WITH the centenary of the start of the First World War being marked this week, KEILIGH BAKER looks at how Monmouthshire residents were affected and speaks to relatives of those who served for their country.
MUCH is reported about what went on during the many horrific and bloody battles of the First World War and has passed into common knowledge, but not as much is known about life at home in Monmouthshire.
From the moment war broke out, men were leaving their jobs and families in villages, towns and cities across the country on an unprecedented scale - at a time when women’s realm was firmly confined to house, husband and children.
While compulsory conscription did not begin until 1916, in 1914 there was a fierce rush of patriotism which saw men from across Monmouthshire signing up to fight for their country.
Families, women and children were left to fend for themselves. At a time when few married women worked, there was no welfare state and poor relief and the workhouse were stigmatised.
For the first time, in Monmouthshire and across the country, women replaced them in the factories, shops, offices and even sports teams.
When war broke out Britain was ill-equipped in terms of field artillery and shells. In May 1915 the government created the Ministry of Munitions with David Lloyd George as minister. The UK went from just 16 companies creating armaments, but by the end of 1915 there was 73 additional operations producing armaments and munitions, and by the end of the war there were 218.
Monmouthshire used its expertise in metal processing to create three of the 43 National Shell Factories in the UK, and many women found themselves working in these factories to provide for their families and help the war effort.
The Monmouthshire Regiment was formed in 1908 as the Territorial Army unit for the county and was made up of three Battalions drawn from different areas of the county.
The 1st (Rifle) Battalion was based at Newport and was formed from the 2nd Volunteer Battalion. The 2nd Battalion was based at Pontypool and formed from the 3rd Volunteer Battalion. Abergavenny was the headquarters of the 3rd Battalion which included two companies from Abertillery, one each from Blaina, Sirhowy, Tredegar, Ebbw Vale and Cwm and one company from Abergavenny.
When war broke out on August 4 1914 the order to mobilise was received at 6.10 p.m. on the same day. Throughout the night of the 4th, the companies from the various towns and villages of the 3rd Mons mustered and caught trains to Abergavenny and the whole battalion gathered outside the Market Hall at dawn on August 5. Later, they marched on to Bailey Park, where they were given tea.
Late that night, the battalion travelled by train to Pembroke Dock where they joined up with the rest of the Welsh Border Brigade - the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Monmouthshire Regiment and the 1st Herefords. They stayed at Pembroke Dock for four days before being moved to Oswestry to complete their training. By August 31, the whole brigade had been billeted in Northampton.
At the end of January, orders were received for service in Flanders and the battalion sailed from Southampton on the S.S. "Chyabassa" on the night of February 14 1915.
Dot Jones, 82, from Llanover, found in her mother's belongings a photograph and details of her brother, Mrs Jones' uncle, who served in the War from 1914 - 1918. His name was Arthur Charles Webb. He was born in Buller Street, Cwmffrwdoer, near Pontypool in 1893 and worked as a coal miner before the war.
He served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the East Lancashire Regiment. While serving with this Regiment he was awarded the Military Cross. He survived the war and some time in the 1930's he emigrated with his wife to Canada and lived in Windsor, Ontario.
A cutting from the Free Press in 1964 said: "Mr. Arthur C. Webb, formerly of Cwmffrwdoer, came over from his home at Windsor, Ontario, with a party of "Old Contemptibles" to take part in a reunion in London, where they were received by the Queen. Mr. Webb, who served in the First World War with the Second Mons., recalled the fraternisation between British and German troops in "No Man's Land" on Christmas Day 1914. He walked to the German trench and threw the Germans some tobacco before returning to his own line. He fully expected to be court martialled but, fortunately, heard no more about it".
He died in Canada in 1972 when he was 79 years old.
Brenda Waters’ father, Corporal Frederick Charles Rogers, was in the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment. He was born in December 1887 and joined the army in 1914, when he was 29, serving for the entirety of the First World War.
In June 1915 he suffered what his medical records describe as a ‘serious’ shotgun wound to his left thigh and was treated in hospital at Wimereux, in northern France. Mrs Waters researched her father’s time during the war, and discovered some soldiers who have served for two years were treated to a holiday in Boulogne. While her father was there in March 1916, he competed in, and won, a 10 round boxing match, and was given a silver trophy. When he returned from the war, he joined the Pontnewydd Harries boxing club, and later became a trainer.
Mrs Waters still has his trophy, dog tag, and his wallet from the time, which Corporal Rogers inscribed with all the places he visited during the war– including Ypres Sorrel, St Jean and Mailly. He was also mentioned for gallant conduct between September 17-December 31, although he did not talk about the war with his daughter. “He never mentioned it,” Mrs Waters said. “I don’t think he liked to even think about it.”