After many years with the Argus, MARTIN WADE is moving on to pastures new and this will be his last Long View. Here he takes a look back at some of the tales of Gwent history he has told.

IT’S been a pleasure and privilege to hear the untold stories of Newport and Gwent’s history and re-tell them to a new audience.

It began on May 8th - a portentous date in Newport history. It was 2015 and to mark the hundred years since more than 80 Newport soldiers were killed at the Battle of Frezenberg in the First World War, a memorial to the dead was being unveiled on Stow Hill.

I felt we should do more than just a single news story marking the event so I offered to write a series of features on the wider Second Battle of Ypres and the terrible cost in lives paid by the Monmouthshire Regiment.

Before that I had written about this terrible day in a series of features to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014.

I learnt more at the unveiling where I met Brian Flook, whose grandfather Lance Corporal Henry Flook was killed on that day 100 years before.

He told me how LCpl Flook cried “fix bayonets and come on you lazy bastards” as he pushed the men to charge a German machine gun post in the pouring fire on the Monmouthshires. They silenced the machine guns, but LCpl Flook was later killed.

He said: “I’m very proud of him and his pals who died on that day when they gave their lives for us.” He added it was “very pleasing to honour him after all these years - it’s been a long time, but we’ve finally got there”.

It was pleasing to meet people like him, fiercely proud of their relatives and keen that they should not be forgotten. It has been my privilege to help make sure that they are remembered.

That series of pieces became a weekly feature, printed on a Friday attempting to tell the untold stories of Gwent’s history. I wanted to avoid the usual subjects, like the Transporter Bridge and Tredegar House and tell new stories of old times.

There were the untold stories – of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. People like Richard Dunn. He was the Pill boy who took to the stage, the big screen and the skies - a local boy made good. Coming from a docks family, he left Newport in the 1930s and went on to become a star of the stage in the West End. During the Second World War he served in an elite Pathfinder squadron with the RAF. After the war art mirrored life as he took to the big screen to star in the war film about an RAF fighter squadron Angels One Five.

Then there were the Gwent Glee men. Who? You ask. They were the Newport men whose choir took the USA by storm and sang at the White House, before the First World War yet few have heard of them.

Newport woman Aimee Hibberd, whose great-grandfather William Sergeant was a member of choir, told me they also performed for the Prince of Wales, the Czar of Russia and the German Emperor. “These were part of family folklore” she said. “They were all ordinary working men. There was an office clerk, a stone mason, some general labourers, among others”. She was researching their history to remind people about the extraordinary things these ordinary Newport men did.

And there was Artie Moore. He was born in 1887 and lived in a 17th century water mill. But his fascination for the very modern technology of wireless communication meant that he would play a part a famous disaster on the night of April 15 1912. The self-taught wireless enthusiast from Blackwood picked up the distress signal sent from the Titanic as it sank, but was not believed when he tried to raise the alarm.

Some stories have merely re-awakened memories of events that are well-known. The piece I wrote on the cancellation of the Usk barrage across was one of them. It was a revelation to hear the anger that still exists over that fateful decision made 22 years ago.

Another was about the Newport boxer David Pearce who became Welsh and British heavyweight champion in the early 1980s. He died in 2000 at just 41-years-old, but was celebrated in a feature in 2016. A fundraising campaign has paid for a statue of ‘Newport’s Rocky’ which will stand on the Riverfront.

Other pieces have reflected the nostalgia for parts of Newport that are no longer with us. The Lyceum theatre, Maindee Baths, the shops and pubs on the Old Green and the White Funnel steamers which used to sail from by the Town Bridge.

One long-gone feature of Newport has yielded many fascinating stories. Cashmore’s scrapyard was the place where great ocean liners, warships and submarines came at the end of their life to be broken up for scrap. One feature told how great Royal Navy ships had made their last journey down the Usk at high tide. Another told how the fittings from these great liners found their way into the homes and pubs of Gwent. So great was the response I wrote another feature on where remnants of the liner could be found. Tracking down the furniture, wood panelling and ornaments from the transatlantic liner the Doric was a treat.

There have been tragedies too which were sometimes forgotten. The Llandow air crash of 1950 was one. Then, an airliner carrying Welsh rugby fans back from a Five Nations match in Ireland crashed, killing 80 and leaving only three survivors. Among the passengers, the Avro Tudor was carrying members of Abercarn, Risca, Abertillery and Blaenavon rugby club. A party from the Greenhouse pub in Llantarnam was also there. So devastating was the crash to Gwent rugby it is symbolised in the club badge of Abercarn RFC with a propeller.

Amid daily news of tragedies, in wartime, some were especially heart-rending. The story of the Newport evacuees who were lost their lives when they were sailing across the Atlantic to safety in America was one of them. When the City of Benares was torpedoed in 1940, 77 children including seven from Newport died.

In wartime, those sorrows often came in whole battalions for Newport. Within the seven days of this tragedy, a German bomber brought down over Newport in 1940 crashed into a house on Stow Park Avenue, killing two children. Famous Newportonian Harry Poloway was among those who tried to rescue them. So affected was he by the deaths of Malcolm and Myrtle Phillips, he joined the RAF soon after.

It’s been an honour to write the obituaries of many distinguished people whose stories were known to some but has been my privilege to re-tell.

Veteran of 32 bombing missions over Germany during the Second World War, Cwmbran’s Ralph Cooke was one. It was a revelation to talk to the son of Abergavenny Thursdays captain and ex-jungle fighting Chindit Bob Curzon. My final full feature, written last week, was a farewell to another RAF veteran, Caerleon stalwart Henry West. As a pupil on a trip to Germany he had seen Hitler and later in life had been a judge on the Eurovision Song Contest. I’ll be forever thankful for the chance to hear stories like these and meet their families.

I must also thank Richard Frame, Jan Preece, Shaun McGuire, David Hando and Jim Dyer for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for this most fascinating part of Wales.