Porthcawl and the First World War – April 1917

Friday, 14 April 2017

By Contributed Item
in Local People

Ceri Joseph of Porthcawl Museum continues her look at Porthcawl during World War One. This week she looks at April 1917.

Following the cessation of hostilities at the Somme in November 1916, fighting on the Western Front had been relatively quiet.

However, April 1917 would witness the start of the Battle of Arras. From April 9 to May 16, 1917, British, Canadian, and Australian troops attacked German trenches near the French city of Arras. The aim of the campaign was for the British army to operate diversionary attacks near Arras to draw German troops away from the main target, which was the Chemin des Dames Ridge near Champagne.

The intention was for the French army to attack this area hoping for the much-needed breakthrough of the German lines.

Tragically, the success of both initiatives would prove costly. At Arras, the battle turned into a stalemate with the British sustaining 160,000 casualties and the Germans 125,000; yet at Chemin des Dames, the French would not only suffer 187,000 losses but the whole offensive at the River Aisne eventually led to the mutinying of French troops on May 5.

Consequently, Philippe Petain replaced Robert Nivelle as Commander in Chief of the French army.

In Porthcawl, the offensive at Arras would claim the lives of three Porthcawlians and one would be awarded the Military Medal.

Lieutenant Juan Manuel Aldana was born, one of twin boys on October 7, 1894 at Fulham to Colombian Abelardo, a foreign consul for a number of Latin countries at Cardiff, and Eliza Aldana (née Halladay), of Southampton.

The family had lived in Cardiff before moving to ‘Angamos’ South Road, Porthcawl before the war. Juan received his formative education at Llandaff Cathedral School and Worcester King’s School before going on to Keble College, Oxford.

His brother Antonio died after many years of ill health in 1913, aged 18 years old. After the outbreak of war in 1914, Aldana volunteered for the British Army and was commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment, as a temporary Second Lieutenant.

The regiment was posted to France in July 1916, where Juan was wounded on October 20, 1916 at the Transloy Ridges, during the Battle of the Somme.

The following year, during the Arras offensive, while in command of a company of the 4th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, 2nd Lieutenant Aldana was mortally wounded as a result of a bombardment of German shells, and died the following day (April 21, 19170.

Lt Aldana is buried at Feuchy Chapel, British Cemetery and also remembered on the family grave in Newton churchyard. His commanding officer wrote: “His death day was the first time he was in the line in command of a company, and his work was thoroughly well done.”

After his death his parents moved to 32 Park Avenue, Porthcawl. Their previous address must have held too many sad memories.

Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Vaughan Cleves, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Hood Battalion, fell on April 23, 1917, at the second Battle of Scarpe in which his division captured Gavrelle.

Winston Churchill formed the Royal Naval Volunteer Division in 1914. Reginald had enlisted in the navy in 1912, as an apprentice; but with the onset of war many recruits found themselves additional to the needs of the fleet.

As a result they hated the idea of being turned into soldiers and kept naval traditions by naming their naval brigades after famous admirals such as Drake, Nelson, Anson, Collingwood, Benbow, Hawke, Howe and Hood.

As the 63rd (RN) Division they saw action on the Western Front, and by the end of the war had suffered casualties amounting to 1,965 officers and 44,829 other ranks; of which 445 officers and 7,102 ‘other ranks’ were killed.

Sub-Lt Cleves had been born in Cardiff on November 25, 1896; the only child of Mr and Mrs Frederick Vaughan Cleves. Before the war, the family had moved to 39 Fenton Place, Porthcawl, whereupon on June 3, 1916 (the day the Venables Llewelyn Lodge had been consecrated at New Road, Porthcawl) his father Frederick Vaughan Cleves was installed as treasurer. Reginald himself had also been initiated at the first meeting on July 1.

Aged 21 when he died, Sub-Lt Cleves was buried at the Caberet Rouge, British Cemetery Souchez, Pas De Calais, France.

Tragically, on the day Reginald’s parents received the news of his death they also received news of Frederick’s brother, first officer Mercantile Marine, Charles Edward Cleves, SS Torrington, who had drowned as a result of a German submarine attack on April 9, 1917.

The SS Torrington was on a voyage from Savona to Barry in ballast when she was sunk by the German submarine U-55, 150 miles southwest of the Scilly Islands. A total of 34 persons perished that day.

Arthur Cecil Avenell also served at Arras. Following the death of his father Stephen in 1910, Cecil and his mother, Eliza, moved from Marlborough, Wiltshire to 28 Suffolk Place, Porthcawl.

Having initially worked for the GWR at Bridgend, Cecil followed his brothers into the military by enlisting in the 6th Wiltshire Yeomanry on March 28, 1912. His brother Edward was a Sergeant Major in the Welsh Regiment, in which he served 25 years, while brothers Charles and Reginald were both in the Glamorgan Yeomanry.

All the Avenell brothers survived the war, with Corporal Reginald Avenell ending up as a Chelsea Pensioner at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.

During the Battle of Arras Cecil was promoted to Corporal on April 14, distinguishing himself further in being awarded the Military Medal on May 6.

However, the following year on January 31 at Cambrai Corporal Avenell received a bullet wound to the left leg which resulted in his leg being amputated eight inches above the knee.

During his long recovery, he was transferred from one hospital to another, before eventually being transferred to the St John’s Auxiliary Hospital, Porthcawl (The Rest Home) in February 1919.

Cecil was fitted with an artificial limb in September 1919 and married Stella Hartery in 1920. Cecil died in March 1970, aged 78. It is interesting to note that when Cecil had been shot in the thigh in January 1918, his wound had been one of the first X-rays taken by Madame Curie and her daughter, who travelled the field hospitals in France trialling their new invention.

Apart from the sad news from Arras, April in Porthcawl, itself was mainly quiet. Allotments around the town were being dug and seeded, with several tons of early seed potatoes arriving at retailers.

Samuel Hawkins, a collier, riding home from north Cornelly was fined 5s for riding a bicycle without a light; while Isaac Heath, milk vendor was summoned for selling hay to Arthur Wisby, also a milk vendor, without the consent of the Army Council.

On Monday, April 22 the Ladies’ Committee that oversaw food economy in the town held a meeting at the Council Chamber, whereupon it was decided to ask the council to lend gas stoves for the purpose of instructing housewives in the cooking of substitute foodstuffs for milk, sugar, bread, eggs, marmalade, cocoa, and chocolate; all of which tasted quite poor compared to the real thing.

Finally, it was reported in the Porthcawl News on April 26 that two members of the Porthcawl Town Council “.. wait upon the assistant secretary of the Great Western Railway, Tondu, to arrange for the use of the urinal at the old station.” It is hoped that they didn’t have too long to wait.

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