Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Remembrance in Swansea

At the end of the Great War Swansea, in common with every town and city in Britain, had a large number of its soldiers and airmen lying in a foreign field while most of its lost mariners rested in the deep, dark bosom of the ocean.

With no grave for a family to visit it was the town or village war memorial that acted as a focal point for remembrance. Ernest Morgan, the Borough Architect at Swansea Corporation, designed the cenotaph that now stands on the foreshore at Swansea, borrowing from the work of Edwin Lutyens and his cenotaph in London.

The foundation stone of the cenotaph at Swansea was laid by none other than Field Marshall Douglas Haig in 1922. The FM also received the freedom of the Borough during his visit. The work was officially unveiled a year later by Admiral of the Fleet Doveton-Sturdee, victor of the Battle of the Falklands, a forerunner of the 1982 conflict.  Since then the cenotaph has seen almost a century of remembrance, the ceremonies being held in November of every year.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Food control in the Great War

Why would you need to control food? Well, the success of the German U-Boat campaign in sinking Allied shipping in 1917/18 meant that food, as well as other essentials that were imported, were in rather short supply.

The situation became so serious that Swansea Corporation set up a Food Control Committee to oversee the delivery and subsequent distribution of foodstuffs to the Swansea public. There was also a move to increase the number of vegetable allotment plots. The raising of rabbits as food was also encouraged.

There were frequent food queues and butter and sugar were also regularly in short supply...

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Did German U-Boats ever come to Swansea?

Well yes, they did but not during the war. They arrived (5 or so of them) for break-up at Swansea after the end of the war. As part of the Armistice agreement the Germans had to surrender numerous surface vessels and U-Boats to the Allied powers.

The U-Boats were estimated to have a scrap value of a few thousand pounds. The German High Seas Fleet (battleships, cruisers etc.) was accepted into the British base at Scapa Flow and, as discussions regarding its fate continued, the German sailors took the initiative and scuttled them, rather than have them fall into Allied hands.

The U-Boats were simply surrendered and  then broken up. They had played an important role in German naval strategy and, at one point, it looked as if their success in sinking Allied shipping might force Britain to the negotiating table before the country was starved into submission...one of the aims of the British Passchendaele Offensive in 1917 had been to clear the Belgian coast of Germans so preventing German submarines from operating against the shipping lines.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

How to (try and) avoid being conscripted...

So, you don't fancy a spell in the front-line trenches but have no obvious answer to avoiding your call up for the Army. What do you do?

One enterprising chap in Swansea tried taking a drug that temporarily affected the heart in such a way that he would fail his army medical examination. The ploy failed, however, and he found himself in court to account for his unpatriotic actions (and yes, most people were patriotic in those far off days...)

The vast majority went when called, of course, judging the Great War to be a just war and the Allied cause to be one that was worth fighting for.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The hard yards...

Spent a few hours today 'plodding' through the Cambrian newspaper (on microfilm) for 1918-19. Lots of information on Great War issues as they affected Swansea. The overall research is now almost (not quite) complete and I plan to start the writing for 'Swansea in the Great War' in August 2013, with a finish date of 30 November 2013.

Publication should then be autumn 2014. A long, long trail a winding...

#For the Yanks are coming...#

Summer 1918 and Swansea was enervated by the disembarkation of almost 2,000 'Doughboys'  in the town - part of the growing American Expeditionary Force. Though the AEF was a very welcome addition to the Allied cause it should be noted that the bulk of the fighting between August and November 1918 would fall on the British and Commonwealth forces. And it was a force that was not found wanting as the Germans were pushed out of France and Belgium after 4 long and hard years...

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Lions led by donkeys?

Its an old cliche that the Great War generals were all useless. Modern study is showing that, as always, the picture is more shades of grey than simple black and white.

There were 'good', 'bad' and just plain 'unlucky' generals in the Great War, as there were in other wars. The Second World War gave us the disaster of France 1940, the loss of Crete, the fall of Singapore and the heroic failure at Arnhem to name but a few. Even in the 1982 Falklands War we had the Welsh Guards left as sitting ducks for the Argentinian air force. The Great War didn't have a monopoly on poor leadership though that is not, of course, in any way to minimise the resulting tragedies for families at home.

Many regard Field Marshall Haig as the prime 'butcher' of the Great War although a look at the works of John Terraine and  Gary Sheffield (amongst others) will give a fuller picture of the man, his successes and failures. Between August 1918 and the November 1918 Armistice he led the British Army to its greatest ever successes in the field.

And what did Swansea think of Haig in the post war period? He was awarded the freedom of the Borough of Swansea in the early 1920s and also laid the foundation stone of the cenotaph on Mumbles Road. He was thus clearly well thought of in the immediate aftermath of the war, and justly so in my opinion.

There will be more on this in my forthcoming book. 

Friday, 5 July 2013

Swansea's foreign legion..

It must be remembered that a large number of Swansea lads had emigrated prior to the outbreak of the Great War. A good number of them returned to join the fray - with the Australian Imperial Force, or the Canadian and South African contingents, for example.

They fought - and often died - for the 'old country', paying poignant tribute to what now seem to be old fashioned attitudes and virtues such as 'duty', 'patriotism' and 'service' in the cause of one's country.

Several will feature in my book; their sacrifice must not be forgotten.