Pontypool soldier’s war memories on TV

WRITER: Private Charles Heare

MEETING ROYALTY: Private Heare with King Edward VIII in Pontypool in 1936

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AN extract from a Pontypool soldier's vivid account of the First World War was given pride of place in television coverage of the centenary events.

Private Charles Heare wrote about being involved in every major battle of the First World War while he was in the 2nd Monmouthshire regiment.

Royal Marine Major Nathan Hale read Private Heare's words during Monday night's BBC2 coverage of the events marking the centenary of the First World War in front of royals and dignitaries in Belgium.

The extract read: "This life is grand, marching and singing. I have a fairly loud voice and let it go. How fond we all are of marching and singing. Tipperary is sung as is A Soldier Man and Who's Your Lady Friend and a host of others.

"All those who volunteered for foreign service are given a silver brooch with Imperial Service on it with a crown on top. Our first medal. How we show it off.

"We all laugh and say we won't see a clothes line in France, never mind a frontline and if we go on and the Germans knew the second Mons were coming out, they'd give it up as a bad job.

"A new lot joined my company on a Saturday route march of 20 miles. I'm behind a bandy-legged man, I can't take my eyes off his legs and I'm always out of step. We all sing on the marches. What a great holiday all the boys say, it's the best war we've ever been in."

Historian Richard Frame discovered Private Heare's account at the South Wales Borderers Museum in Brecon while he was researching a young soldier from Newport in the same regiment, Percy Scannel, who was killed aged 20 at the third Battle of Ypres.

He got in touch with the Argus in April this year and successfully traced Private Heare's grandson Mike Heare to ask for permission to transcribe the account.

A few weeks ago, Mr Frame was contacted by the centenary event organisers who wanted to speak to Private Heare's family about using an extract.

By chance, a great-niece of Private Heare, Megan Higgs, 58, of Nottingham, heard the extract being read aloud on the television coverage.

She said: "I had met him as a child, we always knew he'd written a diary.

"It was just because his name was mispronounced, it's pronounced 'Hares' and when they said Charles Heares, I knew it was him. It was amazing. It was pure chance I caught it.

"I can remember my grandmother saying how excited they were going off to war and that's what came out in what he had written."

Mr Frame has begun transcribing the account in a bid to publish a book. He also hopes to create an exhibition at Pontypool Museum.

There is currently an exhibition running at Newport Museum about the city and the First World War which features information about Mr Scannel.

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