News & Events
Updated News 5th February 2018
Studying chapel memorials in Wales
In 2016 Living Legacies funded the ‘Welsh Memorials’ project, which sought out ‘unofficial’ First World War memorials in Wales, including those in schools, clubs, workplaces and chapels. Now Dr Gethin Matthews of Swansea University has used the information gathered by the project to write a chapter for Mars and Minerva, a book to be published by Palgrave Macmillan which will examine artistic responses to war. Dr Matthews’ contribution, ‘Angels, Tanks and Minerva’, will focus upon the memorials to the Great War that are in Welsh chapels, which are at the same time public declarations of loyalty to the British cause in the war and objects to facilitate private remembrance and mourning. These memorials, be they ornate scrolls, elaborate marble tablets or just inscriptions on a brass plate, often come with mixed messages, treading a fine line between honouring the men (and women) who served and glorifying the war in which they fought. There are plenty of angels on these memorials, often bearing laurel wreaths of peace, but also romanticised imagery of modern weaponry such as tanks, and, in one case, a statue of a female figure that looks remarkably like Minerva, the Roman goddess of strategic warfare.
Updated News April 2017
Canadians and Australians on welsh war memorials
This is a recording of a talk given by Dr Gethin Matthews of Swansea University at a day-conference held in Cardiff in April 2017 on the theme ‘Myth, Memory and Military encounters – National Rememberings of First World War Battles’.
The event, kindly co-sponsored by the Canadian Studies in Wales Group and the Living Legacies 1914-18 WW1 Engagement Centre, was held at the time of the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which is widely commemorated as a Canadian victory.
In the talk Dr Matthews begins with an exploration of how towns sought to count and publicise the number of volunteers they had provided in the early months of the war, and how Welshmen serving with Canadian units were included in the figures. There are examples of Canadian and Australian soldiers from Wales being celebrated by their home communities, and then an examination of how town memorials, and other memorials put up by Welsh communities, include significant numbers of Dominion troops. A number of interesting memorials in Welsh chapels are considered and the talk finishes with a family memorial in a Welsh graveyard to a Canadian soldier whose remains lie somewhere on Vimy Ridge.
Video of Canadians and Australians on Welsh war memorials
War Memorials Trust 20th Anniversary
The War Memorials Trust celebrated their 20th Anniversary in style at the House of Lords las month. The event was hosted by the Trust’s Chariman – Peter Cormick OBE. Since establishing itself as a small charity, the War Memorial Trust has come a long way. They have provided numerous grants to support the restoration of memorials across the United Kingdom, and have a searchable database showcasing this work to view this, click here.
It was a very interesting event, and I learnt a lot about the work done by volunteers from across the country to protect and preserve the thousands of memorials we have dedicated to those who lost their lives serving their King (or Queen) and Country. Peter McCormick shared some entertaining anecdotes from the Trust’s early days and highlighted the fantastic work that the Trust has done in its two decades. Director Frances Moreton then read out a message of support from the War Memorials Trust’s patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.
Although the War Memorials Trust has many volunteers in England, they are always keen to recruit more, and are looking specially to increase their presence in Wales and Northern Ireland. If you are interested in applying for a grant to restore a memorial in your local area, they have a War Memorials Officer for many local authorities, who should be your first point of contact. Click here for more information. The Trust recently launched a website (war memorials online) to “record, conserve and remember our war memorials.” So far, contributors have uploaded the details of 30,000 memorials and submitted 20,000 condition reports.
On the 22nd and 23rd of June, the War Memorials Trust will be running two Memorials Online Workshops in collaboration with the Powys War Memorials Project. These workshops aim to provide training on the use of the War Memorials Online website; a site visit to survey the condition of a local memorial and guidance on best conservation practise in addition to providing guidance on the funding available for war memorials and information about the Powys War Memorial Project. The War Memorial Trust are very pleased with the amount of people who have booked a place on this workshop and are keen to hold more events like this with other local community groups.
Picture top left: Meg Ryder of Living Legacies with Nathan Davies of Powys War Memorials on the House of Lords’ Balcony.
Organisations that we have worked with that have contributed to our project, or that we have assisted with their research:
- Wales at War (HLF contribution of £85k)
- Powys War Memorials Project (£340k of HLF funding)
- Skewen and District Historical Society (HLF-funded project - £6k)
- Women’s Archive of Wales (HLF-funded project: Women in World War I: The Welsh Experience - £8k)
- Blaenau Gwent Heritage (HLF-funded project: Blaenau Gwent in the First World War - £74.9k)
- Firing Line Museum (HLF-funded project: Cardiff Remembers - £46.4k)
- Cymdeithas Hanes Caersalem Newydd (HLF-funded project - £4.3k)
- National History Museum, St Fagans (National Museum of Wales)
- National Waterfront Museum, Swansea (National Museum of Wales)
- National Slate Museum, Llanberis (National Museum of Wales)
- Cyfartha Castle Museum (Merthyr)
- Pontypool Museum
- Blaenavon Museum
- Gelligaer Historical Society
- Dyffryn Amman High School (+All Saints Church, Ammanford who have received £117k of HLF money to repair a clock tower + WW1 memorial)
Individual researchers who have shared their research with us:
- Shaun Macguire, Newport
- Bill Hyett, Clydach
- Evan + Auronwy James, Penrhyncoch
- Dr Elwyn Hughes, Bethesda
- David Pugh, Newtown
- David Hughes + other individuals associated with the Western Front Association
- + numerous others who have supplied photographs of WW1 memorials in schools, chapels etc
Organisations that we have had discussions with, but no concrete outputs as yet:
- Machynlleth and District Civic Society
- Rhondda Heritage Park
- Cynon Valley Museum
- Brecon Remembers World War One (HLF-funded project - £5.5k)
- Flintshire War Memorials (HLF-funded project - £10k)
Education Minister launches new Wales at War platform
On Monday 2 November 2015, The National Library of Wales will launch a new Wales at War platform at St Cyres School, Penarth – a major, bilingual digital resource for schoolchildren, teachers and anyone with an interest in the First World War and its impact on Welsh communities.
Wales at War has been funded by the Armed Forces Community Covenant, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Department for Education and Skills in Welsh Government. The project is led by the National Library of Wales, in partnership with the Royal Navy and schools in Wales. The project has also benefitted from working closely with a range of partners, including the Armed Forces, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales, the Archives and Records Council Wales and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Wales at War will engage young people in Wales in activities to develop their understanding of the history of the war using digital sources. The platform includes a timeline of the First World War with a distinct Welsh flavour, a Theatres of War section depicting where Welsh Service personnel fought, and a tool to engage young people and the general public in historical research by supporting them to create biographies of the names listed on their local war memorials. The project will raise community awareness of the memorials, drawing attention to any conservation needs, and will serve as a meaningful legacy of the First World War in Wales.
The project forms part of the Welsh Government’s Cymru’n Cofio Wales Remembers 1914-1918 programme of commemoration for the First World War taking place across Wales.
Left to right front: Samuel Bowen, 14, Hannah Lewis, 15, and Ethan Thomas,14,
who presented their research at the launch event.
Left to right back: Professor Lorna Hughes, Wales at War Principal Investigator,
Nigel Clubb, Heritage Lottery Fund,
Huw Lewis AM, Minister For Education and Skills,
Dr Jonathan Hicks, Headteacher at St Cyres, and Warrant Officer Diana Cope of The Royal Navy.
Launching the new platform, Huw Lewis AM, Minister for Education and Skills said:
"I am delighted to launch the new Wales at War platform - a project that will develop inclusive learning and encourage heritage activities as part of the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War in Wales.
"A key objective of our Cymru'n Cofio Wales Remembers 1914-1918 programme is to get our young people to take an active interest in the events and consequences of the First World War"
"This project, which has a distinct Welsh flavour, will foster greater engagement between schools, families, community groups and military organisations, and develop a collective biography of Wales at War.”
Richard Bellamy, Head of the HLF in Wales said:
"War memorials are important physical tributes to our War heroes. As this excellent project demonstrates, there is a huge interest in marking the Centenary and exploring and sharing the heritage of the First World War, often in new and different ways. Some of these stories are thought-provoking and inspiring; some are uncomfortable and create debate. We want to encourage communities to explore these stories and I am really pleased that this project is reaching so many people."
Dr Jonathan Hicks, Headteacher St Cyres School, military historian and author added:
“The centenary of the Great War provides us with a unique opportunity to engage young people in the commemoration by teaching them the skills to enable them to learn more about how their community was affected by this devastating conflict. The 'Wales at War' app and website makes the best use of the technology youngsters already use on a daily basis to develop their research and collaboration skills.”
The website is available at www.walesatwar.org and the app can be downloaded, for free, from the App Store, Google Play and through Hwb, the Welsh Government digital learning platform.
Wales at War is an important community outreach project that will foster greater collaboration between young people and communities to discover more about the impact of the war on life in Wales. By 2019, with your help, the project hopes to have collected the personal stories of the 40,000 or so Welsh men and women – soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses and civilians – who lost their lives as part of the Welsh war effort.
Rhian James, Project Manager firstname.lastname@example.org or 01970 632970
Elin-Hâf email@example.com or 01970 632534
Welsh Memorials to the Great War, by Dr Gethin Matthews
Over the summer I was successful in applying for funding from the Living Legacies Engagement Centre, to run a project on Welsh Memorials to the Great War. Essentially this project aims to begin to fill a gap in our knowledge and appreciation of ‘unofficial’ war memorials in Wales. Although a lot of work has been done on commemoration of the war in Wales, the tendency has been to focus on the ‘official’ memorials. The available databases do a good job of listing these, what you might call the ‘village green’ memorials, but they are very patchy when it comes to memorials that were set up by chapels, workplaces, schools and societies.
As well as creating and sharing a database, the project will also explore different ways in which these memorials can be analysed by researchers. The database could be used to facilitate:
– a ‘micro-history’, focussing in closely on one memorial and doing a biographical analysis of the names listed.
– a study of the distribution of the memorials, and how there are different patterns of commemoration across Wales
– a study of the iconography of the memorials, and again how this differs across regions
– looking at patterns of inclusion, for instance by examining those memorials that list women as well as men.
Although the project has not yet launched properly, I have already amassed a collection of chapel memorials, which I find very enlightening as to the attitudes of people and communities across Wales to the war. I presented my first talk on the topic at a workshop in early October, organised by Prof. Chris Williams at Cardiff University. One of the memorials that I focussed on in my presentation was the Roll of Honour in Adulam Baptist chapel, Bon-y-maen (north Swansea): one that I had only been to see the previous week (on a perfect autumn day, when the view across to Swansea University’s new campus and the Bay beyond was stunning).
Adulam Bonymaen Roll of Honour
This Roll of Honour lists (as many chapel memorials do) all of those who served in the War, not just the fallen: in this case, 48 men. The number of names is not surprising: other Baptist chapels in the north Swansea area have 81 (Caersalem Newydd, Treboeth), 99 (Seion, Morriston) and 52 (Soar, Morriston). In 1914, Adulam had 231 members (a smaller membership than the other three chapel mentioned above) so one can be sure that the majority of young Adulam men who were eligible did join up.
This Roll of Honour is interesting and unusual in that its creator has signed it (T. Lewis of Morriston), with the date 1917. Therefore this was a ‘live’ document, added to as the war dragged on and more Adulam men were called up. One can see from the spacing at the bottom of the document that some of the names were squeezed in. Also, the names of battles were added to the pillars on either side, including a battle fought in 1918.
The design of this memorial is different to all those I have studied previously, though many of the features are familiar. The two red dragons in the top corners of the memorial is a feature seen in Penuel chapel, Loughor. The collection of Allied flags in the centre of the roll can also be seen in the Roll of Honour at Bethel, Llanelli. The pillars flanking the list of names are also a feature of the two memorials in Mynydd Bach chapel. One unexpected aspect I have never previously encountered is the image of Kitchener, just beneath the flags. It is indeed surprising to have a picture of a warrior like Kitchener, not known for his sympathy for the ideals of Welsh Nonconformity, in a Welsh chapel.
Adulam Bonymaen Roll of Honour
The wording of this memorial is also significant. ‘Rhestr yr Anrhydeddus’ (literally ‘List of the honourable ones’); ‘Aelodau’r Eglwys a’r Gynulleidfa sydd yn gwasanaethu eu Duw, eu Brenin a’u Gwlad’ (‘Members of the Church and the Congregation who are serving their God, their King and their Country’). Many Welsh chapel memorials will have wording that declares that the men fought for ‘Rhyddid’ (‘Freedom’) and ‘Anrhydedd’ (‘Honour’) but it is not common to have such an explicit declaration that they were fighting for ‘Duw’ (God’).
The key question which we must be careful in answering is whether we can infer from this memorial that the chapel accepted the argument that this was a just war. We cannot say for sure that the whole congregation was committed to fighting the war to the end, whatever the cost, but it is clear that the chapel’s leadership did adhere to the line that this was a war for right against might. I believe the fact that the memorial was commissioned in 1917 is significant: by then any illusions that people might have had early in the war that it would be over quickly had long since disappeared. Britain was not winning the war in 1917, but losing a constant stream of men in battles that did not appear to bring victory any closer. Yet this document still declares that the cause is just, for if God is on the Allies’ side, there can be no question about whether or not we are in the right.
Supporting evidence comes from the pages of the local newspapers, the Cambrian Daily Leader and the Herald of Wales. Searching the online database of the tremendous resource Cymru1914.org it is easy to come across reports of well over a dozen of the servicemen being honoured by the chapel when they returned home on leave, or were demobbed at the end of the war. (See, for example, the reports on Gwilym Leyshon andWillie Martin ).
Thus this single memorial contains a wealth of information that can help us understand how this community reacted to the war. The aim of the project is to share the details of a few hundred Welsh memorials, giving us the opportunity to examine how people and communities across Wales responded to the challenges of this unprecedented war, and thus a better idea of how the Welsh nation as a whole was scarred by the experience.
Content obtained from https://cramswansea.wordpress.com/