Why is Wales not in the Cricket World Cup?

Context

Cricket in Wales comes under the jurisdiction of the England & Wales Cricket Board, (acronym ECB not EWCB), which took over responsibility for the game from the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1997.

Within Wales amateur cricket is organised into a North Wales Premier Cricket League and a South Wales Cricket League, both of which consist of 12 teams that play each other every season. Several of these teams have featured prominently over the years in the Village Cricket Cup, competing against 300 teams from across the British Isles to play in the final at the home of cricket, Lord’s. Past Welsh winners include St. Fagans, Gowerton, Sully Centurions, Marchwiel, and Ynystawe.

Professional cricket in England and Wales is represented by the 18-team County Championship. Glamorgan has been the sole Welsh member since joining in since 1921, winning the competition on three occasions 1948, 1967, and 1997 (weeks after the devolution vote!). Over this period of nearly 100 years more than a dozen Glamorgan cricketers have represented England. One of these Tony Lewis captained the England team on eight occasions, leading the MCC party that toured India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1972-73. The best-know Glamorgan Test players, apart from Lewis, are Maurice Turnbull, Gilbert Parkhouse, Allan Watkins, Jeff Jones, Greg Thomas, Hugh Morris, Simon Jones, Robert Croft, and Steve Watkin. Wilfred Wooller, the Glamorgan captain in the 1940s and 1950s, was never capped but was an England selector for many years.

The issue

Cricket has been expanding internationally and the number of first-class international sides has grown. Twelve countries have full membership of the ICC – England, Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Ireland, and Zimbabwe. In addition, there are 93 associates in countries where cricket is firmly established but not yet ready for full membership. These include Scotland and the Netherlands, both of which regularly host international sides, though generally only for One Day International matches (ODI). Zimbabwe, for example, is touring the Netherlands and Ireland this year and Scotland has played ODIs at home against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and has fixtures in August against Papua New Guinea and Oman in India. Ireland famously defeated the West Indies side in its pomp at Sion Mills in 1969 and now play in the European Cricket Championship. Ireland has also graduated to full Test match status with a fixture against Pakistan and is hence on a journey to appearing regularly at the highest level of cricket.

Cricket has been played in Wales since at least the first recorded match in Pembrokeshire in 1763 (several years ahead of Scotland). There are 230 amateur clubs in Wales compared with 140 in Scotland, (which like Wales has its own league) and an estimated 14,000 Welsh-based players. Yet the highest level of representation Wales achieves is as “Wales Minor Counties” in the English Minor Counties, Western Division, a sort of second division to the County Championship.

So, why has Wales not moved like other countries to full cricket status as an associate member of the ICC, remaining instead in quasi-feudal status in the England cricket set-up? When Ireland in 1993 and Scotland in 1994 moved out of the ambit of “English” cricket to create separate associations for the development of the game in their countries, why was Wales left behind?

Interestingly, Wales has had international cricket sides at various points throughout the past 100 years and they have had some notable successes. Wales played England three times in 50-over matches between 2002-2004 and even managed to win the first encounter to the amazement of all. A Welsh side also appeared 16 times in the 1920s playing among others New Zealand (drawing) West Indies (winning) and South Africa (losing). A Welsh team also featured in the ICC Trophy in 1979, and in a Triple Crown championship with Scotland and Ireland between 1993 and 2001.

Several attempts have been made over recent years to argue the case for a Wales cricket team, including not surprisingly by Plaid Cymru. In a Senedd debate in 2013 both Conservatives and Labour members lent their support to the idea of a revived Welsh side, and the case was made again in 2015 by Bethan Jenkins (as she then was) of Plaid Cymru. In 2017, First Minister, Carwyn Jones, called for the re-introduction of a Welsh One Day team.

Why have these calls never borne fruit? The answer lies mainly with Glamorgan County Cricket Club which has consistently opposed the idea of a Welsh team on the grounds that it could compromise its finances and its position within the English County Championship. Cricket Wales has also opposed independent status arguing it is preferable to play a major role within the ECB. Glamorgan chief executive Hugh Morris has argued that a Wales national team does not make any sense “financially” whatsoever.

In addition, both Cardiff City Council and the Welsh Government would argue inclusion within the ECB is a very useful peg on which to build Cardiff’s reputation as a sporting hub capable of attracting large number of high-spending UK and overseas visitors to England matches. These include games in the Ashes series against Australia, and against other full Test sides, in one day internationals or the present Cricket World Cup. (Such events do not come cost-free, however, as the right to stage must be bid for and won against the main English venues which are willing to pay large sums to do so.) A similar strategy has seen costly efforts put behind attracting other international sporting events, such as the European Champions League football, to the Principality Stadium.

Hugh Morris, understandably given his position as Glamorgan CEO, sees a Welsh side put into the field by a Wales Cricket Board as a threat to Glamorgan’s continued existence even. “We would lose our stadium. We would lose our players. I have not seen a business plan to see how it can work. We are very much wedded to the England and Wales Cricket Board in terms of finances”, he is quoted, rather dramatically, as saying. He went onto declare he could not see how Glamorgan and Wales could be natural bedfellows. Wales, he argued, would be playing in an ICC league with other countries, and at the same time as Glamorgan.

Would Glamorgan have to leave or be forced to quit the county championship as some fear? There are currently non-represented English counties – Devon, Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Berkshire perhaps – which might welcome the chance to take the county’s place in the County Championship if Welsh cricket was separated from the English set-up. But this sounds very much like special pleading. Wales has an international football side, and this has not prevented Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County and Wrexham from playing in the English football professional system so why need Glamorgan lose its place in the county championship?

Again, would Glamorgan necessarily be weakened by the emergence of a Welsh side competing independently? Several decades ago, Glamorgan consisted mainly of Welsh players plus a few overseas stiffeners. Today the side is almost entirely composed of cricketers from outside Wales and a handful of Welsh players, so a Welsh team would hardly be drawing on the same resources. Nor need matches be played in Cardiff in competition with Glamorgan. Swansea has a long tradition of support for cricket and lost out, much to its chagrin, to Cardiff when Glamorgan decided to concentrate most fixtures at Sophia Gardens. Swansea could be the new home of Welsh cricket. Matches could also be played in other venues around Wales, as was previously the Glamorgan practice.)

Surely, with a genuinely Welsh side playing in Wales in fixtures against other nations interest in the game in Wales and participation (by men and women) could only grow? This could ultimately benefit Glamorgan and perhaps generate a larger cohort of players locally who might go on to play professionally for the county.

A Welsh side would also give Welsh-qualified Glamorgan players – and there are still a few despite the internationalisation of the county side in recent years – the opportunity to play international cricket for a Wales team. Though they qualify to play for England at present it is only every few years that a Glamorgan player manages to break into the side and no Welsh player is currently in that position. The very best players might still choose to do so. After all, England’s One-Day captain, Eoin Morgan is an Irish national with a Welsh surname.

And let’s face it Glamorgan has not been pulling up trees in the English cricket system since it last won the championship more than 20 years ago, finishing bottom of Division Two last year (i.e eighteenth out of eighteen in English first class cricket) with just two wins all season. Perhaps too much time and effort has been put into creating a stadium fit for Test matches and ODIs to the detriment of cricket in Wales generally. (Thankfully, Glamorgan are doing a lot better this year and if current form is maintained could challenge for promotion to Division One.)

England might indeed stop playing Test matches or ODIs in Cardiff if there were a separate Wales side. But is the role of super-host the best we can hope for when Scotland and Ireland, both with smaller cricket-playing populations, build their game and international reputation? At least some of the revenue that would be turned away if Wales left the England and Wales Cricket Board to set up its own board (and lost the right to host England matches) could be recouped through Welsh international matches.

The current World Cup which brings together the ten best one day cricket countries, has shown how much pride can be derived by the smaller countries from appearing in tournaments such as these, and occasionally outplaying the more senior sides – Afghanistan came close to winning their match against India. Surely it would be good to see Wales attempting over time to qualify for such an event and regularly playing the shorter versions of the game against comparable countries such as Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and some of the aspiring African and Asian nations. This could serve as an encouragement to young people to take up the game and help to raise performance standards throughout the sport in Wales.

We can agree in congratulating Glamorgan Cricket club on successfully hosting matches at the Cricket World Cup and England Test matches over a number of years but also argue  that Wales could take much greater pride in an event such as the Cricket World Cup if a Wales team was represented in this and other international cricket tournaments.

The creation of a new independent Wales Cricket Board could help to stimulate the game among both men and women in Wales, further helping the ambition to create a healthier and fitter Wales.

Sport Wales should ted to conduct a feasibility study into whether the time is now right for Wales to break away from the England and Wales Cricket Board and set up its own cricket authority without jeopardizing Glamorgan’s position in the County Championship.

Who knows, we might even beat the West Indies again one day?

Rhys David

June 27th, 2019

www.rhysdavid.blog

www.clippings.me/rhysdavid

www.novacambria.wales

 

Time to end Wait and See

The plan by First Group to quit its UK bus operations could release one of the building blocks needed to create a more integrated transport network across Wale.

There is a tendency in Wales in economic matters to wait to see what happens, an expectation that external agents will always determine what happens and that the limit of Wales’s influence is to try to ameliorate any ill-effects. Yet, what is needed very often is a much more pro-active approach whereby the initiative is taken in Wales to shape what happens, in the best interests of those involved.

Just such a case has occurred with the announcement by First Group that it is considering selling its UK bus operations to concentrate instead on the US market. Now, it just happens that First Group for better or worse runs the buses in Wales’s second city, Swansea, having inherited the operations of the former South Wales Transport and United Welsh, the two previous operators of the bulk of services in the area.

Aberdeen-based First (also operators of the Great Western Railway franchise) has made its intentions to quit the UK bus market following pressure from an activist investor, unhappy after a series of bad rail investment decisions hit profits. In West Wales First Cymru runs local bus services not just in Swansea, its operations extending across to Neath, Port Talbot, Bridgend and Maesteg in the East and Haverfordwest, Tenby and Carmarthen in the west, plus express services to Cardiff.

Various bidders will no doubt emerge for First’s operation, including those in Swansea, but it is doubtful if any of them will come from private sector companies within Wales. So, as Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price pertinently asked in questions to First Minister Mark Drakeford in the Senedd early on June 4th, does this not provide an ideal opportunity to extend within Wales the principle of public ownership of transport services? This could create another building block towards the creation of an integrate transport system in Wales, which could bring together control and management of rail, road and other public transport services. After all, the Welsh Government has taken a step in this direction with the acquisition of Cardiff Airport.

Firstly, however, it is worth offering some background. Britain’s bus services were deregulated under the 1985 Transport Act, with the promise of bringing lower fares, new and better services through greater competition, and, in consequence, increased usage. Previously, scheduled bus services had been run by National Bus, (which had brought together a patchwork of state-owned, semi state-owned and private companies), municipal bus companies and a small number of private operators.

At the time of deregulation more than threequarters of bus turnover was in the hands of the public sector but to raise revenue for other purposes many local authorities took the opportunity over succeeding years to sell off their bus operations to private sector companies, principally Arriva, Stagecoach , First Group, Go-Ahead and National Express. Only 12 municipal operations remain, including Cardiff Bus (UK’s third biggest) and Newport Bus. Three other local authorities run buses in Wales, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire and Pembrokeshire but only on a very limited number of routes where no alternative provision is available.

The Government held back from deregulating bus services in London. Instead, it vested overall transport powers in Transport for London, which directly runs London Underground, London Overground and Docklands Light Railway, and franchises bus services to ten private operators, including German state-owned Arriva (Deutsche Bahn), Dutch state-owned Abellio, and French state-owned RATP. It is also responsible for Crossrail and London’s roads.

Deregulation has failed to deliver its promises and the London model, whereby services come under the office of the Mayor and the London Assembly, has proved much more effective. The 30 year plus period of private operation outside London has created private monopolies rather than genuine competition.  The Competition Commission noted in a report the emergence of “geographic market segregation” whereby the big five operators (Arriva, First Group, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach) leave each other to operate in their chosen territories, undisturbed by competition. [1]

The companies are free to cut services as and when they choose in this unregulated environment and have increasingly been doing so as subsidies from local authorities for uneconomic routes are withdrawn, leaving many parts of the UK, including Wales, with limited or no provision. Services have, nevertheless, been mostly profitable for the operators and fares have increased since1995 by more than 150 per cent against a rise in the cost of living of not much more than half that figure.

 The Welsh Government recognised  in the case of Cardiff Airport that it was important the facility was in the hands of an operator with a strong public service mission and First Minister Mark Drakeford in his reply to Adam Price indicated there was no current intention to sell the airport back to the private sector.

There is an equally strong case for an early approach to be made now by Welsh Government to establish whether First Group would be prepared, preferably in advance of the wider sale of the subsidiary, to divest First Cymru to a Welsh Government-owned not for profit entity.

The price First Group might demand is not clear and will depend on the profitability of the Welsh operations and the value of the assets (the bus fleet, engineering workshops and depots). First Group might also not want to break up its business before or at sale time, though the transfer of assets between transport companies is an established practice. Though It may not be the best yardstick as it was a much smaller company, ComfortDelgro acquired south Wales bus operator, NAT, which now runs services in Cardiff, Newport and the Vale of Glamorgan, for £14m in 2017.

The mechanisms by which such a transfer to the public sector could be achieved and the structures required will need to be explored but the opportunity has been created for Transport for Wales to be given the wider responsibilities that its title implies. As set up, its remit as a not-for-profit company is to provide support and expertise to the Welsh government on Welsh transport projects. Unlike Transport for London it does not own or manage such projects on a day to day basis. Its role is merely to plan, commission and arms-length manage. It employs only a relatively small staff.

It has a very limited bus remit, its main workload being in the rail sector where it was responsible for procuring the most recent Wales and Borders rail franchise (won by Keolis Amey of France/Quebec. It is also charged with bringing forward the South Wales and North Wales Metros. A current task is to investigate the causes of the decline in bus patronage in Wales, with the aim of proposing a range of solutions and exploring what has worked elsewhere. [2]

Transport for Wales would need to be reconstituted to take on an executive role but a new body with statutory powers could represent a first step towards creating a provider that could work much more effectively to integrate transport in Wales across buses, rail, airports, seaports and roads. Alternatively, as an intermediate step, the Swansea Bay City Region could be given the task of running bus services, putting it on a similar footing to the English cities that have accepted devolution deals, and which now have transport responsibilities in their portfolios.

The example of Cardiff Bus and Newport Bus, both of which run modern fleets could be adduced as evidence of how good public service provision can work and produce returns for the taxpayer rather than profits for the shareholder. Public pressure for moves towards clean air technology is also much more likely to be effective when directed towards operators within the public sector than to those operating as private companies. Since acquiring NAT, ComfortDelgro has chosen to recycle some of its older London buses for use as school transports in Cardiff. Wales, is of course, already familiar with cast-offs from rail companies and the London Underground on its rail network.
There is also a wider economic case. Large sums of money are spent by the Welsh Government subsidising public transport in Wales through the concessionary fares offered to bus pass holders. Bus companies also qualify for a UK Government fuel rebate to help keep services viable. Except in Cardiff and Newport, a proportion of Government bus pass funding is finding its way into the profits of companies based in England, Scotland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Singapore. It would be much better if this money was recycled in Wales in the creation of better overall transport provision.

The expertise question will no doubt arise, but it has already been demonstrated by the comparative success of Cardiff Airport since it was acquired from its absentee Spanish ownership that public sector control can work in commercial areas. (Local authority-owned Manchester Airport is the prime example of this, turning the northern city into a commercial and financial powerhouse). And unless Wales tries and risks failing, it will never acquire skills of this sort.

If Wales fails to acquire First Cymru in one form or another, the business might well be acquired by Abellio, Arriva, or RATP. Would it really make more sense for Welsh bus operations to be owned by the Dutch, German or French governments than by the Welsh government?

Rhys David is chair of Nova Cambria, the Welsh think-tank

June 1st, 2019

[1] Where competition has occurred, it has usually involved a new entrant seeking to undercut on existing routes rather than developing new ones. This has resulted usually in the incumbent having to cut less profitable services to protect revenue and profitability. In Cardiff Singapore-owned New Adventure Travel, (NAT) has been challenging the municipal operator. Cardiff Bus has recently reported losses and has been forced to re-order its services and schedules.

[2] Keolis Amey Cymru trades under what is in effect a fig leaf name -Transport for Wales Rail Services – which is the branding that has now replaced Arriva Trains Wales on Wales and Border Services. This carries the suggestion of a stronger public sector involvement than is the case.

For better and worse

Consideration of the US ought not to be all about Trump. There are some respects in which they do less well than us, but others surprisingly where we could still learn some lessons, writes Rhys David

How much more would you like to pay? That’s the message on the screen when the salesperson in a US coffee shop or restaurant, or a small shop owner, pivots the till point credit card reader around to face the buyer after swiping. The technology is new, but it represents a sideways development rather than an advance, adding an inefficiency into US transactions that has been largely eliminated in the UK, and much of the rest of Europe, through the widespread adoption of contactless payment.

The new devices – about the size of a small tablet computer – overcome the embarrassment on both sides of asking the purchaser whether they want to add a gratuity. Instead, the till does the job, asking the customer whether they want to add another 15 per cent (the starting point), 20 per cent or even 25 per cent. There is the option of making your own choice – 30 per cent perhaps or 10 per cent, or, perish the thought, no tip at all. (Anyone who has watched Larry David (no relation) arguing with the maître d’ and getting his car blocked in the car park in comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm after refusing to supplement the tip that had already been added will know this step is taken at your own peril.)

As the tip must be added after the amount has been rung up, it means contactless is much less widespread for small transactions, such as the purchase of a coffee or a newspaper, than in Britain. To authorize the extra amount that the customer has added it has become necessary to move away even from chip and pin (the predecessor of contactless in Europe). Instead, after you have added your tip on the till, you need to add a digital signature to authorise the extra amount being collected using a finger on screen or special pen.

There are other ways, too, in which the US – birthplace of so much modern technology – seems behind the times. Amtrak trains are large, comfortable, staffed by cheery conductors in crisp uniforms – and slow and infrequent. The 215 miles from Boston to New York takes four hours, admittedly having to cross several spectacular and presumably slow-speed long bridges over estuaries on the way.

The 220 miles on to Washington takes a further three hours, in both cases rendering air travel a preferable option for the time conscious. By contrast the 250 miles from London to Newcastle can be accomplished in 12 minutes under three hours and the 170 miles to Leeds in two hours twenty minutes, and British railways are not even very fast by world standards. My journey from Boston to New York took nearly five hours because of that familiar railway issue – signaling problems. Nor are the trains very frequent. The Boston-New York service runs at two-hour intervals, two trains leaving within five minutes of each other, one slow and the other slower, followed by a two-hour gap.

This journey between populous cities – Boston is 4.5m, New York is 8.2m and Washington is 7.4m, with other big cities en route – would clearly be highly suit able for the equivalent of Europe’s or Japan’s high speed trains, reducing the journey to New York from the two other cities to 90 minutes or so, less than the time it would often take to travel to the nearest airport, check in and wait for a possibly delayed take-off. The vigorous opposition of the airlines to any competition brought about by private sector seed funding, as would be needed in the case of new railway infrastructure, has made this politically impossible in the free market US. It is not a fight Donald J. Trump is going to take up.

One battle he has engaged in, however, is trade, seeking to punish China for what he sees as unfair practices, rewriting agreements with Mexico and Canada, and lamenting the large trade balance in Europe’s favour. This does ignore the extent of US ownership of European assets and the scale of US-owned manufacturing in other countries, including in Europe. These operations generate substantial income for the US from repatriated profits. The US is also the world’s biggest provider of financial and other services and its technology companies – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – dominate in their fields.

Nevertheless, the extent to which US manufacturing has retreated can come as a shock. In places like Saco, once a centre of textile machinery manufacture, the once US industry has left only vast mills converted to apartments and offices in its wake, and has lingered on for only a couple of decades further south in the Carolinas and Georgia where much of it moved post-war. Most recently it has been the turn of the US-owned motor industry to suffer a similar fate.

The US industry’s output is still huge, as is to be expected in a market of nearly 18 million units a year, but sales of cars by foreign manufacturers, from Europe, Japan and South Korea, from their US plants and imported vehicles now exceed by roughly 2m. units those built by the US big three – GM, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler America. The average US content of even these suppliers’ vehicles is only 38 per cent. Ford has thrown in the towel as far as supplying passenger saloons is concerned, deciding that in the US market it will concentrate on trucks and SUVs.

Whether a switch to electric vehicles will bring a return of US manufacturing through the arrival of new carmakers such as Tesla, and the possible emergence of other new entrants into motor  manufacturing, such as the technology companies, Apple and Amazon,  is unclear but the traditional US carmakers appear to be behind their international competitors, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai and BMW among others,  in developing battery alternatives.

Yet, as the restrictions placed on Chinese phone technology group, Huawei, shows, when it comes to action designed to protect US business interests, US administrations can and will act with a decisiveness for good or ill, that other governments would shrink from.  The US may yet see an upturn in manufacturing, whether driven by reshoring – the repatriation of activities previously dispatched overseas that has already begun – or trade barriers. The American public will ultimately decide whether the extra costs this is likely to impose on it are acceptable.

If some weaknesses in processes and some chinks in US commercial invincibility – particularly in older industries – can now be discerned, there are many respects in which in ordinary life the US does get it right.  This is why it remains such an attractive country. The friendliness and levels of service provided  by customer-facing businesses remains impressive, extending even into fields such as car hire, where the European experience – overstretched booking clerks, less than satisfactory vehicles, phantom damage appearing later as large additions extracted without consultation from debit and credit cards – provide a much better experience for the visitor.

In New England, and perhaps in other areas too, the problems faced in Britain by the residents of many rural areas – closure of shops and other facilities, making necessary a visit to a supermarket many miles away for even necessities – appear to be under better control. Remoteness in some parts is admittedly responsible for keeping the chain stores at bay, and rendering home delivery too expensive, but their absence has allowed the ubiquitous village store to appear to thrive. Unlike the British Spar, Premier, local Co-op or independent, these stores manage to offer a range of services to the community and to be focal points for meeting up and exchanging news and information.

The village store is where you might go not just for a loaf of bread, a pint of milk, or breakfast cereal but to actually buy and eat your breakfast, cooked on the spot, or to get a fishing licence, wood for the fire, a mid morning (or afternoon) cup of coffee self-served from one of several insulated jugs on a conveniently set up table, and many grocery varieties, some hardware, plus a limited range of clothing, gifts and novelties. Interestingly, unlike most British convenience stores, huge displays of beers, spirits and wines from around the world are missing, drink appearing to play a much smaller part in American life than it now does in Britain.

This surprisingly is true of another institution – racing where the contrast with the UK could not be starker. At Belmont Park, home of the Belmont Stake, one of the races in the US Triple Crown, entry into the park is a mere $5 and this entitles the holder to visit every public part of the ground, including the grandstands and to bag a place next to the finishing line. Or, you can stay in the huge park grounds and watch the racing on the big screens dotted around. Absent are the champagne tents, the Guinness tents, the gin tents, the fish and chip bars, pulled pork pagodas, the burger vans, and the other inducements to drink and eat to excess of the UK racecourse. Present are hundreds of families with young children enjoying a picnic.

There are other things they do well in the US, too. Under the wing of the federal National Parks Service the register of National Historic Landmarks (NHL) brings together thousands of buildings, sites, structures, objects and districts deemed worthy of preservation because of their significance in the development of the US, including presidential homesteads and business leaders’ Victorian-era houses. Sagamore Hill on Long Island, for example, gives a fascinating insight into the life of the first Roosevelt  – Theodore – who assumed the presidency after William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Roosevelt is now mainly remembered for his big game hunting exploits and his house is indeed full of such trophies, displayed as animal heads on walls, elephant feet as footstool, rhino horns as inkwells, and bearskins as rugs.

However, the museum in the grounds in Long Island also shows another side to Roosevelt, who only went on his hunting safaris so he would not get in the way of his successor. He later disapproved of William Howard Taft’s actions in the White House and stood as a dissident Republican against him in the 1912 election, winning enough support to let in Democrat, Woodrow Wilson. In office Roosevelt was a reforming president challenging corrupt politicians and businessmen and breaking up the monopolies that dominated industries such as oil and banking. He also started the US national parks.

American historic properties under NHL  management appear sober and serious, telling a story in a straightforward way without feeling the need to push relentlessly the various dimensions of the inclusivity agenda, which has become part and parcel of  the approach generally adopted by the UK’s heritage custodians, notably the National Trust and English Heritage, whether it is the need to entertain the young or project guilt for whatever historical sins have become the latest anathema.

For all its reputation as the land of free enterprise and enemy of public sector meddling, in some respects the US can now seem in certain respects much less in thrall to commercialism than Britain. Surprising, occasionally frustrating, but always interesting – this is what makes the US a great place to visit from time to time. It offers an insight – without having delved into its politics too deeply – into the directions in which western society is moving, many of which we might not want to follow, but perhaps some others we might.

RAD June 3rd, 2019

Rhys David is chair of Nova Cambria www.novacambria.wales

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Bashful Businesses

Rhys David

Charles visits Rachel’s’ Organic Dairy in 2017, a successful Ceredigion business founded in 1982, but taken over by Americans in 1999.

Why do so many Welsh businesses get taken over? Just when you think a Welsh company has established itself in an interesting new niche or is proving successful and innovative, along comes a bigger company, almost invariably from outside Wales, to swallow it up.

Just a few weeks ago Broomfield Alexander, the Welsh accountancy practice, joined rival firm Baldwins, itself part of a wider, London-based business services group, Cogital. The hundred year Cardiff-based practice will continue to operate as before, advising businesses in Wales but as part of a bigger organisation. It could lead to new business and more jobs for Wales. Control, however, will have passed outside.

Service sector companies – like Broomfield Alexander – which were previously seen as much less likely to be absorbed than their manufacturing counterparts, have been disappearing into non-Welsh ownership for some time. Remember Cardiff solicitors Leo Abse & Cohen? Since 2015 they have been part of Australian group Slater+Gordon. Or, Wrexham-based recruitment specialists, Gap. They are now owned by Japanese staffing company, Trust Tech.

There have been many other recent examples, from roadbuilding contractors Alun Griffiths (now part of Tarmac, itself a subsidiary of Irish aggregates giant CRH) to bus operator N.A.T., which the oddly-named Singapore group, Comfort Delgro (also a London red bus operator) acquired in 2018. Ownership of the rock that Wales is made of can be traded, too. In April this year Aim-listed Sigma-Roc took a 40 per cent stake in Narberth quarry owner, G.D. Harries & Son, with a view to ultimate full control.

Does it matter? One can hardly blame owners, who may have devoted their working lives to building a business, making considerable sacrifices on the way and risking their own funds, family life and security, from accepting offers, particularly if, in the case of privately-held businesses, there are no obvious successors within the family or the management. It is after all their property and with appropriate limitations they should be able to dispose of it as they see fit. Perhaps we should view it as a tribute to Welsh entrepreneurs, of whom there are now far more than there used to be, that they appear on the radar of businesses elsewhere, not just when they are in need of rescue but when they seem to have developed products or found niches that acquirers find interesting and wish to add to their own portfolio.

Yet, the nagging feeling remains that something important is being sacrificed in this apparently one-way traffic and that what is being lost could be helping to develop a more rounded, more prosperous and more competitive Welsh economy. The consequences are wider than that, too.

A whole ecosystem surrounds successful companies, creating jobs and other opportunities beyond the core business. This is put at risk when firms disappear inside bigger rivals. Companies headquartered in Wales need suppliers, from cleaners and caterers, marketing and public relations advisers, personnel specialists, builders, plumbers and electricians to IT specialists, accountants, auditors, solicitors and a range of other consultants. Many of these relationships will remain intact but inasmuch as a strong motivation for take-overs is rationalisation and efficiencies it is inevitable some of these services will henceforward be organised from the central location and will involve the introduction of external providers, often headquartered in the big English cities.

It would, of course, matter less if Welsh businesses were active in acquiring businesses across the border and further afield. One or two, such as Wynnstay and Leekes, have been, but the majority are not. Our long and porous border is more non-return valve than two-way pipeline.

It is, it must be conceded, not just a Welsh problem. A similar case could be made about the drift into overseas ownership of businesses that most people would imagine were quintessentially British, from Lucozade to Lea & Perrins. What has been happening in Wales is in many ways the British experience writ small, and part of a process – consolidation across business sectors – that has been happening since the beginning of capitalism, but which has accelerated enormously in recent years under the impact of globalisation and its enabling handmaid, technology.

The food industry offers one example of this process at its extreme so it is perhaps worth examining the drivers there, especially as food is one of the areas in which Wales would like to believe it has a strong future. At the primary growing level, output is increasingly coming under the control of giant groups such as the big grain producers and traders, Cargill and Archer Daniels in the US and Europe’s Louis Dreyfus; a big chunk of the global food processing that follows is handled by a small number of multinationals such as Nestle, Unilever, General Mills, Nissin and Danone; and it is increasingly sold by national supermarket oligopolies led in their different territories by Tesco, Walmart, Carrefour and Aldi.

All these groups like talking with similarly-sized organisations. The supermarkets want to deal with giant processors as big as themselves for most of their requirements so unless producers in Wales and elsewhere are part of bigger food manufacturing groups they will be confined to the “local produce” racks at the end of an aisle deep inside the store. This is why Rachel’s Dairy, Brecon Carreg and other Welsh waters, (Ty Nant, Princes Gate) and meat processors, such as Oriel Jones a’i Fab among others, have ended up in big corporate hands and why it is so difficult to build scale and remain independent. (It is possible to stay local as the example of West Country-based Yeo Valley Farms, a rival yogurt supplier to Rachel’s Dairy, shows, but it requires a lot of determination and support.)

This effect is apparent even with apparently huge brands if their owners see no other way of taking them outside their domestic market. HP Sauce, a British institution, but largely unknown outside the UK, is now owned by Kraft-Heinz, the world’s fifth biggest food and beverage company, and HP production has been incorporated into a much bigger plant in the Netherlands, as attempts are made to take it to a wider world consume base.

This illustrates another dilemma, especially where it is the brand rather than the business itself which is the acquirer’s target. If provenance is not important (as it is in some cases, such as Scotch whisky) economies of scale will usually demand a shift to other bigger, more central locations as part of a rationalisation process. And for reasons of distribution, as we frequently see within the EU, this will usually mean the countries of central Europe or eastern Europe, or close to huge container ports, such as Rotterdam and Hamburg, and to Continent-wide road and rail networks. Peripheral areas will invariably lose out, as we may yet see when the key decisions in the projected Tata Steel-Thyssen-Krupp steel merger are made.

The trend towards scale operations is occurring not just in the food industry, however. Companies big, medium-sized and small, across manufacturing and services now search for businesses engaged in similar activities, and which appear to have developed a successful strategy or interesting new products and innovations. This is often done as an alternative to carrying out expensive internal development work. The pharmaceutical industry has taken this further than most, slimming down product portfolios, closing or moving operations and seeking out university spin-outs and other start-ups for new drug discoveries rather than risk spending large amounts of time and money on research that may prove fruitless.

With its modest population and small industrial base Wales is hard-pressed to influence these developments but does this mean it will have to remain a passive bystander, buffeted by whatever trends occur across global business? Can its small businesses never hope to become medium-sized and its bigger businesses never make it on to the world stage? It will be tough but some countries – Ireland and Denmark are examples – have managed to create strong niches for themselves in global business alongside the global brands, despite having relatively small populations of around 5m. They are also now much wealthier than Wales. We need to understand how they have achieved this success, while Wales has remained a largely dependent economy, constantly requiring external investment and support to change and develop.

The scale difference is apparent from the turnover figures of the top companies in the three countries. Ireland’s CRH, founded in 1970 and now established in international markets, had a turnover last year of €27bn., and Development Capital Corporation, founded 1976 stands at €13.9bn. Denmark’s AP Moeller-Maersk weighed in at €192bn and second-placed NovoNordisk at €117.9bn. Wales’s s two biggest domestic companies, Iceland and Admiral, reached only £3bn and £2.96bn respectively. (In April this year the Euro stood at about 1.16 to sterling.)

A start has perhaps been made in Wales and this offers some hopes for the future. The Welsh economy has transformed over recent decades, as the multinationals that moved in during the post-coal era have retreated to their home countries or moved operations to eastern Europe or Asia. With encouragement from Welsh Government, local government, business representative organisations, universities, award schemes, and the Welsh media, and especially the Western Mail, a new ecology of small and medium-sized companies has sprung up. More Welsh people have decided to go into self-employment for one reason or another and many have done well and created jobs for others. Recognition has come, too, from politicians including Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, of building the Welsh economy around grounded companies – those that have been formed in Wales and have good reason to continue to be based here.

We need, however, a much better understanding of the processes at work that might bring greater success, leading ultimately to an economy that will much more closely resemble the successful Irish and Danish, and other successful small nation European models. As well as ensuring firms in Wales can secure access to the funding they require and putting in place appropriate financial institutions, other even more deep-seated issues need to be addressed. Does our school system, for example, prepare young people well enough for life in a what has become a largely post-industrial economy? Are our universities working closely enough with Welsh industry on future products and services? Can we do more to retain Welsh young people within the Welsh university system or to attract Welsh graduates back to Wales?

Are the new businesses we are creating operating in areas that are likely to be relevant to future? In other words, are enough of them going to add value rather than merely fulfil a service or manufacturing need that could be overtaken by artificial intelligence in the decades ahead or be swept away by bigger businesses elsewhere? Just as importantly, does an historical animosity towards capital linger and hold us back? Are we comfortable as a society with individual success and wealth? Do we use rugby as a proxy for success elsewhere, believing that if all goes well at the Principality Stadium, we do not need to try as hard in other areas?

The Scots recognise the importance of becoming a thoroughly modern economy and leveraging their universities to this task. In March the Scottish Government asked Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli of Glasgow University to report on how Scotland’s universities can lead economic growth through industrial partnership and advise how Scotland can learn from other innovative European countries. The research will be short and sharp, reporting in the autumn this year to government, the universities and public agencies. (Compare and contrast the time taken to decide whether or not to build a new road around Newport.)

On his appointment Sir Anton said, “Already across the country exciting partnerships with major industry, SMEs, spin-outs and social enterprises are underway, with many success stories to be celebrated. I hope that the outcomes from this report will offer the chance to build on these successes, learn from international best practice and put Scotland on the road to becoming the best place in the world for industry to partner with universities.” Wales should be doing the same, not waiting until 2025 and inviting a team from Scotland to come down to give us lessons in what they have achieved.

Maybe we will need to have a longer spell as a feeder economy, creating businesses that will grow and then attract outside attention. Perhaps it is going to take decades before enough small companies in Wales grow to become medium-sized businesses capable of looking beyond Welsh borders to expand. If this is the case, we need to find ways in which the funds released from Welsh businesses that are sold get invested back in Wales in even more innovative products, creating wealth for more people going forward. We need to ensure that at least some of the businesses that are developed become the agents of consolidation in their sector not the consolidated.

But perhaps most of all we need the capacity within our universities to carry out relevant research and the willingness to commission it. The economic departments of our Welsh universities, unless I am much mistaken, can tell you all you want to know about a range of topics from the macro-economic policy of developing economies to multiple deprivation in Rhyl West. They teach business students from around the world who can then return to help their own economies prosper. There is a serious gap, however, in knowledge about the Welsh business sector, its size, its constituents, its characteristics, its requirements, its prospects, its strengths, its weaknesses, where investment is going and where it is needed.

As well as having world-class universities Scotland benefits from having a dedicated institute studying the Scottish economy – the Fraser of Allander Institute. We may not have had in Welsh ownership a House of Fraser to provide the core funding for such an institution – and it is most unlikely the current HoF owner, Mike Ashley would fund such a body today, given the parlous state of department store finances. Are there, however, no Welsh-based or Welsh-born or other charitable donors who would be willing to do so? Should the Welsh Government take the lead? Properly structured it could provide the key to telling us how to structure the development of a profitable Welsh economy for the rest of this century and beyond. It could repay the investment handsomely.

  • Rhys David is Chair of Nova Cambria.

 

A Cardiff Cymro at War: Welsh and British Identity in the Near East Theatre of World War One

 

Wales was a melting pot at the start of World War One and some soldiers will have had a foot in the prevailing Welsh and English cultures of Wales.

For the first 17 years of his life, leading up to World War One, Dewi David’s Sunday routine in the Cardiff suburb of Splott will have been the same: chapel with his parents and Sunday School at Eglwys Jerusalem Methodistiaid Calfinaidd in Walker Road, followed probably by a visit for tea or supper to one of his family’s many relatives in the area.[1]

In 1917, however, Dewi’s Christmas was spent in another Jerusalem as one of the Welsh soldiers who entered the Holy City two weeks before. The Turks had been forced to surrender their four centuries-old control of Palestine in the face of advancing British Empire forces under the command of General Sir Edmund (later Lord) Allenby. By this time Dewi had been in other ancient settlements familiar in stories to a chapel-attending Welsh young person – Matarieh (where Mary rested on the flight to Egypt), Khan Yunus (where Delilah was born), Gaza (where Samson brought the temple down), Beersheba (where Abraham and Isaac spent time), Hebron (where Sarah died), and Bethlehem (where Christ was born). Sitting in chapel in his early teens he could hardly have dreamt that he would be camped before Christmas 1917 near Calvary and would spend the day itself on the Mount of Olives in a German religious settlement hastily abandoned by retreating German units that had been supporting Ottoman forces.[2]

Our image of Wales in World War One has largely been formed by the heroism of the 38th (Welsh) Division in France and their sufferings in the assault in July 1916 on Mametz Wood near the town of Albert on the Somme. We also know about the horrors of the trenches, particularly once wet weather and consequent mud had set in.[3] Dewi, however, was among thousands of Welshmen who served in other theatres, notably the Middle East (or Near East as the territories closest to Europe were then called). They served in the only other Welsh-designated division, the 53rd, or in other divisions or support units such as the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The 53rd, a Territorial unit that pre-dated its earlier-numbered confrère, was from August 1915 part of the British army that tried to seize the Gallipoli peninsula during the Dardanelles Campaign, a conflict that cost more than 100,000 British, French, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, and Turkish, German and other lives. The Division went on to defend the Suez Canal against attack by the Central Powers from both east and west,[4] moving later into an offensive phase that took it, fighting its way, across the Sinai Desert, past the stronghold of Gaza and through the Judaean Hills to Jerusalem.  Its capture at a difficult time in the war in France was memorably and evocatively described in Parliament by Prime Minister David Lloyd George as a “Christmas present to the British people”.

Gallipoli, where action was first seen, was trench warfare as brutal as that encountered in France and Belgium but in even more difficult, precipitous terrain where the enemy occupied the heights and could rain down fire on the men below.[5] The 53rd’s later campaigns in 1916 and 1917 were, by contrast, highly mobile desert warfare, accompanied by searing heat, never-ending sand and constant flies, and made worse by severe shortages of food and water. No less difficult scrambles through the Judaean hills followed as the army advanced in the latter half of 1917 deep into Ottoman territory. Many, like Dewi, who joined up as a volunteer on his 17th birthday, St. David’s Day 1915, would spend the entire war away from home, not returning until April 1919.

In October 1918, at Megiddo, the ancient Armageddon of the Bible, on a plain that had been the scene over the course of millennia of mighty battles between great empires, the Turks and their Central Powers allies were defeated, shortly before the November armistice in Europe. They were forced out of the war and made to quit their Ottoman territories outside the motherland in a campaign that made Allenby a national hero in Britain and gave him his title, Viscount Allenby of Megiddo. In Wales it was celebrated as a victory in which Welsh units had played a powerful role.[6]

Two issues particularly have interested historians of Welsh involvement in World War One. How great a degree of enthusiasm did Welsh people exhibit for the war, how did this differ across the social and linguistic divides and how did this square with the pacifist tradition that had developed with the growth of Non-Conformity across Wales in the two previous centuries?  Secondly, how Welsh were the Welsh-named units that fought in the various theatres and how Welsh did they feel? Which Welsh customs and characteristics did they take with them into war? Did men from different parts of the United Kingdom (and beyond) meld together to form part of a wider British identity?

On the attitude of Welsh people to World War One different lines of evidence have been enlisted to justify often modern beliefs and prejudices. Robin Barlow has argued persuasively that a range of reactions can be discerned in the Welsh response to the war and the call to arms, reflecting significant differences in a then fast-changing society.[7] Attitudes also evolved as the war proceeded, after it had become obvious the quick adventure many had expected was a fantasy. Contrary to previous assertions, Barlow has demonstrated that there was a slightly lower propensity to enlist in Wales than in either England or Scotland. Rural and industrial areas felt differently, as did Welsh and non-Welsh-speaking areas, the former in both cases showing less enthusiasm for the cause.

One of the special factors in Wales was undoubtedly the magnetic appeal of Lloyd George, without whom any Welsh reluctance might have been greater. No doubter himself of the rectitude of a war against German militarism, the one-time Criccieth solicitor skilfully mobilised large swathes of Welsh opinion on the side of the little nations of the world – in this case Belgium, Serbia and Montenegro – who could be presented as being bullied by the bigger boys, the Germany of the unbalanced Kaiser Willem II and Franz Josef’s Austro-Hungarian Empire. For Welsh people, although umbilically attached to a benevolent neighbour to their east, the comparison was meaningful.

Already quasi-canonised in Wales for his work as Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing welfare benefits and for his earlier stand as a young solicitor against malign church practices in Welsh parishes, Lloyd George helped to make pacificism unpatriotic, to the extent that even prominent intellectuals were quick in 1914 to take up the war cause. The Welsh scholar, Sir John Morris-Jones, entered the fray, attacking in bellicose terms “Germany’s new religion, the nationalistic creed of Nietzsche”,[8] and collecting with fellow Welsh academic, Professor Lewis Jones, tales of Welsh heroism and derring-do for an anthology on Wales’s martial past.[9]

Gentry ladies, many of whom had sons who served and were to die in the war also rallied around. Profits from the 2/6d sale of the Morris-Jones’s book were donated to the National Fund for Welsh Troops, which sought to provide additional comforts for Welsh regiments at home and abroad. Joining Mrs Lloyd George on the fund committee were, among others, Lady Ninian Crichton-Stuart, Lady Glanusk, Lady Edwards, Lady Beatrice Ormsby-Gore, Lady Herbert, and the Hon. Violet Douglas-Pennant.[10] Even in the avowedly radical south Wales coalfields, Charles Stanton, a firebrand syndicalist and miners’ agent, became a dedicated supporter of the war as did the even better-remembered former miners’ leader and M.P., William Abraham (Mabon).

Statistics can tell us much about the keenness of different socio-economic groups and ethnicities to join up, and we can also glean much from contemporary utterances by politicians and other opinion-formers, such as churchmen and union leaders, and from newspapers and speeches. We need the testimony of individual soldiers, however, to know more clearly what they thought and felt. This is where 50 surviving letters that Dewi sent home can help.[11] Starting with short, cautious missives confirming he was in good health and spirits, they grew in length under the weight of his experiences to offer in response to his father’s and sister’s letters a wide range of views, on Wales and Welshness, his native city of Cardiff, conscientious objectors, suffragism and other contemporary issues, as well as the usual soldier’s complaints – poor supplies of food and water,  inexplicable orders, out-of-touch commanders and favoured treatment of men in other theatres.

As a soldier Dewi was not typical of any one group but crosses several social divides. His family being native Welsh-speakers and chapel-going (his father, Thomas, was a Jerusalem deacon), he came from a tradition that might have been expected to be somewhat more sceptical about the war. He was, however, an urban dweller, living in a significantly “English” Welsh city – Cardiff – which had grown as rapidly as anywhere on earth in the preceding 25 years, drawing in people from all over the United Kingdom.[12] These, it can be inferred, were more likely than the homogeneous rural Welsh to have been fired up to support an Empire war and it was their lead that Dewi seems to have followed.

Unusually, the Davids were almost autochthonous to the region. His parents were from the still largely Cymric Pentyrch and Gwaelod-y-Garth, then outside the city but now incorporated, and spoke the distinctive Glamorgan Welsh dialect. Their neighbours in recently-built Moorland Road, were almost entirely incomers, employed in the largely artisanal jobs that had been created by the city’s coal/steel/shipping economy – railway porter, coal trimmer, engineer, carpenter, boilermaker’s labourer, engine driver, tailor, flannel merchant, general shop assistant, chef, labourer, goods clerk. Many of them would have had no deep roots in the area and little of the cultural attachment to Wales that he and Welsh soldiers from deeper in Wales would have had.

Dewi had joined because his slightly older friends had also enlisted but virtually all of these were what might also be termed Cardiff English, the sons of individuals drawn into the city in the previous two or three decades. Their names were Mills, Pippen, Somers, Ropke, Hansford, London, Hardcastle and Milner, and not Williams, Davies, Evans and Jones. After elementary education several of these young men had gone on to Cardiff’s first “grammar” school, the Municipal Secondary School (the M.S.S.) in Howard Gardens[13].  And, like several of his friends Dewi had joined the General Post Office (GPO) as a messenger boy at 15[14]. As such, these Cardiff individuals will have had much in common with the wider nature of the 53rd Welsh, which included men from Herefordshire, Cheshire and elsewhere, as well as Wales, and would fight in the Near East alongside divisions from London, East Anglia and other parts of Britain as well as Australians, New Zealanders, Newfoundlanders and Indians.

Dewi’s letters, 120,000 words in total and now part of the Imperial War Museum’s national collection in London, offer evidence of the duality engendered by this foot in both camps, Welsh-Welsh and English-Welsh, proud of Wales and his Welshness but growing up in an environment in which the dominance of English ideas and attitudes was even more prevalent than today. In Cardiff, as in many other cities that had grown with the industrial revolution of the previous century, pro-Empire, Anglo-centric views of the world prevailed and will have been shared by most of the population. [15] The Army, where he will have met men from other parts of Britain for the first time, would be a melting-pot that would only intensify this common sentiment, creating bonds that overrode national identities within the United Kingdom.

This Anglocentric, Empire-oriented view is reflected both in Dewi’s choice of language and the expressions he uses.  He writes exclusively in English, though he does pepper his writing with Welsh (and the odd French) expressions. Censorship may account in part for this but his English-only education in the MSS is probably more responsible. This was a time when Welsh was being lost and many Welsh speakers, perhaps particularly those who had moved to the big cities, (though not the Davids) were abandoning Welsh for their children as a hindrance to advance in an English-speaking world.[16] The age-old Welsh dread of the threat to the language – a fear expressed a few decades earlier in the last line of the Welsh national anthem – occupies his thoughts in one of his letters.[17] After describing how he had been mixing with good Welshmen in the 158th, he writes:

“You know full well that I’ll never lose yr hen iaith [the old language] – leave it to me, I hope I am a genuine Cymro – and, well that’s one of his chief duties, isn’t it? – “Fy Nuw, f’anwylyd, a’m iaith” [My God, my loved ones, my language].”  

Even for a Welshman, however, “England” is used in Dewi’s letters as a synonym for “Great Britain” and Ireland, a modern solecism that was probably then widespread (and perhaps offers a partial elucidation of the notorious Encyclopaedia definition). At no point does he use the word Britain, preferring instead the then widespread nickname, “Blighty”.

Thus, from Fayoum, in Egypt, he wrote to complain about exorbitant local traders:

“A quid here lasts about as long as five Bob in England.”[18]

and later, while on the trek through Sinai to Gaza, musing on his job polishing the equipment of the two horses he was looking after at the time, Cuthbert and Araminta, he writes:

“I am sure my manicurist would weep to see these hands after that sticky duty dubbing but I console myself by thinking that we are but cleaning harness for ‘England, Home and Beauty’ as they say in the Brasso advertisement.”

There are other examples, too. In a complicated reference to George Bernard Shaw’s satire, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, he observes how women in Egypt usually trail unwearyingly on foot behind a man on an ass:

“It wouldn’t do for Miss Warren to preach the new belief of the ‘women’s rights’ creed out here.  The men wouldn’t take it so calmly as in England.”[19]

Dewi’s reading at the time was the English-language classics, his requests to his parents being for books by Charles Dickens, Edgar Wallace, Mark Twain, Sir Walter Scott, and the now largely forgotten Ian Hay, and two contemporary periodicals, London Opinions and the Weekly Telegraph. His local and Welsh news came through the long since defunct Cardiff Times. On one occasion he does ask his parents to find him something suitable in Welsh but whether in response they sent him a work by the Welsh Dickens, Daniel Owen, is not known.

His own writing style was humorous and highly literate, and full of references to the Bible, nature, music, history and geography. Yet, for all his serious reading, in speech he grew to be more and more strongly influenced by his companions. As the war proceeded and his tour of duty lengthened, Dewi (and no doubt his brothers-in-arms) filled their conversation and writing with slang phrases such as ‘abso-blooming-lutely’, ‘s’welp me’, ‘kybosh’, ‘ole chulip’, ‘fakamajig’ and others, and routinely cut words, such as ‘them’, or ‘him’ back to a basic understandable ‘em’ and ‘im’. Dewi, too, gradually slips, like many of his contemporaries into the use of Eye Dialect as he becomes more of the old soldier and less the raw and nervous recruit.[20]

It has, indeed, been observed that by the end of the war the default language that many British soldiers spoke was Cockney.  Londoners were disproportionately represented in the forces, and their form of slick, urban conversation clearly appealed to the mood of the men and to the camaraderie which long periods of service together engendered and hence quickly spread, even to units such as the 53rd.

Dewi, a good grammar school education behind him, even if of only short duration, was able to add his own compelling metaphor and imagery. In apologising for his failure to find his sister a Christmas present in Jerusalem, he tells her “the miserable paltry specimens of the Birmingham jeweller’s art (overseas department, remember)” that he inspected were “a gross insult to the average man’s intelligence” and “would not have deceived even the dullest member of a West African missioner’s flock”; in recounting his pleasure after eating the contents of  a parcel he says he “felt as contented and benevolent as the fattest old alderman who ever sat down to the weightiest table at the Lord Mayor’s spread,” and he “wouldn’t have changed places with a diner at the Carlton”; in thanking them for some glasses he had received, that the “goggles” were “Bond St. fit” and hung on his “nasal promontory” a treat; and that some unwelcome remarks he had heard were “enuff to make a crocodile weep champagne”. For Dewi a camel is his “long-faced chum”, being sea-sick is “feeding the fishes”, a brush is his “trusty desert sweeping instrument”, conversation is “chin music” and between you and me is “ongtre-noose”.

Yet, while he quickly adopted Army parlance, Dewi found many of the men he met somewhat exotic on first encounter in 1915 and 1916. With gaps sometimes needing to be filled he spent very brief periods with a London Division, where he might have picked up some of his Cockney and with the 54th (East Anglian) Division, “very decent people”. He found some of his fellow Welshmen different to himself, too. He is sent “back up the line” in Palestine, he reports in one letter, to the 158th Brigade not his usual 159th and finds himself with a “north Wales crush”. “The Fusies, you know, ‘rwan’ like,” he tells his parents.[21] British soldiers named their surroundings after familiar places back home. The North Wales soldiers had followed Army practice in naming areas after similar and familiar places at home. “The Vale of Clwyd is close at hand and we are somewhere near Bettws-y-Coed,” he reports of the areas being occupied by the 158th in the hills.

He also tells his parents what he considers to be an entertaining story about a visit from a north Wales preacher at the YMCA while he was with the Royal Welch Fusiliers (RWF), which again emphasises the differences he observed.

“I went over to finish the letter and take advantage of their tables, but I failed to write a word. There was a service on, conducted by a Welsh chaplain from Aberdaron, look you. I quite enjoyed it, and he captivated the hearts of his congregation, especially those who had never heard a ‘pregethwr’ [preacher]. … He could hardly speak English properly … and the Cymraeg style he had was amusing …. It brought back memories to me of Sundays in the past when I listened to the ‘old school’. Tonight, he gives a humorous lecture at the same place and I’ll be there. So, you’re not the only ones who are privileged with those entertainments, although I’d sooner listen to yr hynod [noted] Kilsby Jones at Jerusalem any day to a lecture on the desert.”[22] The language used by this preacher is not clear, but one can guess it was perhaps a mixture of Welsh and English to meet the needs of his congregation.

Unlike fellow soldiers from more rural areas or smaller towns, Dewi will have met people from overseas in his first job as a 15-year-old messenger boy working out of the GPO in James Street in Cardiff’s docklands. His day will have been spent taking telegrams to boarding houses calling seamen to their ships or to men on board the many ships thronging the docks. This will have brought him into contact with the many Arabs from the Gulf who joined Cardiff-bound vessels at the Royal Navy coaling station in Aden, many of whom settled in Wales.  Whatever the impression he had formed through these no doubt fleeting encounters, abroad the attitudes that shine through his letters are those of the contemporary Briton, and not favourable.

The Greeks, camp followers who set up canteens to serve soldiers at their bases in Egypt, are represented as venal, never losing an opportunity to rook their powerless victims. He thanks his parents for a Postal Order:[23]

“You can’t imagine what it is like to have nixes. It will come in jolly handy for such luxuries as are obtainable from the canteen, although it goes against the grain, you bet, to fork out to Greek proprietors. Naturally, or purposely, they don’t forget to shove on the prices. I suspect the latter”.[24]

The Arabs, too, he believes, are only too willing to do them down in the bazaars, with their “rotten old piastres, worth tuppence ha’penny”. Moreover, he doubts their sincerity:

“The Moslems are very pious if taking a praying carpet out in the street and kneeling down bumping your forehead against the pavement has anything to do with it, but I doubt whether they’re always so devoted. They seem to like English fags because they always pester us for ‘Cigaretta baksheesh Engleezi’ which translated from the Ancient Greek means, ‘Give us a fag, gratis.” [25]

Nor does he approve of their treatment of women.

“The inhabitants of the outlying villages pass along the road by our camp to market in the town and it’s always the donkey or the woman who carries the load. The man, her husband, rides on another donk, doing and carrying nothing. Lazy blighters, what?”[26]

On occasion they could be a source of amusement as when he tries to cash a Money Order in a Post Office in Ismailia and encounters a bureaucratic Egyptian counter clerk, who nevertheless knows of Cardiff. He describes how he approached the official and handed over his document:

“’Hi matey, Where’s my five quid’.” He says, ‘Are you Sapper David.’ Says I, ‘Be’old ‘im in the flesh’.”[27]

He is sent back twice to get different signatures from the Provost Marshal’s office before he receives his money and has the following exchange:

‘’’Do you leeve in Cardeef’. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘near the biscuit factory on the mud.  Can I go now, or do you want to know whether I was born in Upper Zinc Street, or Lower Zinc Street? Come and have a drink with me, will you?’ He says: ‘I tank you no, I do not drink ze beera’ and all the clerks seemed to think it was a huge joke.”

Despite in this case finding someone who had heard of his home city, his advice to anyone coming to Egypt, is:

“Bring plenty of ‘tin’ [money], go to Shepheard’s Hotel and stick there.[28] You’ll only spoil a holiday coming up the line as far as we are to study the peculiar customs and manners of John Cherry Blossom.”[29]

These sentiments – of an 18-year old – would not be appreciated (or openly expressed) nowadays but were no doubt authentic of their times and of soldiers from across Britain.

Nor are the Turks, the main enemy any more highly regarded, though he praises them when back in the hills after the capture of Jerusalem for maintaining a humanitarian approach when it came to water supplies.

“Gosh! I’ve thanked the Koran many times for giving old Johnny 10 commandments, one of which forbids him to poison water – he sticks to it, too, fair does [do’s], which is a jolly lucky job for us. Water. Gosh! D’you know what happened yesterday. There was one biscuit tin of water, three men washed, two men bathed, (one was myself), and then I washed a shirt, towel and socks in it.”[30]

The French, as civilised fellow-Europeans and co-combatants are less harshly treated, though there is a hint he saw a certain dandiness in their character. On a rare break in Cairo he decided to visit a French barber, one of the many foreigners then living and trading in Cairo’s big European quarter.[31]

 “In goes this child to a swell ‘coiffeurs and shavers’ establishment, where there were about umpteen pier glasses [mirrors] hanging around the walls. Sat down and a Frenchman worked the oracle on me – a proper high-faluted style – Parisian style, you know.  ‘You want ze moustache to keep, m’sieur’, he said, serious as a judge, and, of course, not wishing to insult the poor feller, I kept as straight a face as poss and said polite-like, ‘Non, m’sieur, shave the blighter off, he get too much in the way, comprenez?.  … Lathered and shaved me OK, with never a pull or a scratch like my old Army pattern [razor] plays on me, and he was as dainty as a blessed girl, s’welp me Bob.” Then the blooming ceremony started, which fair startled me – first, he rubbed a block of ice over me dial [face], and then he sprayed about five scents over me and then shampooed me and sprayed some more till I didn’t know if I wasn’t in for an aquatic gala. For sure, I was some swell by the time I finished in that place, I tell you, cos he brushed my hair and put a blooming fine parting in it – straight as a die and looked the real goods. I don’t know how the deuce he managed it, cos blowed if I could ever get one there before. I was so pleased that I gave him 2 piastres for himself and told him on the QT that he was a blooming marvel, only he couldn’t comprunny simple language like that. Then he had a bloke there who brushed your togs and chapeau when you left. … Well that little lot cost me 6 piastres but it was worth it every inch. You can judge for yourself how swell it was – I was actually having a shave next chair to a major on the staff – absolutely (Lummy, where’s my swagger cane – Swish! Haw! Bar Jove!), and the manager bowed me out too and fairly beamed when I told him it was a trés bon little shanty of his.”[32]

Yet, while this Welsh-speaking Welshman could under peer pressure very easily become the archetypal World War One Tommy, acting, thinking, sounding and speaking like his fellow-soldiers from other parts of Britain, a feeling of being distinctively different and Welsh also permeates his letters. In Egypt he describes how he and a few of his Cardiff colleagues share a tent with a postman from Tonyrefail.

“who is my champion when we have good-natured arguments about Wales and Lloyd George and I may tell you that we are able to hold our own”.[33]

Dewi himself may well have differed from his colleagues in believing, like many Welsh people, that the Welsh Wizard was the key to victory. And, he evidently followed current developments in the war avidly.

“I have just read Dafydd’s speech at the Eisteddfod [in 1916] and really can’t find words to express myself. He is a marvel and I think the country need have no doubts as to his ability in the capacity of Secretary for War. Why a man with that spirit – the Welsh yspryd – could overcome any obstacle likely to crop up. I’d back him up against any sausage-eating Bethmann Earwig they like to put up.[34] You can tell he’s a Cymro alright by his speech and by Gum! I’m prouder than ever that I am also a Cymro and that the same blood runs in my veins. A Welshman in the field myself, I can only say “Cariwch ymlaen, Dafydd bach, cewch i mewn a ennill i ni”.[35]

Dewi was in no doubt either that Welsh soldiers – carrying on the traditions outlined in the anthology, Gwlad fy Nhadau, were among the most martial of Empire troops. When it came to battle, the Germans fighting with the Ottomans are, as they would have been to most British Empire soldiers, “vile Huns”, but in Dewi’s view they were no match for and indeed in mortal fear of the brave Welsh. Dewi, whose main role was as a Royal Engineers signaller, sending and receiving Morse code messages and laying out cables to forward positions and retrieving it, describes one action in Palestine on the march towards Jerusalem. This to his mind encapsulates the respective fighting qualities of the Welsh and their German and Turkish enemies.

“When the Welsh got to business they were greeted with shouts of ‘Come on you Welsh so and so’s, not Turks this time, you got Germans’. And, so it was, too, there was a plentiful sprinkling of those vermin in front of us but that only made those mad, reckless, splendid Welsh madder than ever and those Huns ran faster than old Johnny [the Turks]. Y’see they can’t skulk in concrete dug-outs here [as in France] – it’s all plain fair and above-board hill-scrapping and they don’t like that – not they. When they see the Welsh coming up over the hills like cats from stone to stone, with the sun playing on those shining little things [presumably their weapons], it’s either ‘Kamarad’, ‘Allah!’, ‘Allah!’, or a sprint towards Constantinople. I simply have to tell you this because the glorious old 53rd gave ‘em of their best and you know what that’s like – bless ‘em. Proud of ‘em? Why there’s nobody to touch ‘em.

“Anyhow, they’re wonderful, they’re marvels, they’re Welsh! If I had my way I’d give ‘em all a V.C. and a 1,000 piastre’s worth in the canteen. However, directly after the dirty work was done we were relieved and I have been terribly busy, engaged in that pleasant pastime of picking up all our cable. Blooming hard work and worst of all the blessed weather broke again and it simply poured down. When it pours here you can betcher life it does pour some, and there we were washed out of house and home – or rather bivvy – out on some blessed hills trying to pick up blooming cable thro seas of mud and lakes of rainwater.”[36]

There is more praise later for his unit after they had been sent down to the plains at Ludd after several months in the hills, only to be told after a two-day trek – “downhill all the way with all brakes on for hours at a stretch” – to turn around and return immediately. The men were left only to speculate on this reversal of fortune but Dewi sees it as evidence of their irreplaceability.

“What benefit can it possibly afford anyone, I would like to know, by heaping ridicule on the heads of us poor innocents. Anyhow, it just goes to prove there’s no other boys like our little rascals to scrap in those blamed hills – simply can’t do without the old “Fighting 53rd –  the flower of the British Army – second to none.”[37]

Some exaggerated pride is evident here but Allenby himself was full of praise for his Welsh troops. On their role in the decisive breakthrough at Gaza he wrote:

“When time was ripe, the Welsh Division brilliantly consummated the victory, storming the rocky slopes of Khuweilfeh, and stubbornly maintaining that position against repeated counter-strokes, fiercely pressed all through the first week of November [1917]. … On 9th December 1917 the 53rd and 60th Divisions joined hands to the south and west of Jerusalem. In co-operation, these two Divisions swept the enemy from Jerusalem’s precincts, and they share the honour and the joy of having been the immediate agents in setting free the Holy City after continuous bondage. In the battles which scattered her armies and drove out of the War the Turkish Empire, the achievements of the young and inexperienced troops – who formed the majority of the 53rd Division – rivalled the exploits of those veterans who had already set an example which won, and will for ever retain, the Empire’s admiration.”[38]

But while Welsh soldiers in the Near East, such as Dewi, reflected in most respects the attitudes and even the forms of speech of their fellow-combatants from other parts of Britain, were there other characteristics specific to Wales that survived four years away from home? On the Western Front the authors Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, both officers in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, noted appreciatively the men’s love of singing. Graves observed that Welsh soldiers sang hymns, often in Welsh, whereas other regiments were more likely to sing popular music hall numbers of the day.

Though they will have sung Welsh hymns at the service Dewi attended, the more open, desert and hill country spaces in which the 53rd Division operated may have been less conducive to communal hymn-singing than the trenches of the Western Front, where death was an ever-present danger and spirituality probably closer to men’s thoughts. The hymns Dewi mentions are Victorian and not popular Welsh favourites – notably Rocked in the Cradle, Here We Suffer Grief and Pain, When He Cometh, and Art Thou Weary – and his references are chiefly intended to raise an ironic point about their experiences out East.

The Welsh love of singing – hymns and airs – could come more easily to the fore once a year, however, on St. David’s Day, his birthday. In 1916 in Egypt he reports that some of his colleagues had been for a ride and had brought back a plant that looked like a leek. In 1918 writing to his sister he tells her he has a lump in his throat from hearing the Divisional Band strike up Men of Harlech.

“Now it’s Deryn Pur, and here she comes, Rhys ap Thomas, I’m nearly blubbering.”[39]

He wishes he had been at home to join them at a concert for St. David’s Day but says their band had given them a treat ‘with a long programme of those beautiful airs, second to none’.

Even if there is little evidence that men in the East routinely sang hymns, music was still important and soldiers in the Near East probably had more opportunity to create entertainment for themselves than men in France and Belgium. Dewi himself recalls performing songs himself – notably the now largely forgotten but then well-known Tosti’s Farewell – at an American lady’s house in Cairo to which he and some of his fellow-soldiers had been invited. More importantly, the men of his unit formed themselves into the Palestine Pops, a cross-dressing Pierrot troupe, that specialised in musical numbers of the day and in sketches.

“The funny man comes from our company and he is a genuine card. …  As for the pierotte, she looks fine, painted up with rosy cheeks and pencilled eyebrows, and long dark tresses. She brings tears to our eyes (tears of mirth, however) when she sings the poignantly-emotional ballad, ‘If You Were the Only Boy’ etc. with her partner. The appealing way in which she stretches her arms out and presses her hand on her heart in the song is quite the last word in melodrama. She’s got the mezzo soprano falsetto voice absolutely taped off, too. Sometimes it cracks at the critical moment and either goes up or bumps down about two octaves. (In ordinary life this prima donna is a Sapper of R.E.s)”[40]

His favourites, however, were the Welsh Rarebits, a troupe of experienced musicians formed in late summer 1916, pre-dating the official World War Two Entertainments National Services Association (ENSA) by some 23 years. Divisional headquarters during the long trek across the Sinai Desert decided the 53rd should have an official concert party, perhaps recognising the extent of musical ability available and the efforts the men were already making to keep their own morale up.

Wally Bishop, member of a Cardiff musical family serving in the RAMC, was asked by his Commanding Officer in Egypt if he knew any other musicians who could help to form a band. He volunteered a pianist, a violinist, a piccolo player and suggested a choir be formed, too. The eleven founding members met under the shadow of a quince tree at Der el Belah and continued to entertain their fellow-soldiers for the rest of the campaign.[41] The première took place in Sinai’s Wadi Ghuzze, a wide dried-up river bed flanked on either side with steep hills. The 5,000 strong soldier audience sat in terraces, watching a stage lit by acetylene floodlights, their cigarettes pinpointing the darkness.[42]

Dewi explains to his sister:

“The Welsh Rarebits were the only demoiselles we’ve got, barring the charming Buddoo [Bedouin] damsels who are now millionairesses on the 15 tomatoes for 5 piastre touch, and of course it’s only natural that a fellow likes to be deceived and feels like straightening his tie and parting his hair before he goes to a concert. Best thing a fellow can do in the EEF where leave is almost as extinct as a rest, eh?”[43]

Given the ubiquity of the piano in Victorian and Edwardian households, and the absence of many of the forms of entertainment that are now available through mass media, it is perhaps not surprising that Bishop was able to put together a concert party that would prove so entertaining. In a distinctively Welsh touch the war’s end was celebrated with a concert by the 100 strong 53rd Division Welsh Male Voice Choir at a celebratory dinner at the Metropole Hotel in Alexandria in January 1919. The programme offered several great Welsh favourites: The Sailors’ Chorus by the poet, Mynyddog, set to music by Dr Joseph Parry, Myfanwy, Men of Harlech, and Martyrs of the Arena. Supporting acts included vocal, piano and violin solos by serving men.

Dewi, his letters reveal, came from a more Welsh background than many of those with whom he signed up, but was much closer to these fellow Cardiff citizens than to the rural Welsh soldiers from other less populated areas of Wales that he met, especially those belonging to the RWF regiments of the 158th Brigade. His attitudes were those of many young British men brought up on stories of “England’s” imperial mission. Like his fellow-soldiers, he had no problem with Empire, accepting without question the British place at the top of the international order and the superiority of Englishmen, Welshmen and Scotsmen over other races. As one midshipman on being posted to HMS Defence in 1914 observed: “I knew little or nothing about foreign policy beyond the fact that the Mediterranean belonged to us”.[44] Indeed, though conscription was never introduced in Ireland, tens of thousands of young Irishmen joined up with the same dedication to the cause. Many of their brothers too young in 1914 and 1915 to join up made their way, however, into the Republican ranks that took Britain on in 1916.

Dewi remained throughout his service a proud and patriotic Welshman – stressing the importance of this identity in letters to his parents. He was a fully engaged and unquestioning Briton as well, however, in a society that was less complex and more homogeneous than today.  For many men of military age like him, buying into the British view was completely natural, and once enlisted they were not willing to harbour doubts, nor were their parents. Indeed, Dewi reserves some of the few bitter comments he expresses in his letters for those who had not joined up as he did at the first opportunity, and for those with relatively soft jobs in the Army or outside.

Opinions were to change during the war as losses mounted and the impact on families grew. In the post-war world Wales became a centre for peace activities, playing a significant part in the establishment of the League of Nations. Plaid Cymru’s formation in 1925 would also create a platform for national sentiments and aspirations to be expressed in a different and more political form. A war to re-establish the status quo was going to leave behind a different world.

These were developments that would follow in the troubled twenties. It is only from the contemporary war letters, such as Dewi’s, however, that we can learn why young Welshmen enlisted, their views on their homeland and its place in the world, how they felt about service in the different theatres and about their fellow-soldiers and foes. Dewi David through his innocent and cheerful but copious correspondence offers insights into all these questions.

Rhys David

Cardiff.  December 2018

rhys.david@btinternet.com

 

 

Rhys David is a former journalist with the Financial Times where he held senior editorial positions. He is a Council Member of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, a director of Nova Cambria and a Fellow of the RSA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Demolished in 1920, Jerusalem M.C. Church was one of three Welsh language chapels in Splott, serving a local Welsh-speaking community attracted to the area after 1888 when Merthyr Tydfil’s Dowlais Ironworks (later Guest, Keen & Co.) invested in a new coastal plant in Cardiff docks, the arrival point for the shipments of Spanish iron ore that had begun to replace exhausted local reserves inland. Many of its workers – a significant number of whom had Welsh as their first language – moved to Cardiff to live nearby.

[2] Sanatorium Kaiserin Augusta Viktoria, a guest house built by the architect Robert Leibnitz for Protestant German pilgrims, one of several religious sites constructed by the Germans and others in the Holy Land in the preceding century.

[3] Llewelyn Wyn Griffith and Jonathon Riley. Up to Mametz and Beyond. (Barnsley, Pen & Sword, 2010) passim.

[4] For an account of the war in this theatre, see Stuart Hadaway, Pyramids and Fleshpots, the Egyptian, Senussi and Eastern Mediterranean Campaigns 1914-1916. (Stroud, The History Press, 2014).

[5] John Masefield, Gallipoli (London, William Heinemann 1916). One of the earliest accounts of the horrors of this campaign was written by the Poet Laureate, shortly after the withdrawal of British and Empire forces.

[6] Welsh soldiers were first through the gates of Jerusalem, a source of pride to Welsh families, some of whom like Dewi’s parents saw Allenby’s entry captured on newsreel in local cinemas. Dewi’s father wrote to say they had viewed the footage at the Gaiety Theatre in Cardiff’s City Road but had failed to pick him out.

[7] Robin Barlow, Wales and World War One. (Llandysul, Gomer Press, 2014), chaps. 1 & 2.

[8] Writing in the Welsh-language publication, Beirniad in 1915.

[9] Sir John Morris-Jones: Gwlad fy Nhadau, Rhodd Cymru i’w Byddin [Land of My Fathers’, Wales Gift to its Army]. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1915).

[10] Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart, second son of the Marquess of Bute and Liberal M.P. for Cardiff, Cowbridge and Llantrisant, was killed aged 35 on October 2nd, 1915 at the Battle of Loos, provoking an outpouring of feeling in Wales. His statue by William Goscombe John, stands in Gorsedd Gardens, Cathays Park.  Ninian Park, former home of Cardiff City F.C. and Ninian Road are named after him.

[11] Extensive extracts from the letters are included in Rhys David, Tell Mum Not to Worry: A Welsh Soldier’s War in the Near East 1915-1919, (Cardiff, Deffro, 2014). ISBN 9 780993 098208. The letters in full are published in a companion volume Tell Mum Not to Worry: The Letters. (Cardiff, Deffro, 2014). ISBN 9 780993 098215.

[12] Cardiff’s population had grown from 6,342 in 1801 to 26,630 in 1851 but in the last census before the start of the war in 1911 had reached 209,804.

[13] Cardiff’s first “grammar” school, the MSS was founded to bridge the gap identified in learning between the pre-existing school system and the new University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire. Its buildings were destroyed by German bombing in World War Two and it was later rebuilt on another site as Howardian High School (now closed).

[14] In 1913 Dewi achieved the highest marks in the United Kingdom in the civil service examinations for entry into a career in the then Government department.

[15] In the preceding two decades the city named new streets in its Roath suburb after great British triumphs – Waterloo, Blenheim, Marlborough, Kimberley, Ladysmith, Mafeking, Harrismith, Trafalgar, Crecy, among them. Kitchener had already had a school named after him in Canton in the late 19th century. This martial pride continued after World War One with the naming of streets near Roath Park Lake after naval commanders, Cunningham, Jellicoe, and Beatty.

[16] The only Welsh letter Dewi is known to have written was to his Sunday School to thank them for a parcel they had sent. He asked a Bangor man to check his Welsh and was told much to his satisfaction that it was faultless.

[17] Letter. May 28th, 1918.

[18] Letters. April 13th, 1916. “Bob”, slang for shilling in pre-decimal currency.

[19] Letters. September 8th, 1916.

[20] “Betcher” is just one example of Eye Dialect where a conventional or colloquial pronunciation is transferred into written language. It is so called because it is seen on paper as well as heard. “Ses”, “not ‘arf”, “nuff” are other examples.

[21] Letters. May 28th, 1918. North Wales Welsh speakers use ‘rwan’ (abbreviation of yr awr hon”) for English ‘now’, whereas in south Wales ‘yn awr’ is preferred. Fusies are the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

[22] John Rhys Jones was a leading 19th century Congregationalist minister appointed to churches in England as well as Wales. He became known as Kilsby Jones after serving in the village of that name in Northamptonshire.

[23] As a 17-year old volunteer, (claiming at the recruiting office to be 19) Dewi had voted his Army pay to his mother at home but after several months depending solely on Army supplies and what he could buy with Postal Orders from his parents he rescinded this instruction.

[24] Letters. From Egypt, June 23rd, 1916.

[25] Letters. April 13th, 1916.

[26] Ibid.

[27] November 4th, 1916.

[28] Shepheard’s Hotel, established in 1841 by Englishman Samuel Shepheard, became Cairo’s leading hotel until destroyed by fire in 1952. It was the headquarters of the British Army in World War One and a meeting place for Allied officers, politicians and spies in World War Two.

[29] Letter. April 13th, 1916.

[30] Letter. June 8th, 1918.

[31] Many Britons who lived in the city will have patronised Welsh-named businesses that appear in advertisements in programmes: sporting goods retailers Roberts, Hughes, (which also boasted branches in Alexandria and Mansourah, and Davies, Bryan, (slogan, Everything for Kit Renewal) with branches in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Khartoum.

[32] Letter. August 25th, 1917.

[33] Letter. November 4th, 1916.

[34] Dewi’s name for Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the German Chancellor.

[35] Letter. September 8th, 1916. At Aberystwyth Lloyd George had been mobbed by an adoring crowd as he got out of his car to attend the annual festival. In October the same year Lloyd George had been in Cardiff to unveil statues – among them Boudicca, Llywelyn, Owain Glyndwr, and Sir Thomas Picton – in the newly-built City Hall, re-establishing in patriotic Welsh minds the connection between Wales and past military glory.

[36] Letter. March 23rd, 1918.

[37] Letter. April 14th, 1918.

[38] C.H. Dudley Ward, History of the 53rd (Welsh) Division. T.F. 1914-1918. (Cardiff, Western Mail 1927).

[39] Letters. February 27th, 1918. (The letter will have been completed after March 1st.)

[40] October 10th, 1917

[41] Bishop describes in his autobiography, how the newly formed party agreed on the need to have a “female” member and bought women’s clothing – stays, shimmy, petticoat, stockings, gaiters, a low-cut dress in gold and black trimmings, and blonde wig. Another item, bloomers, apparently had to be explained to 22-year old Bishop by one of his married colleagues. Waldini, Front Line Theatre. Front Line Theatre, (Cardiff, Private Publication, 1947).

[42] Son of a piccolo player, Bishop (1894-1966) went on to make music his life. Employed as a cinema organist after the war, he lost his job with the advent of the Talkies and spent several years appearing with unemployed musicians as Waldini and his Gypsy band in Cardiff’s Roath Park. During World War Two he was invited by impresario, Jack Hylton, to entertain British and Commonwealth Forces at home and abroad.  After the war the group appeared during the summer months at holiday resorts throughout the UK, most notably Llandudno, and Ilfracombe in Devon. For the last two years of his life he toured with his all-girl band The Fabs, entertaining troops again.

Source: Wikipedia.

[43] June 28th, 1918.

[44]Hadaway, Pyramids and Fleshpots, p32.

Reflections on Wales 2030: A 10 Point Plan for the Welsh Economy

The wider context

Before Plaid Cymru gets down to policy formulation and manifesto preparation, the wider context in which the next British Parliamentary elections will be held needs to be considered. Over the past two decades we have seen the centre ground abandoned by voters across Europe and the US in what some see as a conscious rejection of “we know best” approaches by a closed-off political elite for whom Davos – not Dowlais, Dartford, or Duisburg – is the lodestar.

In the US this surge in populism or rather nativism[1] as opposed to internationalism has been manifested in Trump’s election and in Britain by Brexit, but it is just as prominent elsewhere, even more so in some cases. In Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, and Austria, the left has faded, and rival parties of the right have had to tack towards their more right-wing competitors or include them in coalitions. In the Visegrad grouping (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) parties that would have been considered far right are now in power and in the first two have even sought to dismantle established liberal norms such as judicial independence, much to the EU’s horror.

Even in stable Germany two party politics has weakened under the pressure of the Alternativ fur Deutschland. The traditional centre left and centre right groupings, the CDU and the Social Democrats, have had to govern as a coalition in the last two Parliaments, a breakdown of political alternation that for the 50 years after World War Two characterised much of European politics. Polls have shown support for “strong man” authoritarian, get-it-done rule growing, even in some hitherto stable democracies.[2]

Finally, in France a centrist president, having won barely more votes than his right and left opponents in the first round of France’s most recent presidential elections, has become an isolated and embattled figure, struggling over Christmas 2018 to keep the cobblestones in  Paris’s grand boulevards out of the hands of protesters, and able to secure approval ratings only in the low 20s from a disillusioned populace that has concluded he is not the break with the past he promised to be.

In Britain the rise of UKIP has not been accompanied by representation in domestic Parliaments (except in Wales) but it won the vote for Brexit, persuading a majority to accept its key strategy rather than that of all three traditional UK parties, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. It took more votes than any other party in the most recent European elections. In Scotland the SNP has been the beneficiary of this nativist/populist surge though it presents itself as a bastion of the kind of views the more internationalist-minded support.  (Its equally successful counterpart electorally in Catalonia, which won on a nativist platform, has been put down by force by Spain’s left-wing populist party, Podemos.)

In Spain, as in Greece populist parties from the ostensibly far left and not the right have been the ones to break open the traditional left-right duopoly of politics, demonstrating that “a curse-on-both-their-heads” movement can win through from both ends of the political spectrum. It can also arise spontaneously without direction or central management – the Gilets Jaunes in France.

Where does Plaid Cymru stand in this modern maelstrom? Plaid has in the past been a populist/nativist party, pursuing Wales First policies (more economic and political powers for its unit, Wales, the creation of jobs for people in Wales, support for the domestic language and bilingual education and usage, and opposition to incomers, especially monoglot non-Welsh-speakers moving into Welsh-speaking areas). In recent years, however, in a tilt away from its north and west heartlands towards more populous and hence vote-rich south Wales, it has sought to portray itself as left of Labour. This policy seemed to work best in 1999 when Plaid was rewarded with its best performance to date in Assembly elections, the public having decided in the referendum two years earlier to go down a populist/nativist route to demand (albeit narrowly) more local control, and evidently concluding that the party that had fought so hard and so long for just such an outcome could best be trusted to manage the process.

This new leftist approach with a strong emphasis on social issues had some logic during the early years of the Blairite New Labour revolution when Labour became an enthusiastic supporter of neo-liberal economic, free market policies. It was closed off firstly by Rhodri Morgan’s clear red water philosophy, which began the process of regaining Labour its stranglehold (albeit moderated later by Liberal and Plaid coalition partners). The election of an unashamed Corbynite, Mark Drakeford to Labour’s leadership, has now made a more-Labour-than-Labour approach completely unrealistic for Plaid.

So, the questions for Plaid are these. What has it learnt from the rise of populism over the past two decades? Where are the votes of the vast bulk of moderate centre/centre left voters in Wales going to go in forthcoming elections? Will they renew their support for, or return to Labour, confident it will best serve their interests under its new leader? Just as saliently, if Brexit goes ahead and UKIP recedes, having been seen to have largely done its job and not to be able to develop a credible set of policies on other issues (or implodes through internal scandals), will plague-on-all-their-houses forces gather around anti-Assembly advocates? It would be easy to dismiss nascent stirrings as a phenomenon that will quickly evaporate but the same was said two decades ago of UKIP and look what they achieved. Polls already show the antis winning list seats in the Senedd and they could credibly cast Plaid as just another of the old parties. Do we really want this debate to re-open?

This should raise serious warning flags about criticising the Assembly years since 1999, even if this is seen as a way of attacking Labour. The first paragraph of Adam Price’s document, Wales 2030: A 10-Point Plan for the Welsh Economy, claims the Welsh economy has remained at a standstill for 20 years at the bottom of the UK’s prosperity league, and that, while Scotland has had a devolution dividend, Wales has made no relative progress since 1999. Though the qualifier “relative” is important, the impression that will be picked up is that devolution has failed. This is untrue – there have been gains across many fields.[3].

In employment Welsh activity rates now match those in the rest of Britain – an historic achievement for which both the main parties can perhaps, and certainly will, claim credit, Labour for Assembly policy, the Conservatives for Westminster measures. Rates in Wales have historically been five percentage points lower than the UK and many economists thought the gap would never be closed.  We need to know more about the composition of Welsh activity rates before closing the book on this one – full-time, part-time, male, female etc., – but it has happened. Employment has grown to record numbers in a slowly rising population and in some recent months in 2018 Welsh unemployment was lower in percentage terms than that of the rest of the UK.

At the end of Wales 2030 these questions are posed. What has been the dividend? Has it all been made worth it? Again, these questions are put to stress how important the election of a Plaid government in 2021 will be. However, opponents are likely to say that if Plaid – which has had self-government as its raison d’etre for nearly 100 years – now thinks it has been pointless, what use is it to anyone? Save the money by getting rid of the politicians and bureaucrats in unloved Cardiff Bay!

A much better pitch would be – “these are the ways in which Wales is better since 1999 but this is how it could be much better still! Put the government of Wales in the hands of those who fought for it for so long and believe in it wholeheartedly, unlike their opponents, and let’s build on progress to date”. “Give Wales a Future”, “Give Labour a Break – Give Plaid a Chance” encapsulate this. The latter would tie in with the idea that Plaid believes in devolution in a way the other parties do not. It would also stop short of merely indulging in ritual criticism of Labour, by suggesting the party has not totally failed devolution, but is now exhausted and needs time out of office to revive its ideas. It will be tough, but the voters might just be persuaded that alternation of government in Wales could bring better results than one-party rule.

If it is to break through the 10-14 per cent ceiling that has kept it captive for most of the past nearly 100 years, Plaid needs to be able to present itself once again as a new, exciting and insurgent party and not just as a Wales-leaning variant on the London-based parties, and especially Labour. It certainly does not need to be seen criticising the institution the creation of which it spent so long seeking.

Policy Development Implications

Crucially, Plaid must make it clear it is on the side of the communities that make up Wales and of the community that is Wales itself. This may mean de-emphasising and even rejecting much of the rights-based, individualist focus that has dominated the political thinking of all parties over the past few decades, policies that will have little traction with the voting public Plaid is seeking to attract. Greater prosperity for Wales will be achieved, it should argue, through a re-invigorated approach to economic and education policy, drawing on a revivified (and if necessary reformed) administrative machine supporting the Senedd. (It should not be a matter of inventing a host of new institutions and re-booting others. Existing levers, including a not insubstantial civil service, should in most cases be adequate to put in place the changes needed, and if not should be reformed rather than duplicated.)

Policy needs to be more challenging across the whole spectrum of issues and not simply a matter of trying to come up with tweaks to existing economic, educational, social and cultural approaches. Within the economy, a decisive shift away from the cultivation of anchor companies (which seem determined to melt away despite decades of taxpayer support, as in the case of Ford) towards grounded companies as Wales 2030 suggests, is right and should be boldly and clearly stated. A greater role for the state within the private sector, possibly made easier by Brexit, (provided EU state aid rules no longer apply under any new deal) can be justified, too. The “nationalisation” of Cardiff Airport has, for example, preserved civil aviation in Wales where under private sector control the site of this essential modern facility would by now probably be a housing development. This should be a spur to finding other areas where the state can help.

The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has written convincingly to show that the role of the state as pump-primer and key shareholder has been important across capitalist economies, including the US, yet it remains anathema to successive UK governments, which have sought instead to diminish its role. (The state of Lower Saxony has a blocking shareholding in Volkswagen, which has survived successive EU legal challenges. France has a 15 per cent stake in Renault. French, Dutch, and German state organisations own a significant share of Britain’s energy, water and transport undertakings).

Providing it can find competent managers to fulfil board roles – and this is a big if – a Plaid Welsh Government should look to guide the development of crucial businesses in Wales, intervening where necessary to ensure key locally-owned employers are enabled to stay in Wales. (It is not just in the Missing Middle, however, that policies are needed to ensure the survival and growth of successful local businesses. Our only FTSE company, Admiral, could be subject at any time to a hostile or agreed take-over by a big European or US insurance giant that wants to acquire its customer base. Brains, our biggest food and drink and hospitality company could be sold, like London brewers, Fuller at the start of 2019. Would Plaid have anything to say on issues such as these?)

In transport, a Wales-first approach is also needed and here Labour has taken useful steps that could be built upon. In Transport for Wales we have an embryo Welsh transport authority whose remit could be gradually extended beyond rail to buses and other transport media as well. We still have two public sector bus companies in Wales, Cardiff Bus and Newport Bus, but Cardiff Bus has recently reported a £2m loss.  The profitability of its routes is being nibbled at by the blue and white buses of Singapore-owned N.A.T.  We need to avoid a trajectory where Cardiff Bus will be so weakened by unnecessary competition in what is a natural monopoly that Scottish-owned First Group or Germany’s Deutsche Bahn[4]-owned, Arriva, come riding to the rescue, motoring away again with the profits and Government subsidies generated by Welsh bus passengers, together with the management jobs in the depots of both businesses.

In education the laissez-fair approach that has characterised successive UK Governments’ approach to universities for the past several decades, leading to a bloated sector of more than 170 UK institutions, some of poor quality, needs to be reversed in Wales. If universities exist to supply society with the leaders it needs across a range of disciplines, Wales’s institutions are not achieving this and, indeed, are not set up to do so – in contrast with those in Ireland and Scotland. Our four top universities equip individuals from England and elsewhere to return to help their home countries thrive and prosper, alongside a minority of Welsh-domiciled students.

They bring income to their host towns and cities both through student spending and relatively highly-paid employment for staff (although at some unquantified cost to the community as well)  but if their impact is largely as providers of “offshore” services they are not serving Wales as well as they might and are diverting resources that could be more wisely spent elsewhere in the education system. We have, for example, a weak business sector which could benefit from much closer co-operation with the university sector, yet a few years back the proud claim of Cardiff Business School was that it was the top-rated business school “in India”.

No-one would argue that universities – as the name implies – should be anything other than open and outward-looking, but to the extent they are in Wales? This may require much less of a focus in our top universities on attracting other UK and foreign students, itself the unintended and damaging consequence of the conversion of higher technical institutions into “universities” and the lifting of the cap on student numbers.

While a leavening of UK and overseas students and teachers is desirable, we are essentially training citizens of other countries to return and help those countries to prosper. In some ways the techniques used to recruit overseas students differs little from those applied to attracting foreign companies – location (outstanding natural environment), quality of workforce (skilled university lecturers), and community (friendliness of people). Unlike overseas-owned factories, however, which it is hoped will remain, most foreign students will leave after a few years or move to somewhere else in Britain and the EU, without leaving a significant footprint in Wales. A sudden change would clearly be very damaging but a gradual shift, through specifically-designed incentives, towards greater provision for students from Wales is desirable.[5]

The need to rescale and adapt to meet Welsh needs, is nowhere more apparent than in health, where Wales like the rest of advanced-economy Britain is incapable of providing enough medical staff, (GPs, junior doctors and consultants, nurses, physiotherapists, care workers and others) to look after the Welsh population. Instead, Britain strips the countries of Eastern Europe, and Africa and Asia of their doctors, nurses and other health professionals as if Zimbabwe, Thailand and Romania among others were selflessly training far more individuals than they needed themselves and could afford to export medical professionals!

Wales could carve out a new approach for itself by pledging to return our newer universities to (degree-giving) technical college status, concentrating on engineering, Information technology, management and other largely vocational courses. This could give Wales a head-start in the ambition (espoused by UK Governments of all stripes) to rebuild and re-energise Britain’s manufacturing sector. Do we need nine institutions styled universities for a population of 3m?

Fetishizing the idea that 50 per cent of the population should go to university, the UK (and Wales) has neglected the more than 50 per cent who currently do not. These are the very individuals for whom the jobs that used to exist in basic industries have disappeared over the past four decades. Policy should seek to support more effectively, and offer equal funding and treatment to, those who do not wish or do not have the aptitude to go to university, but who, just as importantly, may want to live and work in the communities they were born into in Wales. These are the very people who, if neglected, will drift off to the far right, which will be seen, however implausibly, to have a greater understanding of their situation. Voters need to know there is a Welsh party that understands their needs, is firmly on their side and will act.

The aim throughout the education system, starting at school level, should be to create pathways across the whole range of economic and political activities so that the most talented are offered a career in Wales. Our national game, rugby, offers lessons. Most of those who play with distinction for Wales are ordinary men from across (mainly) south Wales. They do not come from privileged backgrounds and they have not (with one or two exceptions) been imported. Most have not been to university.

The school system seems to work well here in filtering through and encouraging those with talent, and the WRU and the four Welsh regional sides are then able to take on talented youngsters and progress them through to cap level at various age grades. Some manage to prosper in this framework while still pursuing academic careers – Welsh players have simultaneously trained to become solicitors and doctors while still playing at the highest level. Even those who do not have a parallel professional route are in many cases able to develop after retirement from the game other Wales-based activities that use the training – hard work, discipline, mastery of technical detail – that comes from playing rugby at a high level.

Music offers a similar example, particularly for Welsh speakers. Schools have sadly cut back music provision but local, Urdd and National Eisteddfods provide a competitive environment that has enabled Welsh musicians and especially singers to succeed in music, both popular and classical. Both these sectors have created pathways so that anyone in Wales can rise to the top, not just in Wales but internationally. This makes both very different from other sectors where people trained in Wales to higher levels are usually only equipping themselves to move outside Wales. We even have programmes making it more likely the most able young people will leave Wales and not return, such as the efforts to get more talented students to apply for Oxbridge!

We have spent a long time tinkering with our education system which until several decades ago was functioning quite well. (It was capable, after all, of propelling a Welsh miner’s son from Aberdare into running the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, and the son of Polish immigrants from Cardiff to Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University.) We need to recognise that its failures, such as they are, stem at least in part from the feeling many of those put through it have that they will not find satisfying work at the end, especially if they are unlikely to attend university, and want to stay in Wales. This is at the root of the disaffection with school life of many young people, and especially boys in poorer communities. We should look to the two successful Welsh sectors mentioned above – rugby and music – to see if we can establish similar pathways so that individuals with aspirations in other areas can be channelled from school onwards in directions that will enable them to achieve their goals.

In summary, important as developing a battery of new proposals, Plaid needs to go further and establish itself as the party that is most attuned to what the needs of Wales are and is prepared to elaborate these, however, many sacred cows get slaughtered in the process. Policies need to be radical and daring, simple to enunciate and understand.

The above are just a few areas were radical approaches are needed. They must amount to more than the creation of a host of new institutions. A National Infrastructure Commission, a £2bn National Investment Bank, a National Energy Company, and a Metro Development Corporation may be part of the solution, but they are unlikely to raise more than a sceptical eyebrow across most parts of Wales. Even worse, they will appear just grandiose spending plans, with little of the outlay ever likely from experience to work its way down to meet the needs of the man on the Abercwmboi omnibus (if they still have one).

Plaid needs to show it understands the mood of the public as evidenced not just by Brexit, but by a general disillusionment with politics and politicians. There is no reason why Plaid should not have a whole range of the progressive policies favoured by elites in its locker. The Welsh public has after all been broadly accepting of the social and other changes of recent decades, even if most would be reluctant to stand in the rain in support of them. Let others be in the vanguard – and take the flak – for pushing further on the environment (Greens), minorities (Liberals) and claimants (Labour). These policies need not be the face of Plaid Cymru, which will lack a distinctive position in the political spectrum if it champions others’ causes and neglects its own. Plaid has a broader cause to support – Wales and its communities.

A new more nativist approach should be at the heart of Plaid’s offer. There is no contradiction, after the gains made in other areas affecting individuals over recent years, in saying a stronger focus is now needed on community rights – the right to a decent job in one’s own environment, the right to a decent public realm, the right to good transport and education.

Nor need it imply any lesser commitment to the internationalism that has been a feature of Plaid thinking since its earliest days. Wales’s credentials in this area, from the support for the League of Nations through to partnership with Lesotho are strong in any case and not under threat. Welsh people are unlikely to want to offer any less support to people in other nations in future – standing up for one’s own society does not mean neglecting one’s duty to others.

Indeed, if Wales is to play a fuller part in addressing international needs, it must build a stronger economy at home, using all the tools at its disposal. The strong presence the Irish have built up in international organisations and especially world charitable activity is illustrative as well as admirable. That has followed, rather than preceded the establishment of a strong, confident Irish economy, built on the foundations of decades of Ireland-first polices.

 

 

 

Rhys David

27th January 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Nativism is defined here as a preference for putting one’s own country’s interests ahead of internationalism, as represented by globalism, unrestricted immigration and universal human rights. Those holding this view do not entirely reject these trends and processes but would argue they have been placed too far ahead of domestic considerations by an often-unelected elite who stand to benefit most from their adoption.

[2] Even in the US, support for the idea that democracy is the best form of government has been falling.

[3] The Creation of a Wales Transport Authority, the South Wales Metro (when delivered), the re-opening of passenger services (Llantwit Major, Ebbw Vale), the proposed new Cardiff Parkway station; Welsh income tax provision, Land Transaction Tax, eschewal of PPI contracts. In the social sphere, Commissioners for Old People, Well-Being of Future Generations etc, recycling rates, plastic bag tax, separate health service structure.

[4] German state railways

[5] This could be done through h student fee system.

Mum Can Stop Worrying – It’s All Over

For men in distant theatres who had been away for four years or more, the end of the war brought hopes of a return to life as it had been before they left. It was not to be, as Rhys David explains in this talk given in Cardiff Bay on Armistice Day, 2018

This day, exactly one hundred years ago, will have been one of mixed emotions for people in Wales. Those who had sons, fathers, or husbands who had managed to come through the war will have been looking forward to seeing them home safe. For others the sacrifice their loved ones had made will have been more poignant as they saw the celebrations around them.

Around 272,000 men from Wales joined up for the First World War, of whom 31,000 died and many more were left incapacitated for the rest of their lives. What did they miss most while away and what were the memories of home that they took with them? How different was the city – and the life – to which they returned?

One of the lucky ones who did return – though not until April 1919, such was the time demobilisation took – was Dewi David, a 21-year old from the Cardiff suburb of Splott who had been away for four years without a break. Since signing on at the Drill Hall in Park Street, near the station, he had endured much, though not in France: instead he was in the Near East enduring the horrors of Gallipoli – more than 100,000 dead on both sides – a period on the Suez Canal fending off German and Turkish attacks, a long march through Sinai and three bitter battles for the town of Gaza, and then a push into Palestine through the Judaean Hills.

This culminated in the seizure of Jerusalem in December 1917, the famous Christmas present to the British people, as Lloyd George described it. Then there was a sweeping-up operation to Megiddo in modern Syria where the Ottoman Empire was finally forced out of the war in the last great battle in the conflict in that area.

Dewi is of interest today because while he was away he wrote regular letters home – 120,000 words in total. Soldiers had to sign to say letters included only personal and family matters so there is not a lot in his correspondence about the campaigns as such. He wrote about himself and responded to his family’s news about what was happening at home. As such we learn a bit about the campaigns, but a lot more about his attachment to his native city.

We also get a very clear insight into the lives of its lower middle-class residents of that era – what they ate, where they went to have fun, how close their ties were to neighbourhood and family, and just how comprehensively the war affected the lives of everyone. Just to give you one example of how the whole community was involved in this war, when Dewi was confined on one occasion in a field hospital in Palestine he was treated by his family doctor. Dr. Samuel, who had a practice in Newport Road near the Royal Oak, had signed up, too.

First something about DEWI. He was born in 1898, went to Cardiff’s first grammar school, the Municipal Secondary School in Howard Gardens, joined the GPO in James Street – the building around the corner from here that has had For Sale/To Let signs up for the past 40 years or so.  From age 15 he was a messenger boy delivering telegrams to seamen in the boarding houses of Bute Street, Loudon Square and surrounding areas, and to vessels jam-packed close to each other in the Queen Alexandra, Roath, Bute East and West docks.

He took further studies in Clark’s College in Newport Road as part of his training to become a telegraphist. He enjoyed a happy home life in what was then a thriving suburb with his parents – Welsh-speakers from Pentyrch and Gwaelod-y-Garth, and his sister.

And the CARDIFF of that era? It had acquired city status in 1905 after passing the qualifying number – 200,000 population.  It was also much smaller in area than nowadays. Its extent in those days meant the main rail line ran through the middle of the city not its lower half as nowadays. The northern limit was where the Gabalfa flyover is, to the west it was Ely Bridge and to the east just beyond the Royal Oak pub. Half the population in those days lived south of the tracks in Butetown, Splott, Adamsdown, Newtown, Riverside, and Grangetown, with the rest in Roath, Cathays and Canton. That was it.

Dewi signed up like many young men because his friends from school and at the Post Office had done so. Their names tell us much about the population of Cardiff at the time: Frank Somers, Aubrey Mills, Pippen, Ropke, Sam Milner, Charlie Hardcastle, Hansford, Hardcastle, Billy and Cecil London, boys whose parents had probably moved to the city in the previous 20 years from surrounding English counties to take advantage of the new opportunities Cardiff was offering. They would all have been inspired to sign on by newspaper stories of German atrocities in Belgium, and in Dewi’s case by the oratory of that hero of the Welsh, Lloyd George.

So, what did Dewi and his fellow Cardiffians miss during his four years away from home, unable to pop back whenever they wanted, like today’s university students, and what were they looking forward to on their return.

Well, naturally enough, FAMILY was the first thought for all of them and throughout his letters there is a deep longing to be back home with his mother, his father and his sister, three years younger than he was. In various letters he writes to say he hopes this will be the only or the last Christmas he spends away from them or how much he is looking forward to going on holiday with them again. Like most of the men who joined up this will have been his first real experience of being away from south Wales.

This was a 17-year old at the start of his service and I expect the 17-year olds of that era were far less worldly than nowadays. Indeed, he made over part of his 10/- a week Army pay to his mother when he first went out, expecting his needs would be fully catered for by the Army, but he soon had to rescind this as he found he was always broke and unable to afford supplies to supplement Army fare. Early on he writes to his mother – who had perhaps warned him of the temptations he might face, to say. “Your words, Mum, will not be forgotten. I am sure the thoughts of you three would always make me act as you would wish me to.” As the war went on he became much more of a Jack-the-Lad, almost cynical, British Tommy, adopting Army slang – much of it Cockney – in his writings.

By today’s standards much of what he writes about his parents is very sentimental. His mother is the little woman at home of contemporary popular culture, the homemaker and nurse of every Victorian and Edwardian person’s childhood. The typically domestic nature of her life – shopping and cleaning as well as cooking – is made evident in the frequent references he makes to the priority she places on those activities ahead of writing to him.

His sister, Doris, was different, perhaps reflecting societal changes that were already under way. He was very interested in and supportive of his younger sister’s career and prospects, and there is every sign her family felt there were few limits on what she, a grammar school pupil like Dewi, could achieve. There were, it seems, opportunities for girls outside the home and marriage. At first she thought of becoming a teacher and he wrote encouraging her and observing all the long holidays she would get. Doris was never to go into teaching, choosing instead a commercial career, the skills in which Clark’s also taught. Yet again, Dewi’s reaction was positive.

“They do a lot for you, [at Clark’s College] and you’ll feel mighty pleased with yourself when the result of your examination is announced. Am quite pleased you are going in for commercial work. Perhaps, after all’s said and done, the teaching profession is terribly crowded and inadvisable, therefore, to adopt. I rather think you ought to make a good opening in the line of your choice. Girls with their wits about ’em can make some brass at that game nowadays and I do not doubt for one moment you would make an excellent business-woman. Audacity is a valuable asset in the commercial world. You will find that it is necessary to put your nose to the grindstone in working for these particular posts, and I sincerely hope you will concentrate your mind upon your studies. If you do this, I feel confident you will never have cause to regret it, so Good Luck! little girl, go in and top the bill.”

Whenever he was in a big city he seems to have made a point of looking for a present for her – usually silk or jewellery – in what we might now regard as a rather remarkable degree of affection for a younger teenage sibling. As he explains, he was not always successful, as when he moved from Egypt -with its opportunities to visit big cities such as Cairo, Alexandria or Ismailia, where he would sometimes find silks or scarves to send home.

From Palestine, he writes:

“These people are miles behind the times, as regards shops and all that. Gave it up as a bad job eventually ’cos, really, the miserable paltry specimen of the Birmingham jewellers’ art (overseas department, remember) that I inspected were a gross insult to the average man’s intelligence and would [not] have deceived even the dullest member of a West African missioner’s flock. Never mind, don’t worry, let it slide till I go on leave to Cairo again.”

The main thing on his mind, however, was FOOD AND HIS MOTHER’S HOME COOKING – hardly surprising since the men were starving much of the time. The logistics of such an operation to one side, Gallipoli, Egypt, Sinai and Palestine did not offer opportunities to live off the land, as did France, or buy much to supplement their diet, and the Army found it very difficult to get supplies out to the men. German submarines operating in the Mediterranean – tin fish as the men called them – were also responsible for sinking many of the ships carrying food and other goods to the near East.

He writes from Gallipoli:

“There’s only one tin of beef paste left now, and that’ll go for brekker tomorrow morning. You see we’re getting bread now, so it’ll go down just A1 on that. Bout time, too, we sure have had our fair share of them hateful H&Ps. Jolly glad I’ve got a decent set of ivories to tackle em cos fellers with false ones don’t half cop out – blooming near starve and got to break em up with pliers to nibble at em.”

H & P had the Government contract to make hard tack, the men’s emergency supply. Serving men much preferred sweet short bread biscuits ….

“Good old Crawford – back him against those shameful old rascals H & P any day of the week after jerking some of those toothsome dainties back.”

It was no better in Egypt and possibly worse – no fewer than 800,000 men were in Egypt at one point – British, Australian, New Zealanders and Indians moving to and fro:

“Scuse me harping on grub but when you’ve had one piece of camel (I’ll swear it wasn’t pig) as salt as the Suez for brekker, cup of tea for dinner (could have had marmalade as well but told him to keep it as I was afraid of getting yellow jaundice through the blamed stuff fore long) and skilly for tea (when I had a row with cookie for doing me out of half my regulation issue of potatoes i.e. 2 and 156/164th ozs per man, it sort of haunts one.

“We’ve had peas(?) twice since we’ve been here (like marbles) but they only remind me of green peas I uster get. I’ve kept a few of the former in case I run out of ammunition in a tight corner and will risk breaking The Hague rules about dum-dums

The gap had to be filled by food parcels from relatives and friends, without which the men would have starved:

            “We villains are hardened somewhat to such hard times, which are common occurrences in the profession of arms, but I venture to say never have we been so sadly reduced, no, not since the 15s as at present. Consequently, much as it pains me to broach the subject of vittles, allow me to encroach on your generosity by giving a few tips on the next parcels, dear Mum.  Please do not imagine me in any way presumptive but somehow or other I am inclined to think you are not utilising as much as I would like the wide scope of your culinary genius. Now I suggest you employ it to make some lap cake, jam roll and Welsh Cakes. Teisen ar y Men, now and again as I know a chap yn yr Aipht who’d go absobloominglutely stark, staring mad with joy to see em turn up. Besides there are lots of other creations in flour, currants and baking powder prone to your art which I can’t remember just now. Don’t forget, Mum, if it’s only compensation for not writing. I know you’d like making cakes better so there’s a trump, will you?”

He was always desperate for his mother to write but it seems she largely left this to her better-educated husband and daughter.

We know from a list that his father kept that he received regular food parcels, posted from Carlisle Street Post Office in Splott or the GPO in Westgate Street, the contents of which were faithfully recorded. Altogether, we have records of about 30 parcels sent out to him. Thus, December 14th:

Enamel teapot full of sugar, tea, café au lait, mug, milk, spearmint, clear gums, candles, cigs,

or March 2nd, 1916:

Vermin powder, toffee, mirror, milk tablets, quinine tablets, tea tablets, milk, saccharine, chocs, cake, Pepsin, handkerchiefs, cocoa, cake, shortbread biscuits, toothpaste, cigs.

His requests were quite specific and usually also included other non-food items such as socks, toothpaste, writing paper, envelopes and plenty of other things the Army couldn’t or didn’t want to supply.

 “Any sort of fruit or meat [i.e. in tins] will be OK, but fish is no good in this hot weather. Send plenty of chocolate, big chunks, and toffee from the Market, something to chew. A box of Abdullas [cigarettes] would not go bad either, Virginia … nothing Gippo for me.

“Beef pate like Aunt Janet once sent is the goods (another tip) … Lemon cheese is another excellent commodity, and I thoroughly recommend St. Ivel’s cheese, while tinned sausages are a treat. Don’t be dismayed I rather think I have acquired expensive taste on active service.”

Specific brands he asked for which are still around included:

Sunlight Soap, Rowntree’s Fruit Gums, Bournville Cocoa, Ideal Milk, Oxo, Brasso, Cherry Blossom, Pear’s Soap, Nestle Café au Lait, Cadbury’s chocolate, Johnny Walker.

Other everyday products that he mentions have disappeared.

Keating’s Vermin powder

very important in the desert where the men were crawling most of the time with lice

Thos. Tickler jams, Batchers marmalade, Pepsin, Everlasting Strips, Remington typewriters and Allenbury’s Food.

He responded to the parcels when they arrived with the most elaborate compliments and it would seem the men usually shared their supplies from home with each other, often devouring the contents in one sitting. The post to the Near East was highly erratic and sometimes the men would be left waiting for weeks or months for parcels they had been told about in letters that had got through.

The other great memory of home, and you must remember he was away for four years, was family OUTINGS. Dewi had gone out as a teenager and come back of age but was expecting to pick up some of the pursuits that had marked his younger days.

“One of the things I am dying for is to go off top table once again at Roath Park Lake, Gee Whiz. Not ‘arf. “Me’n old Frankie Somers haven’t settled that bet yet about first one out to the buoys. “Nights and nights we tried it but blow me we always touched it at one and the same time.”

Roath Park was a swimming lake in that era. The authorities were not so worried about what you might catch in the water as they are now, and it probably did not get covered in algae every summer. Indeed, you can still see where the old changing rooms stood opposite the boating area. People used to come from all over the country to take part in an annual race up to the islands and back, the Taff Swim, until the 1950s.

Parents would be worried now but another place for larks – which he recalls with affection – were what was known as the mudflats. It is hard to think now of the area between Splott and the Rumney River where Tremorfa, Pengam – and Tesco – now stand as the wasteland they once were but this is where young teenage lads from Splott used to hang out, fun he recalls on several occasions in his letters. Another pastime he mentions was to head out to still rural Rumney to collect – shock, horror – birds’ eggs.

For family outings there were trips to St. Mellons. You could go down to the Royal Oak in summer and book a seat on a charabanc trip out into the countryside to enjoy the innocent pleasure of a picnic in the fields and some games. Or you could pop over for a drink in the pub. Writing from the Suez Canal, Dewi tells his father he is looking forward to visiting the Unicorn in St. Mellons – still there – for bread and cheese and hop bitters. It will make a change, he says, after eating bread and marmalade for dinner and tea full of flies for days on end.

But perhaps chief among the delights he was looking forward to again was – Porthcawl. It might seem a bit tame nowadays when people can fly to the Maldives or the Seychelles but Porthcawl features regularly in his letters as a kind of holiday Mecca

“This place [El Arish] is nothing to go stark staring mad over as a spa and no-one would venture to this lonely spot to take of its waters, unless he was suffering more or less from an attack of “simplicity”.… It is saturated with chemicals, disinfectants, etc. etc.  which do not make it any the more palatable.

(The Army employed prodigious quantities of disinfectant to prevent the spread of disease in the desert – it was difficult to get rid of human and animal waste and flies were a constant menace for soldiers in this theatre. Dewi talks in his letters about swarms of flies instantly landing on bread and marmalade.)

But back to Porthcawl.

“It [El Arish] cannot be compared favourably with Porthcawl, for instance. The latter place has sand – so has this. The water at both places tastes the same, I expect. But there the comparison ends abruptly. Where are the rest of Porthcawl’s delights, the proms, the shows, the green, the rocks, the – grub? Alas, no not here. They’re taking a trip to Glamorgan land. Worst luck.”

We can see from his letters that families who lived in Cardiff went on excursions frequently, though not more than 50 or so miles from home. The lime-kilns at Tintern, the Wye Valley, Rhossili, Peterston-super-Ely, St. Fagans, Sully, Rhoose, which was then a seaside resort, and Weston-Super-Mare, a boat trip away across the Bristol Channel, are mentioned, though, surprisingly, not Barry.

He is pleased in one of his letters to hear his father has arranged a trip in a motor-cycle sidecar.

“When you talk of St Fagans, Cowbridge etc. It makes me think of green fields and shady lanes and then I’m brought back to the stern reality of miles and miles of hot sand. Just fancy coming back from the beach to tea as we used to and then off for a stroll on the green and Lock’s Common” [in Porthcawl].”

Of course, in those days there were trains to all those places. Splott had its own station at the town end of Splott Road near the old Splott cinema. With the new Cardiff Metro railway now about to take shape, we may be getting back there in another decade or so!

One other important thing on his mind was – you may have guessed – GIRLS. There were no Mesdemoiselles from Armentieres for soldiers in the Near East, where cultural practices were, of course, very different from home and women were much more restricted. (Cairo was a bit different but British soldiers were largely priced out of its pleasures by the Australians who were better paid and acquired an appalling reputation for roistering.)

For Dewi and his fellow soldiers stuck on the Canal one of life’s treats was seeing girls on ships travelling up the Suez Canal. Perhaps surprisingly passenger-carrying ships made this crossing throughout the war, taking colonial families to and from Australia, New Zealand, India, and other points East.

“We’re sort of cut off from the outer world and civilisation … Sometimes a liner comes past and this is one of our keenest delights. You’ll see us rush up the bank to see the civvy passengers, like a lot of kids looking at a puff-puff.

“And the boys get quite delirious if there are any white girls aboard. … We’re like a lot of savages from the wilds looking at this new device of the white man.

“One boat did chuck a lot of stuff to us castaways once, cigarettes, milk tinned stuff … Pretty exciting too, chaps from both banks racing to the middle for the prizes.”

The native inhabitants of the area and especially the women were different, and he regarded them with a mixture of curiosity and European superiority.

“The inhabitants of the outlying villages pass along the road by our camp going to market in the town and it’s always the donkey or the woman who carries the load. The man, her husband, rides on another donk, doing and carrying nothing. Lazy blighters, what? Anyhow, ’nuff said about the Arabs, we’ll pass on to more pleasant topics, they’re a bright lot of ’erbs, I must say.”

Again

 “It wouldn’t do, I am sure, for Miss Warren to preach the belief of the women’s rights creed out here. The men wouldn’t take it as calmly as in England. These people you see are totally devoid of such foolish customs of civilisation. These are the type of fair sex which disclaim any acquaintance with rouge while the latest hats, fashions, and coiffures from Paris do not interest them. They are never accompanied by Poms or Pekingese …Quite content these ladies are to live and die in the village of their birth tending cows and carrying water pitchers.

“Frequently they are to be seen accompanying their husband and master when he is abroad, trotting unwearyingly on foot behind the ass upon which the latter comfortably rides, yet one never hears of an Egyptian branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union.”

He was reflecting here Cardiff’s reputation as a hotbed of suffragettism before the war, hosting the biggest branch of the Women’s Suffrage Union outside London. Indeed, in 1913 Mrs Pankhurst herself had been charged with inciting violence after addressing a rally in the city and imprisoned. There had also been trouble at rallies at the big venue of its day, the Cory Hall opposite Queen Street station. And, of course, in Newport Margaret Haig Thomas, later Viscountess Rhondda, had been prominent in the Votes for Women campaign.

Writing to his sister who had just been to see Kismet, the musical in Cardiff he remarks on the social distinctions he had noticed between upper- and lower-class wome           n in Egypt.

It’s quite true about the veils, yashmaks they call them out here, the ladies of the well-to-do class wear them, but the poorer classes don’t, instead they wear bangles round their ankles and their feet bare, also they have rings through their noses and are invariably tattooed on the lower lip and chin. It’s all very funny at first but you soon get to take no notice of them, instead you stare at any European ladies who happen to pass, which isn’t often. As for my taking a liking to any of those young ladies, as you suggested, not me. Wait till I get back to Cardiff. They’re the best, can’t beat em, Doll.”

Soldiers in World War One were not of course plugged into a 24/7 news agenda as nowadays but they were quite well-informed and wanted to know the NEWS from back home. Dewi asks repeatedly for two magazines, Weekly Telegraph and London Opinions to be sent out to him together with the weekly Cardiff Times. He never mentions the Western Mail, South Wales Daily News, or the Echo or Evening Express, the city’s four dailies.

He quotes Lloyd George’s speeches (approvingly) in his letters and is aware of other campaigns such as the Italian battles in the Alps with the Austrians. He is also familiar with events in France and the impact on local connections of the losses at the Somme and elsewhere. These were close-knit communities where everyone knew the people living not just close by but in neighbouring streets as well. He himself lost cousins in the war and kept coming across friends from home in different regiments when they happened to be posted nearby. He writes home frequently to say how sad events made him.

“Stanley James, another addition to the Roll of Honour”

“Very sorry indeed to hear of little Wally Shipton and your cousin Dad, it is indeed a terrible time for Mrs Shipton”

“Awfully sorry to hear poor old George Butcher has died in action with many gallant lads. There must be awful sorrow in Blighty now”

“I’m was shocked to hear of the deaths of George Daniel and Horatio, and cousin Walter at home an invalid”

“It seems so cruel and the sad news hit me hard. It will be a great consolation to think that they fell like Welsh gentlemen”.

In one letter he expresses surprise at meeting up with his next-door neighbour from Moorland Road, a boy several years younger whom he hardly recognised, and is cross when he learns another soldier, Bert Price, probably serving in France, had not been allowed to get home in time before his mother died. There are frequent references, too, to a cousin, Tom, who was badly gassed in France.

Tom has, we learn from one letter, been under the recently invented X-ray

“Now that he will soon have the lead out of his arm we shan’t be long before hearing from him.”

Later however Tom is soon worse again and has had to be admitted to Splott Hospital – Moorland Road School – for an operation. Various schools and other buildings in Cardiff were requisitioned as hospitals, including Albany Road, Lansdowne Road, and Howard Gardens (the MSS), whose pupils were temporarily moved to Cardiff High School in Newport Road.

Soldiers’ families back home also got news of their serving relatives from men who did manage to get home for leave or recuperation. They would often be asked to pop around and see parents or wives and children to tell them how their loved ones were getting on. The cinema newsreel had been invented by that time, so families could see as well as read about the war, though obviously in highly edited form. Thus, in April 1918 writing to his parents about General Allenby’s famous entry into Jerusalem in December 1917 he says:

“I was much interested to hear of your having been to see the Entry into the Holy City on the bioscope. Gosh! I should have liked to see that with you and I can quite understand the enthusiasm when the orchestra struck up that very appropriate march. And now you want to know why you didn’t see me there.

“Well, that’s simply explained. I wasn’t there, you see. Nunno, what you saw was all the pomp and ceremony of the official entry of the C. in C. – you didn’t see the actual occupation by the old un cant pum deg a naw (159s). I went in there with the boys of the old brigade two days before that and there were no bands playing…  Fancy you having seen the Jaffa Gate and the streets I passed along but a few days before and also see the fellers marching in.

“No doubt you went to the Gaiety that night fully expecting to see my ugly dial confronting you on the canvas? Never mind. As long as you see my triumphal entry into the approach via platform No. 3 everything will be OK. Won’t it? That’s the only entry I’m waiting or troubling about – and a single decker from the Monument.”

Dewi was serving with a Welsh Division, the 53rd which meant there were other reminders of home in addition to the companionship of men from Cardiff and the rest of Wales. In their rest period they played football and rugby – there were men among them who had played for first class clubs – and went swimming together in the Suez Canal. One race across the Canal was against the British West Indian Regiment, Blacks v Whites, as it was termed. A very tangible reminder of home came, too, from their concert parties. The men sometimes made up their own troupes, the Kamelerio Sandboys being one:

“A real, tophole stage ([at Wadi Ballut] with quite the latest footlights and lime-light effects – plush curtains – with the arms of the party in gold upon it, two rabbits rampant.

To his sister about soldiers in drag:

“… they do look positively plums, real peaches. Talk about the light fantastic, too … they’re real experts at the ‘trip it lightly’ game and such ankles – sublime, believe me – make many a real demoiselle turn green with envy.

“They have simply forgotten how to walk … a clumsy, slouching forceful tread. … They float along with those ridiculously short steps, like you see in Queen Street any old day of the week.”

A professional group, the Welsh Rarebits, was founded by a Cardiff bandleader, Wally Bishop, aka the Great Waldini, who was serving with the RAMC in the Near East. After the war Bishop performed as a cinema musician but when the talkies came along he formed Waldini and his Gypsy Band which played in Romany costumes on the bandstand in Roath Park. He toured again during World War Two with Ensa, entertaining troops at home and abroad and later became a successful Palm Court orchestra leader in Llandudno and Ilfracombe. He died in St. Winifred’s in 1966. The Welsh Rarebits, Dewi explains, were

“the only demoiselles we’ve got, barring the charming Buddoo damsels who are now millionairesses on the 15 tomatoes for 5 piastres touch and of course it’s only natural that a feller likes to be deceived and felt like straightening his imaginary tie and parting his hair before he goes to a concert. Best thing a fellow can do in the EEF where leave is almost extinct.”

So, what about the Cardiff they returned to?

On Armistice Day itself – a Monday in 1918 – the Western Mail was already anticipating the outcome with stories about the Kaiser’s abdication, and revolution in Germany, which at the time was thought likely to go the way of Russia and become a Communist state.

Debate was starting in the papers over the re-employment of returning soldiers, the secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen in Wales, Arthur Williams, warning that, because of the great increase in the number of women who have entered industry and the great increase in labour saving machinery, the number of unemployed is likely to seriously increase”. As just one example, Cardiff Corporation Transport Department had found it necessary to employ 25 women tram drivers, as 350 of its 750 employees were away at the war. Women were now firmly in the workplace.

Plans were also afoot for a by-election in Cardiff East.  Lord Colum Crichton Stuart, son of the Marquess of Bute and brother of Ninian, killed at the Battle of Loos, would stand for the Conservatives, shipowner Sir William Seager for the Liberals and the NUR’s Arthur Williams for Labour. There’s a statue of Ninian, whose death caused a great outpouring of grief, in front of the Museum in Cathays Park.

The bells of St. John’s Church would be rung as soon as the Armistice came into force and would continue throughout the day, and a procession of docks men would march from the Docks to the City Hall. Tens of thousands indeed joined the march, thronging St. Mary Street, Kingsway and the space in front of the City Hall. Miners would be given a day off as, too, would schools. On November 12th Style & Mantle of St Mary Street were quick off the mark with a Victory Offer on coats, costumes, furs, all at half war prices, “For the Women who Waited.”  James Howell advertised a clearance sale of furs – rather surprising perhaps in November. The Roath Furnishing Company placed an advertisement to thank our brave soldiers and sailors for their glorious deeds on land sea.

In many other respects, life had been continuing as normal. On November 12th the Western Mail reported on a 0-0 draw in the rugby match that Saturday between Cardiff and Newport, the Park Hall Cinema in Park Place was showing Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and among the news stories was one about three girls who had fallen into the canal at Cathays Park. (It ran past the castle in those days.) They were rescued by a quick-thinking bus passenger who jumped off and dived in.

Amid the celebrations, however, the Western Mail was still carrying a daily two columns entitled Welsh Heroes. In the November 11th issue, Cardiff men who had died or sustained serious injuries included a seaman from Colum Road, soldiers from Eyre Street and East Grove, and four brothers, the Pleasses – one killed, one missing, one home gassed in France and one who had had his foot amputated.

What the men away in the Near East were not aware of was just how close the domestic population had come to starving because of the depredations of German U-boats, forcing the Government to bring in rationing and to require individuals to register with a butcher and a grocer and to drop their consumption by 20 per cent.  Food riots had occurred in several places and fights among shoppers, including in Cardiff, were not uncommon. Bad feeling was rife – in Newport the police were accused of seizing butter from the market for their own consumption. Fuel, too, was in short supply, the Royal Navy and industry needing to be prioritised. One of the regular advertisements in newspapers of the era was for Rinso, hailed as the cold-water washer.

Petrol rationing was also brought in and those seen to be misusing the fuel were prosecuted. The actor Fred Terry, brother of the more famous Ellen Terry, and his chauffeur were both fined £5 by Cardiff magistrates, with the alternative of a month in prison, after an eagle-eyed policeman spotted them turning up at their theatrical digs in Tudor Street. They were told they should have caught the train from Cheltenham, the previous stop on their tour. Poor Terry, who said he had a heart condition, asked how he was now supposed to move his car if he wasn’t allowed to travel in it and was told in effect by the magistrates, Tough!

Lower down the social scale a Cardiff fish merchant was fined for using his motor bike to collect fish from the docks. It was pointed out to him that a tram passed his house. The other passengers would, I am sure, have been pleased with his load!

Labour disputes were also increasing as a result of these shortages, and the truce that the labour leaders had ordered at the start of the war, promising not to resort to strike action, was proving difficult to sustain. Prices of essentials had risen, and the working population had been under pressure to work long hours for the sake of the war effort.

Dewi was lucky in being able to resume his job in the GPO – this was one of the employers that had kept posts open to returning soldiers. Many men were not able to do so, and race riots occurred in port cities such as Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Tyneside where coloured seamen had settled and were accused of taking the men’s jobs. Four people were killed in Cardiff in outbreaks of violence that brought guns on to the streets.

Physically, Cardiff had not changed much during his absence – Zeppelins had never penetrated as far as south Wales so there was no bomb damage. Before the war the City Hall had been completed on land sold to the city by the Marquess of Bute but the rest of the Cathays Park development, including the National Museum, had largely had to be postponed and would not be finished until the late 1920s.

South Wales and Cardiff especially were to suffer over the next ten years because of a steep decline in the demand for coal. German coal was being sent to France as part of war reparations and this supplanted Welsh coal for which there had always been a strong French market. Even more importantly, the Royal Navy and the merchant fleet had begun the transition from coal- to oil-fired boilers, stripping south Wales of the main outlet for its steam-raising coals.

It would be the 1930s before the city started to pick up again with new light industries springing up on its fringes and its boundaries now extended to enable a new housebuilding boom to take place, including on land sold to the city by the Insole family of Insole Court for the building of Western Avenue and its surrounding estates. Other well-known landmarks would also appear in these inter-war years, including the Westgate Street flats and the new double decker stand at the Cardiff Arms Park, long since demolished.

All Dewi and the millions of other men now being demobilised wanted, however, on November 11th, 1918 was to get home and re-join their families and take up, if possible, their old jobs.

As Dewi writes near the end:

“Every other experience which is to be mine in the future will pall before that eventful, thrilling day of days when I shall literally hurl myself from the Paddington express towards that trio which I know will be waiting on No.  ….. Oh, never mind the platform. If it’s number umpteen, I’ll be there, cos I think I’ve just about paid my fare.

Then I’ll stick my chest out and swing my arm and the first frog-hearted, stiff-necked cross between a Spitzbergen sea-cook and a muzzled oyster, mealy-mouthed son of a doormat who cocks his nose at that’ll be handed a bunch of double fives good and hard.

This was no longer the tentative lad who had left home four years earlier, promising not to let his mother down and making over his Army pay to her!

Rhys David is the author of Tell Mum Not to Worry: A Welsh Soldier’s World War One in the Near East 1915-1919. ISBN 978-0-9-09930982-0-8

 

 

Mum Can Stop Worrying – It’s All Over

 

For men in distant theatres who had been away for four years or more, the end of the war brought hopes of a return to life as it had been before they left. It was not to be, as Rhys David explains in this talk given in Cardiff Bay on Armistice Day, 2018

 

This day, exactly one hundred years ago, will have been one of mixed emotions for people in Wales. Those who had sons, fathers, or husbands who had managed to come through the war will have been looking forward to seeing them home safe. For others the sacrifice their loved ones had made will have been more poignant as they saw the celebrations around them.

Around 272,000 men from Wales joined up for the First World War, of whom 31,000 died and many more were left incapacitated for the rest of their lives. What did they miss most while away and what were the memories of home that they took with them? How different was the city – and the life – to which they returned?

One of the lucky ones who did return – though not until April 1919, such was the time demobilisation took – was Dewi David, a 21-year old from the Cardiff suburb of Splott who had been away for four years without a break. Since signing on at the Drill Hall in Park Street, near the station, he had endured much, though not in France: instead he was in the Near East enduring the horrors of Gallipoli – more than 100,000 dead on both sides – a period on the Suez Canal fending off German and Turkish attacks, a long march through Sinai and three bitter battles for the town of Gaza, and then a push into Palestine through the Judaean Hills.

This culminated in the seizure of Jerusalem in December 1917, the famous Christmas present to the British people, as Lloyd George described it. Then there was a sweeping-up operation to Megiddo in modern Syria where the Ottoman Empire was finally forced out of the war in the last great battle in the conflict in that area.

Dewi is of interest today because while he was away he wrote regular letters home – 120,000 words in total. Soldiers had to sign to say letters included only personal and family matters so there is not a lot in his correspondence about the campaigns as such. He wrote about himself and responded to his family’s news about what was happening at home. As such we learn a bit about the campaigns, but a lot more about his attachment to his native city.

We also get a very clear insight into the lives of its lower middle-class residents of that era – what they ate, where they went to have fun, how close their ties were to neighbourhood and family, and just how comprehensively the war affected the lives of everyone. Just to give you one example of how the whole community was involved in this war, when Dewi was confined on one occasion in a field hospital in Palestine he was treated by his family doctor. Dr. Samuel, who had a practice in Newport Road near the Royal Oak, had signed up, too.

First something about DEWI. He was born in 1898, went to Cardiff’s first grammar school, the Municipal Secondary School in Howard Gardens, joined the GPO in James Street – the building around the corner from here that has had For Sale/To Let signs up for the past 40 years or so.  From age 15 he was a messenger boy delivering telegrams to seamen in the boarding houses of Bute Street, Loudon Square and surrounding areas, and to vessels jam-packed close to each other in the Queen Alexandra, Roath, Bute East and West docks.

He took further studies in Clark’s College in Newport Road as part of his training to become a telegraphist. He enjoyed a happy home life in what was then a thriving suburb with his parents – Welsh-speakers from Pentyrch and Gwaelod-y-Garth, and his sister.

And the CARDIFF of that era? It had acquired city status in 1905 after passing the qualifying number – 200,000 population.  It was also much smaller in area than nowadays. Its extent in those days meant the main rail line ran through the middle of the city not its lower half as nowadays. The northern limit was where the Gabalfa flyover is, to the west it was Ely Bridge and to the east just beyond the Royal Oak pub. Half the population in those days lived south of the tracks in Butetown, Splott, Adamsdown, Newtown, Riverside, and Grangetown, with the rest in Roath, Cathays and Canton. That was it.

Dewi signed up like many young men because his friends from school and at the Post Office had done so. Their names tell us much about the population of Cardiff at the time: Frank Somers, Aubrey Mills, Pippen, Ropke, Sam Milner, Charlie Hardcastle, Hansford, Hardcastle, Billy and Cecil London, boys whose parents had probably moved to the city in the previous 20 years from surrounding English counties to take advantage of the new opportunities Cardiff was offering. They would all have been inspired to sign on by newspaper stories of German atrocities in Belgium, and in Dewi’s case by the oratory of that hero of the Welsh, Lloyd George.

So, what did Dewi and his fellow Cardiffians miss during his four years away from home, unable to pop back whenever they wanted, like today’s university students, and what were they looking forward to on their return.

Well, naturally enough, FAMILY was the first thought for all of them and throughout his letters there is a deep longing to be back home with his mother, his father and his sister, three years younger than he was. In various letters he writes to say he hopes this will be the only or the last Christmas he spends away from them or how much he is looking forward to going on holiday with them again. Like most of the men who joined up this will have been his first real experience of being away from south Wales.

This was a 17-year old at the start of his service and I expect the 17-year olds of that era were far less worldly than nowadays. Indeed, he made over part of his 10/- a week Army pay to his mother when he first went out, expecting his needs would be fully catered for by the Army, but he soon had to rescind this as he found he was always broke and unable to afford supplies to supplement Army fare. Early on he writes to his mother – who had perhaps warned him of the temptations he might face, to say. “Your words, Mum, will not be forgotten. I am sure the thoughts of you three would always make me act as you would wish me to.” As the war went on he became much more of a Jack-the-Lad, almost cynical, British Tommy, adopting Army slang – much of it Cockney – in his writings.

By today’s standards much of what he writes about his parents is very sentimental. His mother is the little woman at home of contemporary popular culture, the homemaker and nurse of every Victorian and Edwardian person’s childhood. The typically domestic nature of her life – shopping and cleaning as well as cooking – is made evident in the frequent references he makes to the priority she places on those activities ahead of writing to him.

His sister, Doris, was different, perhaps reflecting societal changes that were already under way. He was very interested in and supportive of his younger sister’s career and prospects, and there is every sign her family felt there were few limits on what she, a grammar school pupil like Dewi, could achieve. There were, it seems, opportunities for girls outside the home and marriage. At first she thought of becoming a teacher and he wrote encouraging her and observing all the long holidays she would get. Doris was never to go into teaching, choosing instead a commercial career, the skills in which Clark’s also taught. Yet again, Dewi’s reaction was positive.

“They do a lot for you, [at Clark’s College] and you’ll feel mighty pleased with yourself when the result of your examination is announced. Am quite pleased you are going in for commercial work. Perhaps, after all’s said and done, the teaching profession is terribly crowded and inadvisable, therefore, to adopt. I rather think you ought to make a good opening in the line of your choice. Girls with their wits about ’em can make some brass at that game nowadays and I do not doubt for one moment you would make an excellent business-woman. Audacity is a valuable asset in the commercial world. You will find that it is necessary to put your nose to the grindstone in working for these particular posts, and I sincerely hope you will concentrate your mind upon your studies. If you do this, I feel confident you will never have cause to regret it, so Good Luck! little girl, go in and top the bill.”

Whenever he was in a big city he seems to have made a point of looking for a present for her – usually silk or jewellery – in what we might now regard as a rather remarkable degree of affection for a younger teenage sibling. As he explains, he was not always successful, as when he moved from Egypt -with its opportunities to visit big cities such as Cairo, Alexandria or Ismailia, where he would sometimes find silks or scarves to send home.

From Palestine, he writes:

“These people are miles behind the times, as regards shops and all that. Gave it up as a bad job eventually ’cos, really, the miserable paltry specimen of the Birmingham jewellers’ art (overseas department, remember) that I inspected were a gross insult to the average man’s intelligence and would [not] have deceived even the dullest member of a West African missioner’s flock. Never mind, don’t worry, let it slide till I go on leave to Cairo again.”

The main thing on his mind, however, was FOOD AND HIS MOTHER’S HOME COOKING – hardly surprising since the men were starving much of the time. The logistics of such an operation to one side, Gallipoli, Egypt, Sinai and Palestine did not offer opportunities to live off the land, as did France, or buy much to supplement their diet, and the Army found it very difficult to get supplies out to the men. German submarines operating in the Mediterranean – tin fish as the men called them – were also responsible for sinking many of the ships carrying food and other goods to the near East.

He writes from Gallipoli:

“There’s only one tin of beef paste left now, and that’ll go for brekker tomorrow morning. You see we’re getting bread now, so it’ll go down just A1 on that. Bout time, too, we sure have had our fair share of them hateful H&Ps. Jolly glad I’ve got a decent set of ivories to tackle em cos fellers with false ones don’t half cop out – blooming near starve and got to break em up with pliers to nibble at em.”

H & P had the Government contract to make hard tack, the men’s emergency supply. Serving men much preferred sweet short bread biscuits ….

“Good old Crawford – back him against those shameful old rascals H & P any day of the week after jerking some of those toothsome dainties back.”

It was no better in Egypt and possibly worse – no fewer than 800,000 men were in Egypt at one point – British, Australian, New Zealanders and Indians moving to and fro:

“Scuse me harping on grub but when you’ve had one piece of camel (I’ll swear it wasn’t pig) as salt as the Suez for brekker, cup of tea for dinner (could have had marmalade as well but told him to keep it as I was afraid of getting yellow jaundice through the blamed stuff fore long) and skilly for tea (when I had a row with cookie for doing me out of half my regulation issue of potatoes i.e. 2 and 156/164th ozs per man, it sort of haunts one.

“We’ve had peas(?) twice since we’ve been here (like marbles) but they only remind me of green peas I uster get. I’ve kept a few of the former in case I run out of ammunition in a tight corner and will risk breaking The Hague rules about dum-dums

The gap had to be filled by food parcels from relatives and friends, without which the men would have starved:

            “We villains are hardened somewhat to such hard times, which are common occurrences in the profession of arms, but I venture to say never have we been so sadly reduced, no, not since the 15s as at present. Consequently, much as it pains me to broach the subject of vittles, allow me to encroach on your generosity by giving a few tips on the next parcels, dear Mum.  Please do not imagine me in any way presumptive but somehow or other I am inclined to think you are not utilising as much as I would like the wide scope of your culinary genius. Now I suggest you employ it to make some lap cake, jam roll and Welsh Cakes. Teisen ar y Men, now and again as I know a chap yn yr Aipht who’d go absobloominglutely stark, staring mad with joy to see em turn up. Besides there are lots of other creations in flour, currants and baking powder prone to your art which I can’t remember just now. Don’t forget, Mum, if it’s only compensation for not writing. I know you’d like making cakes better so there’s a trump, will you?”

He was always desperate for his mother to write but it seems she largely left this to her better-educated husband and daughter.

We know from a list that his father kept that he received regular food parcels, posted from Carlisle Street Post Office in Splott or the GPO in Westgate Street, the contents of which were faithfully recorded. Altogether, we have records of about 30 parcels sent out to him. Thus, December 14th:

Enamel teapot full of sugar, tea, café au lait, mug, milk, spearmint, clear gums, candles, cigs,

or March 2nd, 1916:

Vermin powder, toffee, mirror, milk tablets, quinine tablets, tea tablets, milk, saccharine, chocs, cake, Pepsin, handkerchiefs, cocoa, cake, shortbread biscuits, toothpaste, cigs.

His requests were quite specific and usually also included other non-food items such as socks, toothpaste, writing paper, envelopes and plenty of other things the Army couldn’t or didn’t want to supply.

 “Any sort of fruit or meat [i.e. in tins] will be OK, but fish is no good in this hot weather. Send plenty of chocolate, big chunks, and toffee from the Market, something to chew. A box of Abdullas [cigarettes] would not go bad either, Virginia … nothing Gippo for me.

“Beef pate like Aunt Janet once sent is the goods (another tip) … Lemon cheese is another excellent commodity, and I thoroughly recommend St. Ivel’s cheese, while tinned sausages are a treat. Don’t be dismayed I rather think I have acquired expensive taste on active service.”

Specific brands he asked for which are still around included:

Sunlight Soap, Rowntree’s Fruit Gums, Bournville Cocoa, Ideal Milk, Oxo, Brasso, Cherry Blossom, Pear’s Soap, Nestle Café au Lait, Cadbury’s chocolate, Johnny Walker.

Other everyday products that he mentions have disappeared.

Keating’s Vermin powder

very important in the desert where the men were crawling most of the time with lice

Thos. Tickler jams, Batchers marmalade, Pepsin, Everlasting Strips, Remington typewriters and Allenbury’s Food.

He responded to the parcels when they arrived with the most elaborate compliments and it would seem the men usually shared their supplies from home with each other, often devouring the contents in one sitting. The post to the Near East was highly erratic and sometimes the men would be left waiting for weeks or months for parcels they had been told about in letters that had got through.

The other great memory of home, and you must remember he was away for four years, was family OUTINGS. Dewi had gone out as a teenager and come back of age but was expecting to pick up some of the pursuits that had marked his younger days.

“One of the things I am dying for is to go off top table once again at Roath Park Lake, Gee Whiz. Not ‘arf. “Me’n old Frankie Somers haven’t settled that bet yet about first one out to the buoys. “Nights and nights we tried it but blow me we always touched it at one and the same time.”

Roath Park was a swimming lake in that era. The authorities were not so worried about what you might catch in the water as they are now, and it probably did not get covered in algae every summer. Indeed, you can still see where the old changing rooms stood opposite the boating area. People used to come from all over the country to take part in an annual race up to the islands and back, the Taff Swim, until the 1950s.

Parents would be worried now but another place for larks – which he recalls with affection – were what was known as the mudflats. It is hard to think now of the area between Splott and the Rumney River where Tremorfa, Pengam – and Tesco – now stand as the wasteland they once were but this is where young teenage lads from Splott used to hang out, fun he recalls on several occasions in his letters. Another pastime he mentions was to head out to still rural Rumney to collect – shock, horror – birds’ eggs.

For family outings there were trips to St. Mellons. You could go down to the Royal Oak in summer and book a seat on a charabanc trip out into the countryside to enjoy the innocent pleasure of a picnic in the fields and some games. Or you could pop over for a drink in the pub. Writing from the Suez Canal, Dewi tells his father he is looking forward to visiting the Unicorn in St. Mellons – still there – for bread and cheese and hop bitters. It will make a change, he says, after eating bread and marmalade for dinner and tea full of flies for days on end.

But perhaps chief among the delights he was looking forward to again was – Porthcawl. It might seem a bit tame nowadays when people can fly to the Maldives or the Seychelles but Porthcawl features regularly in his letters as a kind of holiday Mecca

“This place [El Arish] is nothing to go stark staring mad over as a spa and no-one would venture to this lonely spot to take of its waters, unless he was suffering more or less from an attack of “simplicity”.… It is saturated with chemicals, disinfectants, etc. etc.  which do not make it any the more palatable.

(The Army employed prodigious quantities of disinfectant to prevent the spread of disease in the desert – it was difficult to get rid of human and animal waste and flies were a constant menace for soldiers in this theatre. Dewi talks in his letters about swarms of flies instantly landing on bread and marmalade.)

But back to Porthcawl.

“It [El Arish] cannot be compared favourably with Porthcawl, for instance. The latter place has sand – so has this. The water at both places tastes the same, I expect. But there the comparison ends abruptly. Where are the rest of Porthcawl’s delights, the proms, the shows, the green, the rocks, the – grub? Alas, no not here. They’re taking a trip to Glamorgan land. Worst luck.”

We can see from his letters that families who lived in Cardiff went on excursions frequently, though not more than 50 or so miles from home. The lime-kilns at Tintern, the Wye Valley, Rhossili, Peterston-super-Ely, St. Fagans, Sully, Rhoose, which was then a seaside resort, and Weston-Super-Mare, a boat trip away across the Bristol Channel, are mentioned, though, surprisingly, not Barry.

He is pleased in one of his letters to hear his father has arranged a trip in a motor-cycle sidecar.

“When you talk of St Fagans, Cowbridge etc. It makes me think of green fields and shady lanes and then I’m brought back to the stern reality of miles and miles of hot sand. Just fancy coming back from the beach to tea as we used to and then off for a stroll on the green and Lock’s Common” [in Porthcawl].”

Of course, in those days there were trains to all those places. Splott had its own station at the town end of Splott Road near the old Splott cinema. With the new Cardiff Metro railway now about to take shape, we may be getting back there in another decade or so!

One other important thing on his mind was – you may have guessed – GIRLS. There were no Mesdemoiselles from Armentieres for soldiers in the Near East, where cultural practices were, of course, very different from home and women were much more restricted. (Cairo was a bit different but British soldiers were largely priced out of its pleasures by the Australians who were better paid and acquired an appalling reputation for roistering.)

For Dewi and his fellow soldiers stuck on the Canal one of life’s treats was seeing girls on ships travelling up the Suez Canal. Perhaps surprisingly passenger-carrying ships made this crossing throughout the war, taking colonial families to and from Australia, New Zealand, India, and other points East.

“We’re sort of cut off from the outer world and civilisation … Sometimes a liner comes past and this is one of our keenest delights. You’ll see us rush up the bank to see the civvy passengers, like a lot of kids looking at a puff-puff.

“And the boys get quite delirious if there are any white girls aboard. … We’re like a lot of savages from the wilds looking at this new device of the white man.

“One boat did chuck a lot of stuff to us castaways once, cigarettes, milk tinned stuff … Pretty exciting too, chaps from both banks racing to the middle for the prizes.”

The native inhabitants of the area and especially the women were different, and he regarded them with a mixture of curiosity and European superiority.

“The inhabitants of the outlying villages pass along the road by our camp going to market in the town and it’s always the donkey or the woman who carries the load. The man, her husband, rides on another donk, doing and carrying nothing. Lazy blighters, what? Anyhow, ’nuff said about the Arabs, we’ll pass on to more pleasant topics, they’re a bright lot of ’erbs, I must say.”

Again

 “It wouldn’t do, I am sure, for Miss Warren to preach the belief of the women’s rights creed out here. The men wouldn’t take it as calmly as in England. These people you see are totally devoid of such foolish customs of civilisation. These are the type of fair sex which disclaim any acquaintance with rouge while the latest hats, fashions, and coiffures from Paris do not interest them. They are never accompanied by Poms or Pekingese …Quite content these ladies are to live and die in the village of their birth tending cows and carrying water pitchers.

“Frequently they are to be seen accompanying their husband and master when he is abroad, trotting unwearyingly on foot behind the ass upon which the latter comfortably rides, yet one never hears of an Egyptian branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union.”

He was reflecting here Cardiff’s reputation as a hotbed of suffragettism before the war, hosting the biggest branch of the Women’s Suffrage Union outside London. Indeed, in 1913 Mrs Pankhurst herself had been charged with inciting violence after addressing a rally in the city and imprisoned. There had also been trouble at rallies at the big venue of its day, the Cory Hall opposite Queen Street station. And, of course, in Newport Margaret Haig Thomas, later Viscountess Rhondda, had been prominent in the Votes for Women campaign.

Writing to his sister who had just been to see Kismet, the musical in Cardiff he remarks on the social distinctions he had noticed between upper- and lower-class wome           n in Egypt.

It’s quite true about the veils, yashmaks they call them out here, the ladies of the well-to-do class wear them, but the poorer classes don’t, instead they wear bangles round their ankles and their feet bare, also they have rings through their noses and are invariably tattooed on the lower lip and chin. It’s all very funny at first but you soon get to take no notice of them, instead you stare at any European ladies who happen to pass, which isn’t often. As for my taking a liking to any of those young ladies, as you suggested, not me. Wait till I get back to Cardiff. They’re the best, can’t beat em, Doll.”

Soldiers in World War One were not of course plugged into a 24/7 news agenda as nowadays but they were quite well-informed and wanted to know the NEWS from back home. Dewi asks repeatedly for two magazines, Weekly Telegraph and London Opinions to be sent out to him together with the weekly Cardiff Times. He never mentions the Western Mail, South Wales Daily News, or the Echo or Evening Express, the city’s four dailies.

He quotes Lloyd George’s speeches (approvingly) in his letters and is aware of other campaigns such as the Italian battles in the Alps with the Austrians. He is also familiar with events in France and the impact on local connections of the losses at the Somme and elsewhere. These were close-knit communities where everyone knew the people living not just close by but in neighbouring streets as well. He himself lost cousins in the war and kept coming across friends from home in different regiments when they happened to be posted nearby. He writes home frequently to say how sad events made him.

“Stanley James, another addition to the Roll of Honour”

“Very sorry indeed to hear of little Wally Shipton and your cousin Dad, it is indeed a terrible time for Mrs Shipton”

“Awfully sorry to hear poor old George Butcher has died in action with many gallant lads. There must be awful sorrow in Blighty now”

“I’m was shocked to hear of the deaths of George Daniel and Horatio, and cousin Walter at home an invalid”

“It seems so cruel and the sad news hit me hard. It will be a great consolation to think that they fell like Welsh gentlemen”.

In one letter he expresses surprise at meeting up with his next-door neighbour from Moorland Road, a boy several years younger whom he hardly recognised, and is cross when he learns another soldier, Bert Price, probably serving in France, had not been allowed to get home in time before his mother died. There are frequent references, too, to a cousin, Tom, who was badly gassed in France.

Tom has, we learn from one letter, been under the recently invented X-ray

“Now that he will soon have the lead out of his arm we shan’t be long before hearing from him.”

Later however Tom is soon worse again and has had to be admitted to Splott Hospital – Moorland Road School – for an operation. Various schools and other buildings in Cardiff were requisitioned as hospitals, including Albany Road, Lansdowne Road, and Howard Gardens (the MSS), whose pupils were temporarily moved to Cardiff High School in Newport Road.

Soldiers’ families back home also got news of their serving relatives from men who did manage to get home for leave or recuperation. They would often be asked to pop around and see parents or wives and children to tell them how their loved ones were getting on. The cinema newsreel had been invented by that time, so families could see as well as read about the war, though obviously in highly edited form. Thus, in April 1918 writing to his parents about General Allenby’s famous entry into Jerusalem in December 1917 he says:

“I was much interested to hear of your having been to see the Entry into the Holy City on the bioscope. Gosh! I should have liked to see that with you and I can quite understand the enthusiasm when the orchestra struck up that very appropriate march. And now you want to know why you didn’t see me there.

“Well, that’s simply explained. I wasn’t there, you see. Nunno, what you saw was all the pomp and ceremony of the official entry of the C. in C. – you didn’t see the actual occupation by the old un cant pum deg a naw (159s). I went in there with the boys of the old brigade two days before that and there were no bands playing…  Fancy you having seen the Jaffa Gate and the streets I passed along but a few days before and also see the fellers marching in.

“No doubt you went to the Gaiety that night fully expecting to see my ugly dial confronting you on the canvas? Never mind. As long as you see my triumphal entry into the approach via platform No. 3 everything will be OK. Won’t it? That’s the only entry I’m waiting or troubling about – and a single decker from the Monument.”

Dewi was serving with a Welsh Division, the 53rd which meant there were other reminders of home in addition to the companionship of men from Cardiff and the rest of Wales. In their rest period they played football and rugby – there were men among them who had played for first class clubs – and went swimming together in the Suez Canal. One race across the Canal was against the British West Indian Regiment, Blacks v Whites, as it was termed. A very tangible reminder of home came, too, from their concert parties. The men sometimes made up their own troupes, the Kamelerio Sandboys being one:

“A real, tophole stage ([at Wadi Ballut] with quite the latest footlights and lime-light effects – plush curtains – with the arms of the party in gold upon it, two rabbits rampant.

To his sister about soldiers in drag:

“… they do look positively plums, real peaches. Talk about the light fantastic, too … they’re real experts at the ‘trip it lightly’ game and such ankles – sublime, believe me – make many a real demoiselle turn green with envy.

“They have simply forgotten how to walk … a clumsy, slouching forceful tread. … They float along with those ridiculously short steps, like you see in Queen Street any old day of the week.”

A professional group, the Welsh Rarebits, was founded by a Cardiff bandleader, Wally Bishop, aka the Great Waldini, who was serving with the RAMC in the Near East. After the war Bishop performed as a cinema musician but when the talkies came along he formed Waldini and his Gypsy Band which played in Romany costumes on the bandstand in Roath Park. He toured again during World War Two with Ensa, entertaining troops at home and abroad and later became a successful Palm Court orchestra leader in Llandudno and Ilfracombe. He died in St. Winifred’s in 1966. The Welsh Rarebits, Dewi explains, were

“the only demoiselles we’ve got, barring the charming Buddoo damsels who are now millionairesses on the 15 tomatoes for 5 piastres touch and of course it’s only natural that a feller likes to be deceived and felt like straightening his imaginary tie and parting his hair before he goes to a concert. Best thing a fellow can do in the EEF where leave is almost extinct.”

So, what about the Cardiff they returned to?

On Armistice Day itself – a Monday in 1918 – the Western Mail was already anticipating the outcome with stories about the Kaiser’s abdication, and revolution in Germany, which at the time was thought likely to go the way of Russia and become a Communist state.

Debate was starting in the papers over the re-employment of returning soldiers, the secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen in Wales, Arthur Williams, warning that, because of the great increase in the number of women who have entered industry and the great increase in labour saving machinery, the number of unemployed is likely to seriously increase”. As just one example, Cardiff Corporation Transport Department had found it necessary to employ 25 women tram drivers, as 350 of its 750 employees were away at the war. Women were now firmly in the workplace.

Plans were also afoot for a by-election in Cardiff East.  Lord Colum Crichton Stuart, son of the Marquess of Bute and brother of Ninian, killed at the Battle of Loos, would stand for the Conservatives, shipowner Sir William Seager for the Liberals and the NUR’s Arthur Williams for Labour. There’s a statue of Ninian, whose death caused a great outpouring of grief, in front of the Museum in Cathays Park.

The bells of St. John’s Church would be rung as soon as the Armistice came into force and would continue throughout the day, and a procession of docks men would march from the Docks to the City Hall. Tens of thousands indeed joined the march, thronging St. Mary Street, Kingsway and the space in front of the City Hall. Miners would be given a day off as, too, would schools. On November 12th Style & Mantle of St Mary Street were quick off the mark with a Victory Offer on coats, costumes, furs, all at half war prices, “For the Women who Waited.”  James Howell advertised a clearance sale of furs – rather surprising perhaps in November. The Roath Furnishing Company placed an advertisement to thank our brave soldiers and sailors for their glorious deeds on land sea.

In many other respects, life had been continuing as normal. On November 12th the Western Mail reported on a 0-0 draw in the rugby match that Saturday between Cardiff and Newport, the Park Hall Cinema in Park Place was showing Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and among the news stories was one about three girls who had fallen into the canal at Cathays Park. (It ran past the castle in those days.) They were rescued by a quick-thinking bus passenger who jumped off and dived in.

Amid the celebrations, however, the Western Mail was still carrying a daily two columns entitled Welsh Heroes. In the November 11th issue, Cardiff men who had died or sustained serious injuries included a seaman from Colum Road, soldiers from Eyre Street and East Grove, and four brothers, the Pleasses – one killed, one missing, one home gassed in France and one who had had his foot amputated.

What the men away in the Near East were not aware of was just how close the domestic population had come to starving because of the depredations of German U-boats, forcing the Government to bring in rationing and to require individuals to register with a butcher and a grocer and to drop their consumption by 20 per cent.  Food riots had occurred in several places and fights among shoppers, including in Cardiff, were not uncommon. Bad feeling was rife – in Newport the police were accused of seizing butter from the market for their own consumption. Fuel, too, was in short supply, the Royal Navy and industry needing to be prioritised. One of the regular advertisements in newspapers of the era was for Rinso, hailed as the cold-water washer.

Petrol rationing was also brought in and those seen to be misusing the fuel were prosecuted. The actor Fred Terry, brother of the more famous Ellen Terry, and his chauffeur were both fined £5 by Cardiff magistrates, with the alternative of a month in prison, after an eagle-eyed policeman spotted them turning up at their theatrical digs in Tudor Street. They were told they should have caught the train from Cheltenham, the previous stop on their tour. Poor Terry, who said he had a heart condition, asked how he was now supposed to move his car if he wasn’t allowed to travel in it and was told in effect by the magistrates, Tough!

Lower down the social scale a Cardiff fish merchant was fined for using his motor bike to collect fish from the docks. It was pointed out to him that a tram passed his house. The other passengers would, I am sure, have been pleased with his load!

Labour disputes were also increasing as a result of these shortages, and the truce that the labour leaders had ordered at the start of the war, promising not to resort to strike action, was proving difficult to sustain. Prices of essentials had risen, and the working population had been under pressure to work long hours for the sake of the war effort.

Dewi was lucky in being able to resume his job in the GPO – this was one of the employers that had kept posts open to returning soldiers. Many men were not able to do so, and race riots occurred in port cities such as Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Tyneside where coloured seamen had settled and were accused of taking the men’s jobs. Four people were killed in Cardiff in outbreaks of violence that brought guns on to the streets.

Physically, Cardiff had not changed much during his absence – Zeppelins had never penetrated as far as south Wales so there was no bomb damage. Before the war the City Hall had been completed on land sold to the city by the Marquess of Bute but the rest of the Cathays Park development, including the National Museum, had largely had to be postponed and would not be finished until the late 1920s.

South Wales and Cardiff especially were to suffer over the next ten years because of a steep decline in the demand for coal. German coal was being sent to France as part of war reparations and this supplanted Welsh coal for which there had always been a strong French market. Even more importantly, the Royal Navy and the merchant fleet had begun the transition from coal- to oil-fired boilers, stripping south Wales of the main outlet for its steam-raising coals.

It would be the 1930s before the city started to pick up again with new light industries springing up on its fringes and its boundaries now extended to enable a new housebuilding boom to take place, including on land sold to the city by the Insole family of Insole Court for the building of Western Avenue and its surrounding estates. Other well-known landmarks would also appear in these inter-war years, including the Westgate Street flats and the new double decker stand at the Cardiff Arms Park, long since demolished.

All Dewi and the millions of other men now being demobilised wanted, however, on November 11th, 1918 was to get home and re-join their families and take up, if possible, their old jobs.

As Dewi writes near the end:

“Every other experience which is to be mine in the future will pall before that eventful, thrilling day of days when I shall literally hurl myself from the Paddington express towards that trio which I know will be waiting on No.  ….. Oh, never mind the platform. If it’s number umpteen, I’ll be there, cos I think I’ve just about paid my fare.

Then I’ll stick my chest out and swing my arm and the first frog-hearted, stiff-necked cross between a Spitzbergen sea-cook and a muzzled oyster, mealy-mouthed son of a doormat who cocks his nose at that’ll be handed a bunch of double fives good and hard.

This was no longer the tentative lad who had left home four years earlier, promising not to let his mother down and making over his Army pay to her!

Rhys David is the author of Tell Mum Not to Worry: A Welsh Soldier’s World War One in the Near East 1915-1919. ISBN 978-0-9-09930982-0-8

 

 

 

Europe, Collaborate or Collapse

It is not just Brexit – Europe faces even more serious problems, or so Dr Ian Kearns, author of Collapse: Europe after The European Union believes.  Kearns, a former specialist adviser to the Joint House of Commons/House of Lords Committee on National Security Strategy delivered his chilling assessment in a recent talk to the RSA in London on the theme Can the EU Survive in the Age of Trump?

https://soundcloud.com/the_rsa/can-the-eu-survive-in-the-age-of-trump

Kearns thesis is that because of recent geopolitical trends there is a realistic prospect the EU could collapse and that it is possible to identify certain trigger scenarios. Such a collapse would be a disaster, leading to economic chaos, nationalist scapegoating, protectionism, and the destruction of Nato. This would lead to a major increase in the influence of Russia and China, and a big advance in the politics of reactionism and authoritarianism.

The threats to the European Union come first from the East, from a resurgent Russia, which only this week has been branded a rogue state by senior politicians following its reckless use of deadly chemicals to attack its enemies and its criminal cyber warfare activities in Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Added to this there is the potent threat from the South to European unity, from the mass migration of individuals from poverty-stricken countries in Africa and the war-torn Middle East. This has put a strain on the politics of countries across Europe struggling to cope with the influx, leading to the rise of anti-immigrant right-wing groups almost everywhere.

Just as importantly, Kearns outlines, in the podcast above, threats from the West, in the form of Trumpism. Under the 45th president the US commitment to Nato and its allies has come under its most severe questioning since the end of World War Two. Trump, Kearns notes, is openly hostile to the EU, regarding it is a vehicle for German interests that compete with those of the US. The possibility that the US could pull back from the defence of Europe is, therefore, now a real one.

Just as damagingly, his foreign policy has been incoherent, with a failure to plan adequately to deal with the turmoil in the Middle East, leaving a vacuum into which Russia and other regional players, such as Turkey and Iran, have stepped.   Trump has also shown himself hostile to a range of international institutions, such as the World Trade Organisation, preferring to fall back on a protectionist agenda. His hostility to the WTO, creating the real risk it could be side-lined poses a special threat to the UK, Kearns argues, as Britain hopes to rely much more heavily in its post-Brexit future on WTO rules.

The EU has hobbled itself, according to this view, by adopting Eurozone straitjacket rules and regulations that have forced austerity on weaker members. As a result, the centre ground in European politics has been hollowed out, with populists on the right and left saying the same – that they alone are offering a solution that is different and will work.

In this perilous situation the EU has balked at introducing the reforms needed to ensure it can take more effective action economically and politically, and in defence. It has not been able to achieve internal agreement on, for example, sanctions against Russia, or on how to deal with migration crisis. On defence it brings together nations which do meet their spending commitment to Nato, such as Britain and Greece, with others, such as Germany, that do not, and includes some nations – Ireland and Finland, for example – that, while relying on the Nato umbrella for their ultimate defence, have opted for neutrality.

The triggers for the possible collapse Kearns fears are worryingly many. Turkey is currently being paid to stop the flow of migrants into Europe but its authoritarian President Erdogan could re-open the taps if the EU displeases him. This could lead to more barriers being thrown up at the borders in the affected countries on the route into the prosperous northern EU members and to a resurge in populism across the Continent.

There could also be further advances for Euroscepticism in core EU countries, as in Italy where the new governing parties are decidedly less enthusiastic about the European project than their predecessors. The Italian Government is being put under extreme pressure by the European Central Bank to keep its budget within Eurozone borrowing rules but may decide not to. If it fails to do so, Italy may find itself unable to borrow in the markets and might be forced out of the Eurozone, triggering a collapse of its highly vulnerable banks with consequences for the banking system in other countries as well.

The Catalan crisis, too, remains to be resolved and if secession again becomes a possibility this could have a very serious impact on the Spanish economy, which relies heavily on Catalonia, the wealthiest part of Spain. The Madrid government could then find it, too, would be shunned by the markets and unable to borrow at reasonable rates.

The Domesday scenario is an unmanageable rout spreading through Europe and in its wake the serious undermining of liberal values and democracy as populists begin to argue that it is pluralist institutions that have led to the crisis, and that stronger more authoritarian rule is required (as in countries that have concentrated power in dominant leaders such as China, Russia and Turkey).

If all this happens, the Nato community might not be able to respond to threats to the territorial integrity of the block. Countries might not be willing to go to each other’s aid in cases where they have already accepted significant financial or other support from Russia or China. Greece, for example has become heavily dependent on China for the rebuilding of its infrastructure and there is sympathy with Russia within Italy’s ruling parties. Even Germany might find itself compromised because of the heavy dependence it is developing on Russia to meet its energy needs.

These pressures, coupled with the assaults being made on international organisations such as WTO, could take the world back to the power-based politics setting one nation against another which caused so much trouble in the 20th century.

We may, of course, muddle through as so many times in the past. Nevertheless, whatever view is taken on Brexit and its part in Europe’s current woes, Kearns’ warnings should be heeded by policymakers before it is too late.

 

Rhys David, October 5th 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Smoking in Adolescents, then and now

The forbidden fruit of the 1960s schoolboy was smoking, a school magazine of the era reveals. Rhys David reports

Fewer than one in five men and women smoke in Britain and the numbers have been declining year by year. Nor are they smoking as many cigarettes. Only fifty years or so ago, however, a surprising number even of pre-teens from largely middle-class homes had taken up the habit, as a survey in an issue of a school magazine from 1967 illustrates.

Tua’r Goleuni (Towards the Light), the magazine (and the motto) of Cardiff High School for Boys was a conventional magazine of its type, edited by pupils under the guidance of a teacher, full of sports, after-school club and house activities for the preceding year, and enlivened by schoolboy prose and poetry, and quizzes. In 1963 the boys of the upper sixth form had the idea of surveying their younger confreres in the first three forms on their smoking habits and their findings offer an interesting commentary on how times and attitudes have changed.

 

Year 1967 Smokers Occasional Smokers Never Smoked
1a 2 8 15
1b 6 10 11
1c 2 8 15
2a 5 15 7
2b 7 20 8
2c 5 16 7
3a 4 20 8
3b 9 20 7
3c 8 14 9

 

In this typical big city grammar school of its time, a total of 171 boys were questioned, sixty per cent of the total across the three year-groups (averaging 30 pupils per class). Their answers tell us much about attitudes across the group, though the veracity of the replies clearly cannot be vouched for. Some allowance needs perhaps to be made for schoolboy braggadocio.

Remarkably, however, 26 eleven-year olds (in the first-year forms) claimed to be regular or occasional smokers, compared with 41 who had not done so. Some will therefore have started even before they left primary school, perhaps, it is suggested in a few cases, as early as age six or seven. Two years later 75 third year boys were smokers (including occasionally) and only 24 had never been tempted.

The differences between the A stream (the more academic pupils) and their peers is not great, it is observed, though for some reason, which perhaps only child psychologists could have answered, the incidence in the B form is highest. The stress of being in the middle, and of falling between the two extremes of A and C perhaps, and of not knowing which would be the direction of travel? Boys in the C form were the more inveterate smokers, however, we are told, averaging four or five cigarettes a week compared with 1 or 2 among the more sensible A streamers.

Non-smokers generally thought smoking bad but mainly because it was a waste of money. About a quarter of this group expected to smoke when older, though one half were sure they would not. Others expressed a preference for a pipe, on the (erroneous) grounds it was healthier. Smokers recognised it was habit-forming, (though not in their case, of course) but several admitted concern at representations of habitual smokers racked with illness, with hardened arteries and stunted growth. The ill health threat could be countered by dropping the practice, many felt, and although the link between excessive smoking and cancer was recognised by many, the habit was conceived as a way to settle nerves or help relaxation, the influence perhaps of contemporary advertising.  So perhaps teenage stress at school is not such a new phenomenon after all.

Most significantly, however, in the 1960s having a whiff was seen by most of those who participated in the practice as a way of rebelling. They enjoyed dodging authority by doing something they were not allowed to do, some even saying they would not smoke at all if there were no restrictions. Showing-off was admitted to be another strong motivator, with few claiming to enjoy the activity. Most smoking took place in bedrooms, back streets, parks, football matches and cinemas, often only at weekends or at parties, with only a few saying they were prepared to smoke in streets where they might be recognised.

The thrill of buying cigarettes over the counter meant boys preferred this to using slot machines, though in general they would not buy matches at the same time (presumably as this would suggest they were for personal consumption rather than for an adult who had sent them on an errand). Many only smoked cigarettes offered to them.

Two out of three boys said their parents had spoken about smoking usually to warn against taking up the habit and most thought their parents were ignorant of their sons’ actions. Most boys were not critical of their parents for smoking but thought teachers should not do so in front of junior boys and should smoke only in their common room.

In conclusion the authors offer a sanguine judgment, suggesting the warnings by the eminent physician, Sir Richard Doll, who first showed the link between smoking and cancer, had yet to take effect. “It would appear that very little immediate harm can come to schoolboys from the small amount that they smoke. Many of the boys who smoked are members of the rugby and cross-country teams and so far, they have suffered no noticeable effects,” they concluded.

Tua’r Goleuni, the Cardiff High School Magazine, June 1963. No. 19. Pps 10-11

Rhys David is an author and economic commentator

rhys.david@btinternet.com 

www.clippings.me/rhysdavid

www.rhysdavidblog.wordpress.com

September 2018

 

 

 

 

A New Way to get money to Small Business Wales

The Development Bank of Wales has been up and running since the middle of last month, blessed with £440m to invest and a further £100m of borrowing available to it. A welcome development which will carry high hopes that as the successor to the largely unloved Finance Wales it can really make a difference in all those areas identified for action by the nine different named Funds it manages.
All the deficiencies that are considered to have held back Welsh entrepreneurial initiative over decades are assumed to have been covered. Lack of capital at initial concept stage? There’s the £7.5m Wales Technology Seed Fund. No-one for the retiring owner to hand the business on to except perhaps the management? How about the £25m Wales Management Succession Fund. Sole trader seeking to expand? Try the £18m Wales Micro-Business Loan Fund. And so on.
It appears comprehensive: it’s well funded; it has private sector partners; there will be 54 people in the offices where the various assistance packages will be decided; and the railway lines between Cardiff and Wrexham, where it will be headquartered in a nod to intra-Wales devolution, will be gaining a lot of new passengers. But necessity being the mother of invention it is very much a public-sector body dependent on Welsh Government finance, even if the partners range from Santander and Barclays to Oxford Capital, venture capitalists Venrex, and the British Growth Fund.
So far, so good but It would be even better, if, as both a competitor and a bureaucracy benchmark, the private sector venture capital industry could be persuaded to become more involved independently in financing Welsh growth businesses. This does not, however, mean the big US and UK venture capital houses buying up and trading Welsh businesses with no discernible long-term benefits to the Welsh economy. There is a different vehicle, the Venture Capital Trust (VCT), that does offer an alternative approach, providing benefits to both investors and investees, but conspicuous by its absence in Wales.
VCTs have over the best part of 20 years built up a powerful record of supporting some of Britain’s brightest new start-ups in Aim- and non-Aim-listed companies across a range of businesses from retailing and restaurant chains to high tech, from recruitment to the oil service industry. They are run by professional managers who are paid to get it right, picking companies that are going to be successful, from which they can at some point make a successful and profitable exit. They ensure this by good judgment and close supervision of the investee companies, offering them non-executive directors, where appropriate, and advice and consultancy.
Hundreds of millions of pounds are raised annually by these trusts – names such as Baronsmead, Amati, Mobeus, and Foresight – from private individuals keen to take advantage of the tax breaks offered in return for accepting a higher risk than is carried by money in savings accounts or shares. The breaks have indeed been very good – tax-free dividends, and tax relief on the initial investment of 30 per cent (reduced only in the past few years from an original 40 per cent. This means that an initial investment of say £10,000 will have an effective cost of £7,000 so that if a dividend of 5p is paid the yield will be 500/7000ths or 7.14 per cent, not the taxable 500/10000ths or 5 per cent that would be gained on such a sum in a savings account which would then itself be subject to tax.
The disadvantages are the risks run when investing in small companies and start-ups, and the lack of liquidity – VCT shares can generally only be sold at a discount and must be held for a minimum of five years by law to preserve the tax advantages. Nevertheless, the gains investors have been able to make usually result in new offers being quickly taken up and oversubscribed. Moreover, the managers of these funds have over the years honed their skills in selecting companies and have kept their failure rate within bounds.
Yet, while the sector now occupies a sizeable niche as a provider of “patient capital” to unquoted and Aim-listed companies, they have done nothing to narrow the North-South divide. Indeed, in some ways they are simply perpetuating it by helping modern, often higher technology, high productivity businesses in relatively limited areas of the country to prosper. |
A quick analysis of the portfolios of some of these VCT providers shows a heavy concentration on the south east of England and a total absence of Wales as a location for investments. Of the 70 investee companies held by Baronsmead, 28 were in London, a further 11 in the rest of the South-East, and 31 in the rest of the country, mainly the Midlands and South. In Foresight’s case 60 per cent were in London and the rest of the south east. Mobeus has a more promising 60 per cent away from the capital and its surrounds but in none of these examples is there evidence of support for companies from Wales. With some variations this pattern is reflected in the investment preferences of other leading VCTs.
Now there could be an element of chicken and egg here. Is the absence of Welsh investee companies due to a lack of start-ups and growing companies worth investing in (a possibility that should not be discounted instantly as outrageous) or is the relative dearth in Wales of highly successful quality start-ups itself the result of the lack of private sector backing and in consequence a much greater dependence on the public sector?
It is a difficult question to answer without detailed research but let’s think positively. How can we persuade VCTs to examine more Welsh businesses with a view to increasing their representation in portfolios? Perhaps this is too tough an ask. If they can find enough opportunities closer to London, why devote time and energy to Wales? If there are prejudices against Welsh businesses as investment opportunities, they are not going to be easily overcome.
So why not a Welsh VCT, raising funds in Wales or more widely, with an objective of investing say perhaps 75 per cent of funds in Wales with the rest going to promising businesses elsewhere. Again, it may be argued that the expertise does not exist in Wales for such an exercise or if it does it is already housed in the new Development Bank of Wales.
There is one option, however, that might be best of all. Why not a Welsh VCT run out of an existing VCT house by one of their investment teams. In this way it could draw on experienced VCT professionals in London (and Edinburgh) who had been invited to pitch to run a Welsh VCT. Its own success parameters could be set for such a VCT (recognising the likely higher risk), which the appointed managers could help to set and have as their target.
We rely too much on the public sector to lead in Wales. Here is an opportunity to start something outside its hegemony. Any takers?
Rhys David
rhys.david@btinternet.com
http://www.clippings.me/rhysdavid

May 2018