The discovery of five letters to a Newport home from 1916 have shed light on one family’s heart-breaking loss. MARTIN WADE investigates the letters to the parents of Lance Corporal Alfred Morgan.

ROBERT Young lives in Dawlish, the seaside town on the south Devon coast.

With no connections to South Wales, he could be forgiven for being non-plussed by the bundle of letters he found among a box of old paperwork.

They are addressed to one Alfred Morgan of Pontfane House on Nash Road. The letters are all short and immaculately written.

Their graceful copperplate letters recall a time when much of our news was conveyed this way. They are written on heavy cartridge notepaper embossed with the sender’s address and red one penny stamps bear the King’s head. They are relics of a world long gone.

Although it is not that long ago since letters like this were common place.

They all relate the sympathy of friends on the family’s loss following news that their son Alfred had been killed on the Western Front.

Robert Young bought them at an auction in the East Midlands. “I collect old railway company letterheads and stationery” he says, adding: “they were among a box of assorted old correspondence.”

Keen to know more about the story behind the letters, he sent them to the Argus. “I hoped they could find out more about who this man was” he said.

Today if news like that which befell the Morgan family breaks, it would do so on Facebook. The letters wishing sympathy curiously mirror that sharing of grief. They were sent from 21-26 June and the sound of the postman and the flop of letters on the doormat would have been like the ping of a status update.

They are the kind of letters which would have been sent thousands of times in those dark years. Bringing thoughts of sympathy and condolence for a son or father who would never return.

They were all addressed to Alfred Morgan, the father of Lance Corporal Alfred Morgan.

One letter from a John McCann is smartly inscribed as from ‘The Lodge, Malpas, nr Newport’. Sent on June 25 1916, it reads: “I am deeply sorry to hear of your son’s death and sympathise with you very sincerely but much as you will grieve over his loss you must feel proud that he met his death giving his life for his King and country.”

A Mr B Vickery sent his wishes from The Norlands at Clytha Park in Newport. He wrote: “It was with very sincere sorrow we heard of the death of your son from the severe wounds received from gallantly serving his country on the field of battle.

He hoped the Morgan’s would take comfort that he died “so gloriously and patriotically” and hoped that “you and others who have been thus deprived of their dear ones are deserving of the country’s gratitude and deepest sympathy and it is to assure you of our own feelings in this respect that I send you this note of condolence.”

Another, sent on June 23 was from a former work colleague of Alfred’s of 24 William Street in Newport.

“You will no doubt have by now received many tokens of sympathy in your sad loss, but none more sincere than mine. I was much grieved to hear of Alfred’s death, for I cannot help recalling the fact that I worked with him for six years and up to a certain period he was to me an ideal employer.”

There is a similar tone and language used in all the letters. Words which perhaps would be considered stilted today were then written freely.

Alfred Morgan worked as an undertaker in Newport. His home was at Pontfane House on Nash Road, where most of the letters are addressed. His business was on Mountjoy Street, where another of the letters was addressed to.

The manager of the undertakers in 1914 was a Mr AE Hicks, it seems probable that he was a relation of Royal Flying Corps airman Albert G Hicks, who wrote to express his sadness: “It was with extreme regret I heard from Mr Hicks that Alf had been seriously wounded and I had hoped to hear better news concerning him, but I note from the Argus he has gone from this world of strife.

They wrote after reading the sad news in the Argus of Friday June 23. There, readers learnt: “Mr Alf Morgan, undertaker, Newport, has received news of the death from wounds of his only son, Alfred.”

It told how Private Morgan was in Canada at the outbreak of hostilities and immediately joined the Canadian forces. He had seen more than 12 months’ service at the front.

Pte Morgan joined the 8th Battalion Canadians. The report told how he “fell severely wounded in the gallant attack in which the Canadians recovered their lost trenches last week”.

After an operation in which both his feet were amputated, Private Morgan seemed to be making good progress and doctors and nurses were “quite confident he would pull through”, but by Tuesday he developed a specially virulent form of blood poisoning and nothing the doctor did could stay its course.

The chaplain who was there as Alfred died said he passed away “happy and content and not in the least bit afraid”.

He was buried in the cemetery near the casualty hospital, his grave being marked with a cross bearing his name.

Alfred’s unit, the 8th Battalion Canadians was part of the Manitoba Regiment. It had embarked for Great Britain on October 1 1914 as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Having landed in France in February 1915 after training in the UK, it fought as part of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war. The battalion was disbanded on 15 September 1920.

It is most likely that Alfred met his end during fighting in a place where many other Newport men met theirs - Ypres.

His unit was part of the Canadian Corps which was defending the southern stretches of the Ypres Salient between April and August 1916. During this time the Canadians fought actions at the St. Eloi Craters, Hill 62, Mount Sorrel and Sanctuary Wood.

One action in particular is the likely battle where Alfred was fatally injured. In June 1916, the Canadian Corps faced heavy losses in the fighting for Mont Sorrel, a key strategic position overlooking the town of Ypres. The German attack of June 2 wiped out entire battalions, and repeated efforts to retake the position failed.

With better co-ordination between artillery and infantry and improved battle preparations, the Canadians counter-attacked on June 13 and regained the lost ground. But the price was high. Over 3,000 soldiers were killed or missing and over 5,000 were wounded. This could be the “gallant attack in which the Canadians recovered their lost trenches last week” mentioned by the Argus. And so among those 3,000 most probably, was Alfred Morgan.

Alfred Morgan himself is buried at Lijssenthoek Cemetery nearby. It is around six miles west of Ypres. After Tyne Cot, it is the second largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in Belgium.

Because of its location close to the Ypres frontline, but out of the range of most German field artillery, Lijssenthoek was chosen as the site of Allied casualty clearing stations.

After the end of the war, Alfred’s original wooden grave marker was replaced with a standard Commonwealth War Grave made of Portland stone, and the area was carefully landscaped.

Beneath the Canadian symbol of the maple leaf its inscription reads simply: “A/22116 Lance Cpl A Morgan 8th Bn Canadian Inf / 19th June 1916.”

They are remembered also at the Hill 62 Canadian Memorial. Although referred to as Mount Sorrel the Canadian memorial is actually located some 800 yards north of Mount Sorrel itself.

It is a block of white Quebec granite weighing almost 15 tons sitting at the centre of a circular expanse of green lawn on top of three landscaped terraces. The memorial bears the inscription: “Here at Mount Sorrel on the line from Hooge to St. Eloi, the Canadian Corps fought in the defence of Ypres April-August 1916.”

Among the thousands of sons of this vast land of the New World remembered here, is one son of Newport.

Are you related to the Morgan family? Or perhaps you know more about them? Please contact or call 01633 777008.