged from the plane safely and set out to walk back to base. Walking by night and sheltering under sparse scrub during the day, they reached the Libyan border with Egypt within a week. Their water bottles were refilled and they were given food by friendly Arabs who had no great love for the Germans. After twelve days, by a combination of good luck and leadership by the senior crew member Pilot Officer Johnson, they arrived at a well by the side of a main road. Nearby were two Italian trucks and the decision was made to await nightfall and attempt to steal one of the trucks. During the ensuing fight, Dennis managed to get into the driver’s seat of one of the trucks although surrounded by Italian troops. Fortunately his beret had fallen off and in the darkness the Italians failed to recognise him as an RAF officer. When they formed a search party to look for the other crew members, he innocently joined in but took the first opportunity to slip away into the dark. After 24 hours on his own in the open desert, Dennis managed to catch up with the others. Finally, 26 days after they had been shot down and 350 miles from the crash site, they were intercepted by a South African armoured car unit and their ordeal was over. Consequently Bebbington and a colleague were awarded the Military Medal and Pilot Officer Johnson the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation concluded that they had “displayed resolute courage and fortitude throughout the hazardous operation” .
St Edith's church, Church Pulverbatch

Monday 11 September 2023

A County Remembers

In 1923 a County War Memorial was completed to commemorate fallen servicemen from the county of Montgomeryshire. It was built by means of public subscription. Standing 14 metres high, 320 metres above sea level. It is built of white Portland Stone and was originally dedicated to those men from Montgomeryshire who fell in the 1st World War. It is situated on a hill overlooking the border town of Montgomery and is visible for many miles in all directions. The climb up from the path opposite the Castle car park is not difficult, though good footwear is recommended. Beautiful views reward the visitor from the top with Cadair Idris clearly visible on a fine day.
In 1990 the monument was seriously damaged by an earth tremor. For the next 12 years the repair and refurbishment of the County War Memorial became the sole focus of attention for one man - Terry Boundy, who noted: - "The object must be to repair the County War Memorial and to hold in trust with Montgomery Town Council funds sufficient for this work to be carried out and leave a sufficient amount for the future care and upkeep of the Memorial." In addition, he pressed successfully for proper direction signs to be erected and an entry to be made in the local Guide Book next to the details of Montgomery Castle so that each would enhance the other as an attraction for visitors.
Until more recently however the town of Montgomery had a memorial garden but no war memorial as such. In 2014 (to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War} a large granite rock was placed in the garden with the names of the fallen inscribed on a plaque on the front. The two memorials now nicely complement each other.

Tuesday 18 July 2023

Bridging the river

Some distance east along the River Severn from the famous Ironbridge is a war memorial which is certainly unique in Shropshire and possibly in the whole country. It is a memorial footbridge of steel truss design which spans the river from Coalport on one side to Jackfield on the other.
Identical plaques stand one at each end of the bridge stating “This bridge is free O tread it reverently in memory of those who died for thee”. In the centre is a metal plaque erected “in honoured memory of our comrades from Jackfield and Coalport who fell in the World Wars”. The memorial bridge replaced a ferry which had operated on this fast flowing part of the river since the 1790s and was used principally by workers from Jackfield and Broseley travelling daily to the Coalport china works. The ferry carried a maximum of 40 people and had a chain or wire rope attached to the top of its mast and was secured by an anchor in the centre of the river. In 1799 disaster struck when the ferry sank and 28 people were drowned .
Discussion about the replacement of the ferry by a footbridge first cropped up in the early years of the 20th century but the plans did not come to fruition until the 1920s when the residents of Jackfield decided that they wanted a war memorial which was of more practical use to the community than those in nearby towns. In 1920 the Rev’d R Gillenders, Rector of Jackfield, began to raise funds by public subscription and social events in order to erect a memorial footbridge. His efforts were successful and the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company built it in nine weeks at a cost of just over £1,000. A large crowd witnessed the formal opening on 2nd September 1922 by Lady Forester, who cut the ribbon with a pair of silver scissors, stating: “I declare this bridge open and wish it a long and happy life”. The Jackfield and Madeley brass bands played ‘spirited music’ during the afternoon and proceeds from the sale of carnation buttonholes were given to the organising committee. Mr CH Parker of the Court Works, Madeley gave and cast the original First World War memorial plaques . Today, the land leading down to the bridge at the Jackfield end is still called Ferry Road and the nearby pub is the Boat Inn.

Thursday 20 April 2023

"Sit, reflect and remember"

War memorial benches have become a common sight throughout the British Isles in recent years. Different designs are available and many are placed in beautiful locations. They provide a chance to sit, reflect and remember and few towns or villages seem to be without them nowadays. The one in Llanidloes however has a unique design and an interesting background. It stands in the centre of the town, next to the main war memorial. This is set in an arched recess on the outside of the Town Hall; it is elegant and elaborately decorated with a carved lion on each side and below a ‘trophy of arms’ and the Prince of Wales’ feathers.
A memorial bench was installed to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. It was funded by donations from members of the community to remember the men and women from the town and the surrounding area who served in both World Wars. The blessing and unveiling of the bench took place on Remembrance Sunday 2018. It was unveiled by the youngest and oldest members of the Women's Section of Llanidloes' Royal British Legion, Sarah Davies and 97-year-old Chris Powers. The bench was made by local welder Martin Crowther whose family business, Mid Wales Welded, has been based in Llanidloes for around 60 years. Martin said it was an honour to be asked to make the bench. "We're very pleased with ourselves and hopefully it will be appreciated for generations to come," he said. "Llanidloes is a generous place where everyone gets together to do things like this for charity." Martin was assisted by his daughter, Lisa Crowther-James, in constructing the bench. The three armed forces - Navy, RAF and the Army - are commemorated on the bench, along with 11 red poppies and the inscriptions 'Lest We Forget' and 'Llanidloes'. It was designed by Mark Sargeant of Llanidloes-based Bulk Automation. Town councillor Trudy Davies first came up with the idea. She said it was an emotional experience seeing the bench after it was completed and described it as "designed in Llani, made in Llani by a Llani lad. It's all very poignant and it seems to all come together."

Sunday 8 January 2023

Loppington - from the Great War to Iraq

Loppington is a village of about 600 people which a lies a few miles west of Wem in north Shropshire.

Loppington war memorial

A rusticated granite obelisk stands opposite the Dickin Arms and serves as the village’s First World War memorial.
Amongst those listed is Elsie Maddox, Munitions Worker who is buried not far away in the village churchyard. Elsie was the daughter of William and Annie Maddox of Church Cottage,
Loppington and the sister of William Maddox jnr, also listed on the memorial; she died on 24th January 1918 at the age of 20. Local tradition has it that she was brought home, very ill, from the factory where she worked and conveyed from Wem railway station on a pony and trap, but died later at home. Following the tragedy of the Second World War, Loppington church was provided with a new organ in memory of men from the parish who had lost their lives. The story of Loppington’s war memorials however does not end there. In 2011 a badly damaged handwritten First World War Roll of Honour was discovered at the bottom of a chest in the church. 

St Michael & All Angels', Loppington

Though incapable of restoration, it prompted the making of a new Roll of Honour in the same year to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion. It hangs near the font and contains the names of all those it has subsequently been possible to trace who served and died in times of conflict, including Elsie Maddox and her brother. The Roll has been brought up to date with the inclusion of names from the Second War as well as that of Richard Sedgley, a Personal Protection Officer, who died in Iraq in 2006. Richard had only recently moved to Loppington, from Codsall near Wolverhampton. He worked for the Olive Group, a private security firm which provided protection for workers rebuilding facilities in war-torn Iraq and died almost immediately after suffering terrible injuries when shrapnel from an improvised roadside bomb ripped through his armoured vehicle. His inquest inevitably was an emotional affair with his parents, Michael and Hilary Sedgley, too upset to hear much of the evidence and a colleague, Richard Goodman from Tennessee – who gave his evidence personally – breaking down whilst reading his statement, unable to continue.

Wednesday 5 October 2022

The Old Malthouse

 It is difficult to imagine a more beautiful location for a village than that of Atcham near Shrewsbury, standing on the banks of the Severn next to the elegant old bridge over the river (built 1769-71 by John Gwynne). Today Gwynne’s bridge is for pedestrians only and the road is carried across the river by a plainer and more recent bridge. The Romans were active in the area and the ancient church at Atcham contains stones from the Roman town of Viroconium and may also have evidence of Anglo Saxon work. It is the only one in the country dedicated to St Eata. Inside St Eata’s, near the organ, are two brass plaques; one records the names of nine local men who perished during the First World War and the other, two men killed during the Second. One of the Second World War names is that of ‘WHC Sands, Boy Royal Navy’. At the time, boys as young as 15 were allowed to join the Navy and a total of 534, aged 16 to 17 were killed.
St Eata's church, Atcham

The Old Malthouse, Atcham
Atcham’s main war memorial however is its lovely wooden-framed village hall. On the outside a plaque records that: “This building, the old malthouse, was presented by Thomas Henry 8th Lord Berwick [of nearby Attingham Hall] to the parish of Atcham to be converted into a war memorial hall in commemoration of the men of Atcham who fell in the Great War 1914-18. The Memorial Hall was opened by Colonel Charles Grant DSO of Pitchford on 31st December 1925”. The building was erected as a malthouse in the 1600s but eventually fell out of use and was converted into the Attingham estate’s carpenter’s shop in the 19th century. Amongst other work for the estate, wooden wheels were constructed there for which the iron bands were made next door in the village smithy.

When Lord Berwick donated the building to be used as a memorial hall, it was in need of repair to both the roof and floor. To raise money for the work, two large fetes were held in the grounds of Attingham Park which, with personal subscriptions, achieved the £1,350 needed. The fundraising and repairs were organised by a committee under Lord Berwick’s chairmanship and, until his death in 1947, he continued to chair the village hall committee. After 1947, the role was taken over – very successfully - by his widow Lady Teresa Berwick (killed in a car crash outside the gates of Attingham Hall in 1972).


Friday 17 June 2022

Disaster at Sheerness

The small village of Llandrinio in Montgomeryshire lies close to the border with Shropshire about nine miles north of Welshpool.  Its war memorial is a striking marble obelisk standing next to the church lychgate. Listed on it are 17 local men who, “gave their lives fighting for the cause of freedom in the Great War”. At the top is the name of Stuart Ford Moorhouse of the Royal Navy who died on 26th November 1914 whilst serving aboard HMS Bulwark.

Llandrinio war memorial

 She was one of five London-class battleships built for the Royal Navy at the end of the 19th century. Completed in 1902, she was initially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet and then served with the Channel and Home Fleets from 1907 to 1910, usually as a flagship. Following the start of the First World War, Bulwark was attached to the Channel Fleet to protect the British Expeditionary Force as it moved across the English Channel to France. At about 07;53 on 26th November 1914, a huge internal explosion ripped Bulwark apart while she was moored a few miles west of Sheerness in the estuary of the River Medway. All the ship's officers were killed in the explosion and only a dozen ratings survived. A total of 741 men were lost including members of the band of the gunnery school, HMS Excellent, which was playing aboard. Only about 30 bodies were recovered after the explosion.

Explosion aboard HMS Bulwark

A naval court of enquiry, held only two days later, concluded that the disaster was probably caused by the overheating of about 30 cordite propellant charges that had been placed adjacent to a boiler-room bulkhead. The bulkhead was increasing in temperature as the boilers were fired up and this ignited the cordite charges which in turn detonated hundreds of six-inch and twelve-pounder shells stored nearby.


The incident remains the second most catastrophic accidental explosion in the history of the United Kingdom, exceeded only by that of the battleship Vanguard at Scapa Flow in 1917.

Sunday 13 February 2022

Shrewsbury School Old Boys' memorial

Shrewsbury School was founded in 1552 by a Royal Charter and today is one the country's leading independent boarding schools. Its main war memorial stands at the meeting place of all the avenues leading from the School. At its centre is a bronze, life-size statue of Sir Philip Sidney (one of the school’s alumni) on a large rectangular plinth and in military costume, dressed as he would have been when he was fatally wounded during the Battle of Zutphen in 1586. The front face of the pedestal incorporates a relief of a battle scene from the First World War and below it the school coat of arms. The rear of the pedestal is decorated with a picture of the battlefield at Zutphen and the remaining two sides are inscribed with the names of Old Boys of the school who died during the First World War. Architect of the whole memorial was Brook Taylor Kitchin, an Old Salopian whose son was killed in action in France at the age of 18. The sculptor was Arthur George Walker (also responsible for the memorial statue in Ironbridge). To achieve a greater likeness, Walker visited Penhurst House in Kent, the ancestral home of the Sidney family, at the invitation of Lord de L’isle, one of his descendents. 

Shrewsbury School
There, he was able to study various portraits and miniatures of Sidney, as well as the sword, helmet and armour which he wore at Zutphen. 

When the memorial was unveiled on 24th May 1924, Lord de L’isle was present and the Burgmeister of Zutphen laid a wreath. Walker was born on 20th October 1861 in London. Despite undertaking some important and well-known commissions however, little seems to be known about his life. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1883 and his early sculptural work including some interesting mythological figures, but later work consisted mainly of portrait busts and ecclesiastical memorials. He is perhaps best known for his statue of Florence Nightingale in Waterloo Place, London (1910). His other work includes another monument to her in St Paul’s, the figures of William Morris and Roger Payne for the Victoria and Albert Museum, a First World War memorial in Derby (as well as that at Shrewsbury), and figures of the Virgin and Child in Llandaff and Wells Cathedrals. He exhibited more than 80 works at the Royal Academy between 1884 and 1937 and died two years later.

In 1948 a low stone wall was erected, partly surrounding the Sidney memorial, inscribed with the names of Old Salopians who died during the Second World War.

Shrewsbury School war memorial

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Welshpool's VC hero

 The town hall (also used as a market hall) stands proudly on the main street of Welshpool, a small town on the Welsh border. It dates back to the early 19th century. If you look carefully down a narrow street to its side you will find a stone plaque to the memory of William Herbert Waring,  who was born and lived in the town and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military award for personal bravery.

On 18 September 1918 at Ronssoy in northern France, Lance Sergeant Waring, of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (previously the Royal Welch Fusiliers) led an attack against an enemy machine gun post and in the face of devastating fire single-handedly rushed the strong-point, bayoneting four of the garrison and capturing 20 prisoners with their guns. He then returned to reorganise his men and, under heavy shell and machine gun fire, led and inspired them for another attack over 400 yards, before falling mortally wounded himself.

Waring is buried at Ste Marie Communal Cemetery, Le Havre, Seine Maritime, France. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum, Caernarfon Castle, Gwynedd, Wales. He
had already been awarded the Military Medal for bravery in Palestine. His official citation referred to his “valour, determination and leadership” and stated that the award was made for “most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty”. His parents, no doubt proud but grieving at the same time, received his Victoria Cross at an investiture at Buckingham Palace.

Welshpool’s pride in its local hero was demonstrated when the, impressive but also somewhat

unassuming memorial was unveiled in January 2018. His name and awards are also inscribed on a gravestone in nearby Christ Church.

Wednesday 11 August 2021

The Men of the Cambrian Railways

Cae Glas Park in the centre of Oswestry, Shropshire is a beautiful seven acre site with extensive lawns, sports facilities, a children's playground and lovely Victorian bandstand. It is a significant tourist attraction, loved and used by local people and a great credit to the Town Council. The main entry is through handsome gates which form the town's main war memorial. Inside is an area of colourful flower beds surrounded by what has become a significant collection of other war memorials. These include a life size bronze statue of war poet Wilfred Owen unveiled in October 2018. Owen was born in the Welsh border town in 1893. Also to be seen are memorials to 'Gunners' from the Royal Regiment of Artillery, especially those who passed through nearby Park Hall Camp until its closure in 1975 and another funded by members of the Infantry Boys and Junior Leaders Association. The Unit - based at Park Hall - took boys aged 14 to 16 and trained them for leadership roles within the British Regimental System.

Cae Glas Park gates

Undoubtedly my favourite memorial in Cae Glas Park however is tucked away in a corner just inside the gates. There, set in a stone pillar, is an exquisite statuette of a robed female with arms outstretched and looking heavenwards. A plaque below states that it was erected “to perpetuate the memory of the men of the Cambrian Railways whose names are here recorded and who gave their lives for their King and Country in the Great War 1914-1918”. The names of 53 railway employees are listed. Oswestry’s railway station having closed in to passenger traffic in 1966 and freight in 1971, the memorial was moved to the Park by the Town Council in 1975. The memorial is by Allan G Wyon (1882-1962), a sculptor and medallist of some renown. He trained and later exhibited at the Royal Academy and was responsible for noted works in Hereford, Truro and Salisbury Cathedrals as well as the statue of St Michael in the County war memorial in The Quarry at Shrewsbury. In later life he studied for Holy Orders and was vicar of Newlyn from 1936 to his retirement in 1955.

This beautiful memorial is a great credit to him as well as to those within the Cambrian Railways who chose to make such effective use of his work.

Sunday 11 April 2021

A musical memorial

The most famous and iconic war memorial in Britain is undoubtedly The Cenotaph in London. It was designed by one of the leading architects of the 20th century, Edwin Lutyens. Unveiled in 1919 as a temporary structure of wood and plaster, it made such a powerful impact that it was soon re-built permanently in stone. When, in the aftermath of the First World War, the people of Newtown (Y Drenewydd) came to decide what kind of memorial to the fallen they wanted, they opted for a replica of the original Cenotaph. It is scaled-down, but to my mind loses none of the grandeur of the original.

Unusually, after the Second World War, Newtown’s residents began to consider a new form of memorial to add to the Cenotaph. They were long and at times tortuous discussions. Many proposals were put forward, including a swimming baths, sports ground and memorial hall but a decision eluded the authorities until 1952, seven years after the end of the War. By then, the Park surrounding Newtown Hall had passed into public ownership and it was decided to adorn it with new Park Gates and a bandstand. The latter however was not a great success.

Newtown's memorial bandstand

The intention was that Newtown Silver Band would give recitals in the Park. Unfortunately they did not prove as popular as expected and on one sad occasion in 1955 the Band played to an audience of only two. Adding to the problems, the bandstand turned out to be too small to house the whole Band of 25-30 players. Slowly it fell into disuse and disrepair and finally in 1985 it was demolished. All that remains today is the slowly deteriorating concrete base. The decorative gates however have survived and still form a beautiful and appropriate memorial.


Newtown Park Gates

Saturday 16 January 2021

An unusual design and an interesting debate

 The main war memorial in the town of Bridgnorth in east Shropshire stands at one of the highest in the town in Castle Park. It is a 7’6” statue of a soldier with his rifle and fixed bayonet on his back, wearing a tin hat, carrying his equipment and with his right arm thrust forward and upward. It stands on a stepped plinth and base of local Alveley stone, around which are listed (unusually, in order of rank) those from the town who fell in the two world wars. 

The statue is the work and design of Captain Adrian Jones MVD RBS, a well- known Shropshire born sculptor and painter. The soldier’s stance is unusual in that he appears to be taking part in an act of military aggression rather than the more common one of mourning and, as a result, has been the subject of some debate and occasional controversy over the years. A common view is that he is pointing forward as he advances on the enemy at the head of his men (though another local story has it that, having just been demobbed, he is holding up his hand in an effort to stop the train leaving without him from the station below!). However the Programme for the unveiling ceremony on 9th March 1922 states clearly that the sculptor was “endeavouring to demonstrate the stupendous moral and military effort by the Empire … and what more fitting symbol than a realistic soldier hurling a bomb with all his energy and strength and thereby ‘doing his bit’ “. In his memoirs, Jones himself said that he had “designed it to pay tribute to the undaunted courage of a Shropshire lad”. A recent biography of Jones ('Triumph: The Life & Art of Captain Adrian Jones' by Robert S Burns) has re-opened the debate:  “The only possible credence for the bomb story is the soldier’s open palm, for nothing else in his pose suggests throwing. The front leg is not braced for effort; rather it appears simply to be taking a slightly uphill step forward. Plainly if a sculptor intends to depict a bomber, he must include a hand grenade or similar device. It is more probable that … [the] soldier is urging advance on the enemy hilltop position ahead”. The debate continues therefore and quite possibly may now never be resolved. Opinions would be welcome however!                                                                                                                                                                                

Friday 20 November 2020

Worth a Look

 I've recently discovered a Facebook page dedicated to 'war memorials and military graves in the UK'. Some regular fascinating posts and of course you can join if you want to put up your own photo's. I've contributed a couple so far and fully intend to post more. Have a look if you're interested, using the link below:

Also, a reminder that my book 'Sites of Remembrance: the war memorials of Shropshire' is still available for only £14.95 inc free postage and packing. Drop me an email if you would like a copy or you can use the Paypal 'Buy Now' button here on the blog.


Sunday 23 August 2020

A Rare Survival

Meifod is a village just north of Welshpool.  Its main memorial is an unusual one, consisting of a copper sheet set into the outside of the church wall. One of the names listed is that of Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, only son of the ‘Big House’ in Meifod. 

He left Eton College early to sign up during the fir wave of patriotic enthusiasm at the outbreak of the First World War. After a few weeks’ training, he was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards. He was killed at Ypres in October 1914 only three days after he had joined his regiment at the front, aged 18. He also has a memorial inside the church. The striking symbolic relief above its inscription incorporates two figures looking up at a cross. Attached to the wall next to it is a rare survival, a wooden battlefield cross with his name stamped on a small metal tab on it. Although over a century old now, these crosses seem to bring back the horrors of the battlefield with startling immediacy. During battles such as Ypres, men were killed by the thousand each day and were buried nearby in hastily created cemeteries with the graves often marked by these wooden crosses. Later, when the Red Cross’s Ambulance Unit (later to become the Imperial and then Commonwealth War Graves Commission) set about the huge task of identifying as many of the bodies as possible and re-interring them in the formal cemeteries we recognise so well today, the wooden crosses were offered to the families of the deceased. Some were buried in local churchyards, others – like that of Charles Williams Wynn – placed on display inside the church.

In her autobiographical work ‘Testament of Youth’, Vera Brittain described the emotions the arrival of the cross could generate: “It’s such a queer feeling to have it here, when it’s been above him all that time … I am sorry in a way that they have removed it … It’s a strange world – where the symbols of people count so much because they’re all one has left”.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Brecon remembers the Falklands War

Despite its long military connections, the small city of Brecon had no memorial to the Falkland Islands war. This was rectified however with the dedication of a memorial stone and bench on 30 September 2017 in Brecon Peace Gardens. The ceremony was well attended by veterans of the conflict and by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, the Mayor of Brecon and the MP for the constituency.  The new memorial commemorates the 255 British servicemen and three Falkland Islander civilians who lost their lives during the 1982 Falklands conflict. The memorial bench was unveiled by Mr J Blair of the Royal British Legion (Brecon Branch) and the stone by Mr Alan Huckle, former Governor of the Falkland Islands (2006-10) and chairman of the Falkland Islands Association. 
Unveiling of the Falklands memorial
The memorial stone came from a local Welsh quarry near Builth Wells and the plaque was handcrafted from Welsh slate. The whole project was led by Mrs Jules Hore, a 1982 veteran who served in the Queen Alexandra Nursing Corps, and her husband, Drew Hore, formerly of the 6th battalion Light Infantry. Funds were raised in part from the Falklands 35th anniversary ‘Ride of Respect’ in which some 600 motorcyclists rode from Brecon to Cardiff on 18 June 2017 carrying the wreath of metal poppies which was laid at a service attended by the First Minister of Wales.

Brecon has a strong connection to the 1982 Falklands conflict since the 5th Brigade, which included a battalion of the Welsh Guards and the Gurkha Rifles, centred its pre-combat training in the area. There is also a close connection with the Parachute Regiment and the SAS. Thirty-six Welsh men were killed in the Falklands in 1982, mainly from the Welsh Guards and the SAS. The Gurkhas lost one man. Overall, 777 British Service personnel
were wounded in action during the conflict and many in the Task Force have since suffered from post-traumatic stress disorders; according to records, some 250 Falklands veterans have since taken their own lives. The erection of these memorials helps to keep memories of their sacrifice alive.

Thursday 13 February 2020


Aberhafesp war memorial
 The village of Aberhafesp lies about midway between Caersws and Newtown, stretching out along each side of a busy country lane. Its church – dedicated to St Gwynnog – stands at the top of a gentle rise and in early Spring is surrounded by swathes of snowdrops. The village war memorial stands near the entrance gate and is of an unusual and elegant design. Standing beside it you can enjoy beautiful views of the rolling Mid-Wales hills.

Attached to its base is a modern looking slate plaque inscribed with nine names and a brief description of how they came to meet their death near the village. It says: “In memory of the R.A.F. (V.R.) airmen who died as a result of a crash at Glascoed Farm on 23rd January 1944. The Handley Page Halifax Bomber No DG 358 of 116 Heavy Conversion Unit from Faldingworth was struck by lightning.” The men range in age from 18 to 31 and come from places as far apart as Islington and Aberdeen. The plaque was laid in place in 1995 to mark fifty years since the end of the Second World War.

The 1995 plaque
Faldingworth was an airfield near Lincoln and the Bomber was on a training flight having it seems turned and begun its journey home. The weather however was appalling with torrential rain and high winds making for the worst possible flying conditions. Exactly what happened will never now be known, but the official report spoke of a stormcloud, lightning strike and also mentioned engine failure. The resultant crash at Glascoed Farm left all nine crew members dead. Recent years have seen a book published about the accident to go alongside the slate plaque and a beautiful framed tribute inside the church as witness that the men have not been forgotten locally and live on very much in the village’s communal memory. Their names I think are worth recording here:

Halifax Bomber
                        Paul Bennett, Pilot

                        Albert Clark, Air Gunner

                        Norman Fisher, Bomb Aimer

                        ER Gawler, Flight Engineer

                        John Gibb, Flight Engineer

                        David Ramsey, Flight Engineer

                        John Spriggs, Navigator

                        William Wareham, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner

                        William Wyatt, Air Gunner


Tuesday 11 June 2019

Tragic death of Sister Roberts

Entrance to Tywyn Cottage Hospital
The main First World War memorial in Tywyn, a small seaside resort on Cardigan Bay, is a splendid Cottage Hospital built between 1920 and 1922 in the Arts and Crafts style. Despite the passage of time, it has firmly retained its original style and is fronted by a wonderful stone structure announcing its original purpose as a war memorial. At the other end of the town is St Cadfan's church, whose congregation decided to remember those who had lost their lives by erecting a new stone porch. Inside the porch is a series of plaques, one of which states, in the elegant phrasing typical of the time: "This Porch was erected by the Parishioners As a thanksoffering to Almighty God for The victorious peace vouchsafed to Great Britain and her Allies at the Termination of the Great War A.D. 1914 - 1919". Other plaques show the names of 30 soldiers and a Nursing Sister "Who Gave their lives for the honour of the Empire and the liberties of The World".
St Cadfan's church porch

The Nursing Sister, whose name is picked out and separated from the rest, is Sister Jane Roberts of the QAIMNSR (Queen Alexanda's Military Nursing Service Reserve) who died when the 'Salta' sank off Le Havre harbour on 10th April 1917. The story is a tragic one. The Salta had been built as a passenger ship of 7,200 tons in 1911. When war broke out, she was acquired by The Admiralty and converted for use as a hospital ship. The Salta was approaching Le Havre with a cargo of medical stores when she hit a drifting mine (later established to have been laid the previous day by a German submarine).An enormous explosion breached the hull near the engine room and she quickly listed to starboard and sank in less than 10 minutes. 

Sister Roberts
Despite help arriving rapidly, the state of the sea and the strong winds hampered the rescue operation and the human cost was appalling. Of 205 passengers and crew, 130 perished. Despite extensive searches, only 13 bodies were initially recovered. There are now 24 burials from the sinking of the Salta in Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, and also a memorial to those - including Sister Jane Roberts of Tywyn - whose bodies were never recovered.