Resolven History Society Meeting

A report on the meeting of Resolven History Society on Monday 11th October

Mao Zedong, as well as having his name appearing in several different versions is also misquoted as saying that “the first step in a long journey is the first”. He actually said that the first step was the first in 10,000 to take over the country which you may agree has a slightly different meaning. However, the first step of reviving the activity of the Society took place this week following the pandemic, which is the worst to hit the world in a century and a historic event in itself.

Not surprisingly, the audience in the church was far smaller than normal, and Covid-19 restrictions meant that the layout of the hall was different, however the engine had started and we were on our way. As speaker, Bernard Lewis from Cimla remarked, he had spoken to smaller audiences in the past and so long as those present enjoyed what was said, then he had done his part in the proceedings.

Mr Lewis, who has visited the Society twice before ,took “Swansea during the Great War” as his topic and explored several aspects of everyday life in the (then ) town.

On the fourth of August 1914, Charlie Chaplin’s latest film was about to be shown at the Albert Hall in Swansea. The showing was interrupted by a notice that war with Germany had commenced. The Mayor , Thomas Taliesyn Coaker , immediately made a plea for the formation of a “pals battalion” and requested a force of 1200 men. However, many had already volunteered with other regiments and despite recruiting attempts such as military bands, it stood at only 500 men, before being sent to Rhyl to prepare for the front.

Swansea has many conscientious objectors during the war. Some, such as John Oliver Watkins, a Quaker, opted instead to act as a stretcher bearer by joining the “Friends Ambulance” in France. He eventually joined a French equivalent and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery.

Enemy aliens who were in Swansea, such as Carl Oscar Roth a sausage factory owner were rounded up and many were sent to the Isle of Man as internees. Conditions were not good and resulted in riots in Douglas with several deaths. Refugees from Belgium , began arriving and there were 350 in the town by 1915, housed in Maesteg House and the YMCA. The YMCA also acted as a hospital with 20 beds. Penrice Castle was used as a convalescent home for Australian officers as demanded by the Talbots of Margam for an unclear reason.

Despite being a port, Swansea’s traffic in merchandise dipped terrifically during the war, since the U Boat campaign was ravaging the merchant fleet. This caused inflation in the price of goods and food, with stagnant wages leading to strikes in local factories. Indeed Lloyd George came to Swansea to implore the workers to return to work. This was accompanied by the introduction of rationing by 1916, with shortages of butter, flour and margarine. Potatoes were also in very short supply and were sold in lots of 4lb. However, the Belgian fishermen ensured that there was still plenty of fish! Swansea Council introduced a “Grow your own”, scheme and a “make do”, effort for the population to make the best of their plight. Pigs were allowed to be kept in gardens and rabbits were sought all over Gower as a source of meat. Owing to conscription, there was shortage of bread since the number of bakers had halved.

As on the second world war . The role of women changed completely as they were brought into the factories and even formed a version of the police force , to stop “giddy young girls “, being lured by soldiers returning from the front in the rough streets of Swansea. As today, women’s football became popular and drew large crowds.

The population were busy in raising funds for the war effort. Carnivals an whist drives were popular, and free entry to special clubs for servicemen to be fed were common, with the YMCA feeding some 30,000 during the war, by day and night. !00,000 cigarettes were sent to the front and sometimes the prizes from raffles were rather bizarre, such as “ten tons of slag”. Wounded sioldiers also attended the college in Swansea for retraining.

Two VCs were awarded to men from Swansea during the Great War. Thomas Fuller , was the soldier who carried the dying Mark Rider Haggard of Rheola House from the front. Haggard’s name is featured on the war memorial in Resolven, and was from the same family as the author of “King Solomon’s Mines”. In all, some 3,000 casualties of the war came from Swansea, though the war memorial in the now City, only shows 2,300 owing to the fact that so many served in other regiments.

Mr David Woosnam, thanked Mr Lewis for a memorable talk. In a lengthy question and answer session it was noted that many of the mistakes and lessons of the Great War were adopted early in 1939, such as rationing and conscription.

Trefor Jones.

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