Bombing raids at home – and more sad news from the front – Porthcawl 100 years ago. News from September 1917 by …

Friday, 8 September 2017

By Contributed Item
in Local People

On September 2, in response to daylight raids over the east coast being curtailed by improved British Air Defence strategies, the German Gotha GIV bombers changed to moonlight raids, with London suffering two more such raids before the end of the month.

The raid of September 24 resulted in a bomb falling outside the Bedford Hotel, where boxer Jimmy Wilde was staying at the time. Prior to the war, Wilde had been the British Flyweight Champion from February 1916–April 1918, yet it was for his bouts with local boxer, Billy Rowlands, that he is best remembered in Porthcawl.

On that night in London, however, he recounts that he had ‘a very narrow escape’ (Glamorgan Gazette, September 28, 1917)

Wilde recalls that he was standing at the door of the hotel when a bomb fell on the road outside and blew him down the passageway. He emerged unscathed, but the man next to him was severely injured and two women lost their lives.

In fact, 13 people were killed and 22 injured when the 112lb bomb hit the road.

As a result of these moonlight bombing raids, the streetlights in central London were turned off.

Conversely, Porthcawl Town Council agreed to allow town lights to show a partial light to help pedestrians find their way around. Obviously, the threat from the air was much less, yet London would not see cessation of the raids until May 1918, after a 5-mile long (82 km) balloon barrage had been established around the city.

Apart from the grave news from the Ypres Front, the main topic of conversation in the town was the price of food and fuel. The Local Food Control Committee had dropped the price of milk from 6d a quart to 5d, which angered the milk vendors, as they pleaded for clemency due to the price of feeding the cattle and the insufficiency of grass – a consequence of allotment monopoly.

Butchers, too, were dismayed at the fixed price of meat, whereas coal merchants were anxious at how any proposed pricing would affect them. Moreover, confusion was rife as to the filling in of the newly- distributed application forms for both personal sugar rations and sugar retail, to such an extent that an appeal was made for a clerical assistant to aid the public in filling them in correctly – as incomplete forms “greatly retards the work of the executive officer” (Porthcawl News, September 27, 1917).

The forms had to be submitted by October 6. Persons intending to sell potatoes were also required to fill in the appropriate registration form, stating whether the potatoes were raw or cooked.

Yet amidst this anxiety, news from the front soon put it all into perspective. The town lost three more men at The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), during September.

September 1, 1917 was the official date given for the death of 2nd Lieutenant Rhys Trevor Evans, 4th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who had been killed in action. The date may possibly be arbitrary, as 2nd Lt Evans’s body was never recovered and is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

One of six children, Rhys was born in Tonypandy on April 27, 1896, to Thomas and Mary Anne Evans. Tom’s job as a colliery manager took the family to Abertillery, from where Rhys applied to work, and was accepted, by the Midland Bank at their branch in Hereford on February 10, 1913.

He was there for only a year, as on September 14, 1914, at the age of 18, he enlisted as an acting Corporal into the 2nd Battalion, Herefordshire Regiment.

In December 1916, while serving in France, Rhys obtained a commission in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. At the time of his death, his mother Mary, originally from Kenfig Hill and a widow, had moved to 54 Suffolk Place. Although not named on the town memorial, Rhys is remembered on the Midland Bank Roll of Honour 1914-1920.

Another Porthcawlian, 2nd Lieutenant William James Williams, serving with 16th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was killed on September 19, 1917, near Pilkem Ridge – the only officer, along with 11 other ranks, to be killed following a night of German shelling.

A month earlier, on the first day of the Passchendaele Campaign, William had been awarded the Military Cross. The London Gazette of January 8, 1918 read: “On July 31, he took command of his company, and immediately his Company Officer was wounded, shortly after the commencement of the action. He rallied his men, kept them well in hand under heavy fire, and showed a splendid example of steadiness to his men throughout.”

William had been born at 10 Osborn Place, Nantymoel, to William and Jane Williams on November 26, 1895. Although initially a coal miner, by 1906 his father William, had gone to South Africa to work as a gold mine captain in the Transvaal, where he earned the money that would send young William to Llandovery College.

By the time William was about 10 years old, his parents had bought and moved into ‘Yeoville,’ 17 Esplanade Avenue, Porthcawl, where his father died on December 24, 1914.

After leaving school, William worked as a clerk for the Glamorgan County Council in Cardiff, and by December 29, 1915, he had moved to a similar position in London, where he joined the 28th London Regiment, Artistes Rifles.

A year later on December 19, 1916, William had applied and been granted a commission with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, with whom he was posted to the Western Front on January 15, 1917: 2nd Lieutenant Williams was 21 years old at the time of his death and is buried in Erquinghem Churchyard, Erquinghem, Lys, Belgium.

Jane, William’s mother, transformed ‘Yeoville’ into a guesthouse for some years after the war, but in the 1930s, went to live with her sister, Ruth Austin in Hookland Road, where she died in 1961 aged 89 years old.

Ruth’s husband, Evan Idris Austin, who had owned an ironmongers in Porthcawl had also distinguished himself in the war, serving with the Royal Army Service Corps. Evan died on October 9, 1937.

“Great sympathy is felt with Mrs Evans of Chesterfield House, 6 Fenton Place and her two young children upon the death of her husband, Gunner Arthur Evans, of the Royal Field Artillery, who died of his wounds, in France, on the 25th of last month.” (Porthcawl News, October 4, 1917).

This was how the report of Arthur’s death was conveyed to the town, yet Gunner Evans had actually died of his wounds on September 25 at the Battle of The Menin Road Bridge, in Belgium.

Arthur’s late father, David Evans, had been the pastor at Hope Congregational Chapel, Newton Nottage Road, since 1887, and, as a consequence, Arthur’s death amidst the congregation was keenly felt.

Arthur had been born one of four children in 1889 to David and Hannah Evans, in Hookland Road, Porthcawl.

On leaving school, Arthur had been apprenticed, as a baker’s assistant, to Henry Beech Comley, John Street, Porthcawl. By 1911, Arthur had married Annie; Horace his son had been born, and he had established himself as a baker in Aberavon.

When war broke out, he enlisted and saw service with the Royal Field Artillery in Dublin during the Easter Rising in 1916, before being posted to the Western Front in March 1917. Gunner Arthur Evans is buried in Dozinghem Military Cemetery.

Fortunately, the month ended with some pleasing news, albeit frivolous when compared to the war, but at the Glamorgan Volunteer Training Corps Camp held at Porthcawl, where the various companies vied for supremacy at musketry, bombing, drilling and presenting equipment, Porthcawl won the award for the best bugle team.

Ceri Joseph,

Porthcawl Museum

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