Asquith resigns and Lloyd George forms a wartime coalition Cabinet Porthcawl at war: December 1916

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

By GEM Community Correspondent

in Local People

Ceri Joseph of Porthcawl Museum continues her look back on life in Porthcawl during World War One. In this article, she examines December, 1916.

On December 7 following Herbert Asquith’s resignation, David Lloyd George became Prime Minister and by December 11 had formed his coalition Cabinet.

One increasing concern facing the country was the growing shortage of certain foodstuffs and their increase in price, as a consequence. Food shortages were becoming prevalent.

Agricultural produce was less, due to many men from the farming industry having joined the armed services, and the poor wheat harvest of 1916 made bread difficult to obtain.

In some parts of the country, the potato crop failed. Therefore, the office of the Ministry for Food was formed. Lord Devonport was appointed its first minister which would prove not before time – as the situation deteriorated, in January 1917, as a result of the German government announcing unrestricted submarine warfare.

This meant that British merchant ships transporting food from overseas would be at risk of being sunk, worsening the shortages. Tragically, three Porthcawlians serving in the Mercantile Marine would lose their lives as a result of the U Boat attacks in 1917 – Chief Officer Angus Grant, Mate Richard Power and Engineer Officer William Lewis. Their stories will be told next year.

In Porthcawl that December, possibly as a result of specific food shortages, three local ploughmen, two farmers and a market gardener who applied for exemption to the town tribunal were given conditional exemption.

However, the dearth of wheat may be why a baker’s application was denied. Bread was in such short supply that advice was given nationally on how to make bread out of turnips!

A Porthcawl baker who had already enlisted and had seen action at the Somme was Albert Pothecary, whose parents ran the New Inn, South Road (Sea Horse today).

Mr and Mrs John Pothecary took great pride in their three sons who had all joined up voluntarily.

However, by December 1916 the eldest, Private John Osman Pothecary, 14th Welsh, had been brought home with a fever and the baker Private Albert Austin Pothecary, also 14th Welsh, had been wounded in the back and was invalided home.

Albert was not to return to the front, due to his severe injuries and finally received a Silver Badge in August 1917, two months before he was married to a Miss Hayes in Bridgend.

The third son, Private William Spurgeon Pothecary, was serving in France as a driver with the Royal Army Medical Corps. It is testament to the patriotism of this family when you read that even John Sr joined the local Volunteer Training Corps. Thankfully all three sons survived the war.

John Osman and his wife, Mary Jane, took over the New Inn public house from his parents in c1926; but sadly John died in 1940.

Albert worked for a short time as a cleaner at Porthcawl railway station, before transferring to cleaning carriages on GWR trains. Evidence suggests that Albert died in Staffordshire in 1963.

William, having aso worked for the GWR at Cardiff eventually emigrated with his wife Mabel to America on July 25, 1924, having bought their tickets to travel on the SS Montrose from George Sibbering, Well Street, Porthcawl. William and Mabel became American citizens in 1928.

In 1943 William, who was 48 years old by then, was drafted by the US Army for service at home. He died in 1977 at his home in Brooklyn, New York.

Another Porthcawlian who was in hospital in ‘Blighty’ at the Western Hospital, Alexandra Park, Stockport was Private Waldo Emerson Parry, Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport who lived at Maesygraig, Newton, next door to Hope Chapel.

Waldo, the only son of four children, was born to William and Sarah Parry in 1896, Wick. By 1901 the family had moved to Porthcawl.

Is it a coincidence that his father, who was a retired Unitarian minister, named his son after American Ralph Waldo Emerson, the essayist and lecturer who led the transcendentalist movement in 19th century America, which arose out of the doctrine of the Unitarian church as taught at Harvard Divinity School?

The transcendentalists believed that people are at their best when truly ‘self-reliant’ and independent. Therefore, although William is recorded as running a newsagent on New Road, research proves that, actually, it was his daughter Enid, who owned the newsagent known as The Emporium, New Road (end house on Mackworth Road).

This possibly suggests that in 1916, it was still not considered ‘seemly’ in Porthcawl for a woman to be the proprietor of a business.

Waldo’s occupation is initially reported as being a newsagent’s assistant; but by the time he enlists in the Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport Regiment at Cardiff, on November 6, 1915 he gives his profession as a ‘motor driver.’

Following his convalescence, Private Parry eventually returns to the Western Front, France on February 2, 1917.

After the war he becomes an accountant and marries Mary Phillips in 1928. In 1977, he is found living at 22, Danygraig Avenue where he dies on April 21, 1975 aged 78 years old.

The Porthcawl News December 1916 carried news of another Porthcawlian: Trooper Ernest Davis. Trooper Davis was reported as being at a base hospital in France, having been severely wounded in the head, on October 18 during the Somme campaign.

Trooper Davis of 17 Philadelphia Road had enlisted in the Glamorgan Yeomanry, but at the time of his injury was attached to the 2nd Battalion, South Wales Borderers. He had served in Ireland during the Easter Rising in April 1916 before being posted to France in the September.

Prior to joining up, Private Davis had worked as a gardener to a Mr JP Leat, South Road. On May 30, 1917, Ernest would, sadly, die of his wounds at the Howard Gardens Military Hospital, Cardiff and was buried in St John’s churchyard, Newton.

Ernest was 22 years old. His parents, William and Annie Davis, led the mourners at the funeral who included Mr William and Mrs Elizabeth Walker, and their son William from Treherbert, Rhondda.

Elizabeth was the sister of Ernest’s mother Annie: maiden name Gough. Elizabeth is the great grandmother of the writer. Her son William Walker, and his wife Annie, my grandparents, would later move to 17 Northways, Porthcawl in 1937; and through his love and ability at lawn green bowls, ‘Billy’ Walker would eventually become the chairman and, later, president of the Griffin Park Bowls Club.

Finally, December would prove a very harsh winter both home and abroad, yet the wives and mothers of Porthcawl servicemen were treated to a ‘Merry Christmas’ through the generosity of Mr TG Jones of ‘Beach House,’ Mackworth Road; ex-chairman of the Porthcawl Council.

On Christmas morning, while Mrs TG Jones distributed joints of Christmas beef to their homes, “a gentleman dressed as Father Christmas went round Porthcawl, in a motor-car, distributing clothing, toys, nuts and oranges to soldiers’ children.”(Glamorgan Gazette December 29, 1916.)

Who was this Santa? Whoever he may have been, such kindness certainly helped to brighten the lives of soldiers’ families; if only for a short time.

The town would suffer many more casualties in 1917.

Ceri Joseph

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