‘Inflexible determination to continue struggle to the end’ Porthcawl News, August 1916 by Ceri Joseph of Porthcawl …

Saturday, 6 August 2016

By GEM Community Correspondent

in Local People

At 7.30pm on Friday, August 4 1916, a meeting was held to commemorate the second anniversary of the declaration of war.

Held on The Green, in front of the Seabank Hotel (then a boys’ college), it took the form of various dignitaries speaking on the resolution, “Declaring inflexible determination to continue the struggle to a victorious end.” (Porthcawl News August 1916.)

Among those who attended were the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Dr RJ Smith, Mr George Blundell and Porthcawl councillors TG Jones, RE Jones and TE Deere.

It is not inconceivable that this patriotism was fuelled by the news from the front, as the Battle of the Somme continued. Yet that week, it was news of a Porthcawlian dying in an accident that cast a gloom over the town: 2nd Lieutenant Walter Scott Mertz’s death was reported in, both the Porthcawl News and Wallingford Times, Berkshire, on August 3.

Having survived the Gallipoli campaign with the 2nd South Midland Mounted Brigade, as a Lance Corporal, on June 8, 1916 he had been transferred to the Royal Engineers; being granted a commission on June 15, 1916.

On July 28, 1916 while arranging billets for his men, 2nd Lt Mertz was killed on the Abingdon Road on his way to Didcot when his motorcycle collided on a ‘hairpin bend’ with Superintendent Foster’s car coming in the opposite direction.

Lt Mertz, 33, was thrown from his machine and as a result died of a fractured skull. His body was brought home to Porthcawl for burial in St John’s Churchyard, Newton.

Walter Scott Mertz had been born to Franz and Elizabeth Mertz on August 11, 1883 in Treherbert. His father, Franz, was born in Baden, Germany and had arrived in Merthyr Tydfil in the late 1860s, where he met and married his wife Elizabeth Hannah.

In the 1891 Census, the couple are found living in Aberdare where Franz worked as a fancy china dealer. On Franz’s death in 1898, Elizabeth moved to ‘Hannaston’, 36 Esplanade Avenue, Porthcawl (‘Lorelei’ today) where she died in 1930.

On leaving Pontypridd Intermediate Secondary School, Walter was employed as a draper’s assistant by William Jarvis of Aberdare. In 1908, he enlisted in the Berkshire Yeomanry as a trooper. In the 1911 Census Walter is found in South Shields, employed as a fancy draper.

While in the north-east, Walter was a member of 2039 Londonderry Lodge, Masonic Hall, Park Terrace, Sunderland; which today stands in the grounds of Beamish Museum.

On August 11, 1914, his 31st birthday, he enlisted, as a motorcycle dispatch rider to the South Midland Mounted Brigade. What is so sad is, that after his death, his fiancée and mother contested his will, which was overseen by the Metropolitan Bank in Porthcawl (Costa today). Elizabeth Mertz, his mother, won her claim.

There would be another military funeral held at St John’s Churchyard that August: John Campbell from Lanarkshire, Scotland born in 1890, enlisted into the 5th Battalion Queen’s Own Cameroon Highlanders in August/September 1914 at Inverness.

The Cameron Highlanders landed in France in October 1915 as part of the 9th Scottish Division. Involved in heavy fighting on the Somme on July 16/17th, John Campbell was wounded.

Along with two others soldiers from the same battalion, Donald Macloed and William Colman, he was transferred to the 3rd Western General Hospital, Cardiff.

John had suffered serious wounds in his thigh and shoulder from shrapnel; plus severe shellshock.

On August 8, 1916 he and his fellow comrades were transferred to The St John’s Auxiliary Hospital, Rest Bay, Porthcawl to convalesce. John had recovered well from his wounds, which potentially meant a return to active service.

On Tuesday, August 24 1916, at 10.30am William Watts of 2, Philadelphia Road retrieved his body from the sea opposite the Sea Bank Hotel, Porthcawl. An inquest was held into his death a week later, at Porthcawl Police Station.

Patients at the Rest Home spoke of how he hardly spoke during his time there, yet on the day he disappeared, he had been medically certified as fit for discharge and had talked about going away. John’s clothes were found on the rocks near where he had entered the water.

Whether his death was an accident, or whether he took his life, remains a mystery. The inquest returned an open verdict of ‘Found drowned’.

Members of the local training corps under the command of Sergeant William Farrow led the funeral procession and men from his regiment carried the flag-draped coffin.

Following the coffin were John’s two brothers, Alec and Robert, who had made the journey from Lanarkshire; and wounded soldiers from The Rest. His brothers declined to take his body home.

Amid the pain of war, life in the town continued. Near the Queen’s Hotel, New Road, Lily (The) White Hand Laundry had been reported for emitting excessive smoke from the premises.

Although Fred and Mabel Felton, proprietors, had changed the type of coal they used the problem still existed. Consequently the laundry moved to Cardiff and thus did the problem.

Mr William Rees, Apothecary Cottage, Nottage died aged 84 years old. At the inquest into his death, which recorded a verdict of ‘Death from natural causes’, it became known that Mr Rees had worked as a coal trimmer at the Porthcawl Dock, from the time it opened in 1865 until the day it closed in 1902.

On August 16, a very successful fete was held in Porthcawl, with ‘thousands of visitors thronging the streets and Esplanade.’ (Porthcawl News August 1916.) All proceeds were for the Porthcawl soldiers at the front.

Private Jack Turner, RAMC who had been at the front since the start of the war, and whose regular reports home to the Porthcawl News were keenly read every month, had been badly injured in the back, while stretcher-bearing.

Jack’s part in the war was finished; yet on returning home he continued to work locally for the Porthcawl News.

However, on August 21, two Porthcawlians were killed: Private Trevor Arnold Thomas, 15th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who had survived Mametz Wood was shot by a sniper near Bosinghe, north of Ypres; Corporal John Ormonde Rowe was killed in the trenches of Ploegstreet, south of Ypres.

Finally, on August 25, Sergeant John William Ridall, 7th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was believed to have been killed by shellfire. The account of his death highlights the brutality of war.

In a letter to Mr Ernest Albert Williams of Philadelphia Road, Porthcawl, Sergeant S Dainty relates –

“Sergeant Ridall left the trenches on 25/8/16 to go to the dressing station in the company of a stretcher-bearer. He was not wounded but suffering from shell shock. The man whom he was with was found a day later killed by shellfire; and no trace could be found of Sgt Ridall. No notification has since been received of his admittance to any field ambulance or hospital, and it can only be concluded that he was killed.”

Sergeant Ridall’s body was never recovered.

John Ridall, born in Leamington Spa, had worked on the Porthcawl railway before the war and had been engaged to be married to Ernest’s daughter, Evelyn Williams. The wedding had been set for later that year.

Sadly, due to the great loss of life, once again it has proved difficult to do justice to the biographies of the fallen. Should you wish to read their full stories, A Somme Commemorative Booklet is available from Porthcawl Museum, price £5.

Ceri Joseph

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