Porthcawl News November 1917 – how the town’s ‘Bantam Battalions’ were in the firing line

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

By Contributed Item
in Local People

Local historian Ceri Joseph from Porthcawl Museum continues her series, looking back at life in the town, 100 years ago, as World War One still raged.

Internationally, November 1917 will always be remembered for the October Revolution in Russia.

So called because Russia followed the Julian calendar and as such, the date for them was attributed to October 24, which corresponded with November 6 in our Gregorian calendar.

The revolution, of course, signalled the Bolsheviks seizing power in Russia, which not only would have an enormous impact on global politics but, at the time, resulted in Russia pulling out of the war.

Another event that month which triggered international repercussions was a letter written on November 2 from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Lionel Rothschild, Britain’s most famous Jewish citizen.

In the letter, Balfour expressed the British Government’s support for a Jewish homeland. Underpinning this decision was the hope that such a declaration would help gain Jewish support for the Allies from USA and Russia.

Prime Minister David Lloyd George also wished for British dominance in Palestine, as it would act as ‘a land bridge’ between India and Egypt, two countries already under British occupation.

The Balfour Declaration would have a profound influence on post-war negotiations at The Treaty of Versailles in 1919, as Britain was entrusted with the administration of Palestine in the understanding that it would work with both Jews and Arabs to forge a peaceful conclusion.

This was not to be, as between the wars, the Jewish population of the region increased while the Palestinians did not receive what they had been promised. Self-government.

Eventually, violence between the two sides escalated. Following World War Two, the horrors of the Holocaust and British occupation of the region proving untenable, the State of Israel was formed in 1948.

Yet in November 1917, British forces were entrenched in the fighting for control of Gaza. After two failures to take Gaza earlier in the year, the newly-appointed General Edmund Allenby’s plan to break through the Ottoman line into southern Palestine eventually proved a success.

Among the extra troops sent from Britain and the Commonwealth was 2nd Lieutenant Horace Scott Dowdeswell, 5th Battalion, Welsh Regiment.

Horace, born in Treherbert in 1898, was the only son of William and Amelia Elizabeth Dowdeswell, whose three younger children were girls.

His father Major William Dowdeswell, an architect by profession, followed his older brother Thomas into the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, Welsh Regiment in 1889 and on the formation of the Territorial Force in 1908, transferred to the 5th Battalion, with whom he served at Gallipoli, being invalided home on October 7, 1915.

It was soon afterwards that the family moved to ‘Penoyne’ Mary Street, Porthcawl. Yet young Horace often stayed with his Uncle Thomas and Aunt Sarah at Llansteffan, Pembrokeshire.

Horace himself was commissioned into the Welsh Regiment and was posted to Egypt to join the 5th Battalion, Welsh Regiment which was attached to 53rd (Welsh) Division.

He took part in the advance into Palestine from March 1917 onwards, and was killed in action while leading his company into a storm of Turkish machine gun fire on November 3. Horace was 19 years old, and is buried at Beersheba War Cemetery, Israel.

Horace is remembered on his parents’ grave in St John’s Church, Newton and on the 5th Battalion Memorial on Pontypridd Common.

On the Western Front, November 20 at the Battle of Cambrai, hundreds of tanks breached the German Hindenburg Line for the first time in a surprise attack. Yet within three weeks any British advantage had been lost, resulting in many casualties.

Among them were most of the officers and men of the 17th/18th Battalion, Welsh Regiments who died defending the British position at Bourlon Wood, November 23.

Both battalions began life at Porthcawl. In 1914, the height restriction of 5’6” for enlistment was removed. Consequently at the Esplanade Hotel the 17th Battalion, 1st Glamorgan Bantams began enlisting on December 22; and then on January 31, 1915 as the last recruits of the 17th Battalion left, the first recruits of the 18th Battalion, 2nd Glamorgan Bantams arrived.

After the war, due to the close ties established with the town, the standard of the 18th Battalion was brought to Porthcawl and still hangs today in All Saints’ Church.

The South Wales Borderers were also engaged at Cambrai, near Rumilly-En-Cambresis. They had within their ranks 2nd Lieutenant Franklyn Theodore Rowland Rowlands, who was reported missing in action November 21, 1917.

Franklyn was the only child born on September 25, 1898 to Rowland and Mary Rowlands. As a consequence of his profession as a barrister, his father Rowland often travelled to London where he met and married Mary, an American citizen on September 30, 1896 in Thorpe St Mary, Surrey; where Franklyn was later christened on February 25, 1899.

Yet Franklyn was born at Torrington Cottage, The Square, Porthcawl. In the 1901 Census, Franklyn is found still living there with his Uncle Charles, a law student and a domestic nurse while his parents are once again back in London. Uncle Charles went on to play rugby for London Welsh after the war.

In the 1911 Census the family are based in St John’s Wood, where they stayed until May 1918 when Rowland Rowlands, Barrister, was appointed as Judge of the No 30 (Swansea District Circuit).

That same month they received a telegram confirming that their son, Franklyn, had been killed and had been ‘buried by the enemy.’ He and Mary then moved to Clevis Cottage, Newton where she died in 1928 and he in 1935.

Although throughout his life his parents largely remained in London, Franklyn tended to return to Porthcawl during school holidays from Westminster College and later Sandhurst, to stay with his grandfather Moses at Beach View, Victoria Avenue and play golf at the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club until his posting to France on October 26, 1917.

2nd Lieutenant Franklyn Theodore Rowland Rowlands was later buried by the CWGC at Marcoing British Cemetery and is remembered on the Porthcawl Memorial. He was 19 years old.

On the home front, residents of the town were beginning discussions for a town war memorial. These first meetings centred on how it was going to be financed and where it was to be sited. Many more meetings were called before both were decided.

Further, soldiers home on leave or for convalescence were also being thought of. ‘Thousands who gathered outside the Council Chambers (SPAR today) witnessed the presentations made to local heroes.’ (Porthcawl News November 15, 1917) – of watches, rings and other such mementoes, which continued until the end of the war.

In late November, a Licenced Victuallers meeting was held at the Pier Hotel to complain about the new laws on the state control of alcohol. Excessive drinking was thought to be a threat to munitions production.

To counter this, the government took the drastic step of nationalising some public houses, reduced alcohol content, increased prices, and introduced the sale of food into pubs.

The initiative was first trialled in the Carlisle-Gretna District where it was also prohibited to serve alcohol to people under the age of 18. The scheme proved so successful that the act was encouraged throughout the country after the war.

Another tide of change in wartime, women working outside the home, was prevalent in the town as it was reported in the local newspaper that ‘Miss Matthews, ticket collector, Porthcawl Station has been appointed travelling ticket collector.’ (Porthcawl News November 8, 1917.)

Finally, news reached the town through a report in the GWR Railway Magazine that 25 German prisoners engaged at making a road through an orchard at Pencoed had escaped. By 8pm that same day, two prisoners had reached Llanwern! Mr W Evans, station master at Llanwern gave chase on his bike and overtook them. When challenged they surrendered.

Ceri Joseph

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