Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Dad's D - Day (plus 8) Drama

On 13 June 1944, my Dad, Enos Griffith Owen, a farmer's son from Cardiganshire,  was on board ship, with a party of RAF Engineers, heading for Omaha beach, Normandy. He was nearly shot before he put a foot on French soil... by an officer on his own side.

At 18 years of age he had been appointed co-driver of a 3-ton lorry. He was in a convoy heading from Eastbourne to Gosport. The driver was a local lad and he was desperate to see his heavily pregnant wife before he left for France. He pretended that the lorry had broken down in the middle of the convoy and when all the other vehicles had passed by, he diverted straight for home, taking my Dad with him. Dad was treated to tea and cakes before the lorry joined the ship at Gosport.

They were the last vehicle to board ship, so they would be the first to be off the other end. They sailed overnight and got to somewhere north of Omaha beach early next morning. When the time came to disembark, the officer in charge called for the driver but he was nowhere to be found - Dad never saw him again - he had either jumped ship or fallen overboard. 

The Officer, who was understandably jumpy, called for the co-driver to remove the vehicle. No one had ever asked Dad whether he could drive a lorry. In fact, Dad had never driven any type of vehicle in his life, not even a tractor. The officer was furious and drew his pistol and for a few moments, Dad thought he was going to be shot. The officer came to his senses and drove the lorry off himself, with Dad sitting in silence by his side.

The first party of RAF Engineers had landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. At the end of the day 8 men had been killed and 38 wounded. 28 out of the 35 vehicles on the first ship were sunk before they reached the beach.

Dad's words,
"When we landed, several days later, somewhere to the north of Omaha beach, most of the debris had been cleared. What first struck me was the colour of the soldiers around and heading back to the ship for home. They looked a ghostly grey colour, probably through shell-shock. They took no interest whatever in us. I could see the Beachmaster talking, I presumed, to some local farmer, enquiring where the shots were coming from. I decided to join them (I had some knowledge of basic French. After all, I hadn't long left school). My pals kept shouting, "take cover Taff" but I was too interested in finding out what went on.

Before nightfall we moved away from the beach-head, along some narrow country roads and pitched tents next to some Canadian Engineers. I soon got used to the terrific noise, the low flying aircraft overhead, the tanks and some shelling. At dusk all would become quiet and found this more unnerving than the noise. Around midnight, the German aircraft would come over.

Our work supposedly was to build landing strips for our fighter aircraft to land and re-fuel. However, the battle seemed to me to be very one-sided, during the day it was always our aircraft in the skies overhead, no Germans. We were thus clearing roads, through Caen (which was completely flat) for tanks and vehicles to pass through. I remember being completely dumbstruck at the extent of the damage everywhere.

The weather seemed pretty foul; it seemed to be raining all the time. Every morning I woke up in a pool of water, in a hole, which I had dug for my hips for a better night, sleep. Then, around August I think, the Germans suddenly pulled back to set up defensive positions on the Rhine.

Everything and everyone thus tore up through France and into Belgium. The winter of 1944 seemed very quiet, with no movement by either side. The winter was cold, with some snow on the ground. Then at the end of December I woke up one morning and couldn’t bear to put my boots on. The Sergeant was yelling so I decided to report sick. I seemed to deteriorate very quickly and was sent, by ambulance, to a hospital in Brussels. I was now unable to move at all, I couldn’t even open my mouth. The journey in the Ambulance was agony, the roads seemed so rough, and I wanted to shout and scream but decided that there was no point. Spent a month or so in the Brussels hospital and could see others being brought in, unconscious, with similar problems. In the end, the Doctor, a Group Captain and former Harley Street Specialist, decided to send me back to the UK.

The ward I was in had about 40 beds, the sick and wounded were coming in and after about five months I was the longest "serving " patient on the ward I remember one chap asking the Doctor when could he get up. The Doctor replied, pointing to me "see that fellow in that bed over there, when you see him getting up, you'll have a chance".

I was eventually discharged in May 1945, on VE day in Europe. The last words of the Specialist were "if you lead a quiet life, you could live for several years." His diagnosis was bang on!! .

The war killed my Dad, he died aged 81 of heart failure caused by a damaged heart valve. This valve was damaged by the Rheumatic Fever he contracted in Belgium. The MOD accepted this and he was classified as 40% disabled.  I'm sure he would have lived well into his 90s if he hadn't gone to war

It would have been his 87th birthday today. He was a gentle man with a great sense of humour who was physically fearless, which was nearly his undoing on a couple of occasions. He was my number one fan and encouraged me to be the best I could be. He is buried next to his beloved grandson Rhodri. They were similar in so many ways. RIP both.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Remembering David Owen Jones (1899-1926) Military Medallist

There are few families in this country that have not been touched in some way by the First World War.   Of the thousands of young men who signed up in the early years, few could have had any idea of the horrors awaiting them, yet most faced their ordeal with fortitude and resilience. This is the story of one such resilient young man from Cardiganshire, David Owen Jones.

Dai was born on 13 March 1899, the son of Thomas and Anne Jones nee Owen of Caeryglyn, Glynarthen, Penbryn parish. According to the official records he joined the Welsh Guards in Carmarthen on 27 November 1915 at the age of 19 years 10 months. Either Dai had lied about his age or his recruiting officer was a poor mathematician because he was actually 16 years 8 months and underage.

Dai probably came over as a mature young man because he had had to grow up early. His mother died in 1909 when he was 10 years old and his father two years later. Tom Jones, Dai’s father was a stonemason and a talented singer and musician. A 100-verse elegy written at the time of his death described him as a leading light in Glynarthen chapel and a successful singer and choir leader, well known throughout the county. After the death of Tom and Anne, their only daughter Sara, the writer’s grandmother, who was 14 years older than Dai, brought him up along with her other younger brothers.

The eager young guardsman was sent out to France on 22 July 1916. He was badly wounded in the left leg during the battle of the Somme on 10 September 1916. Just 20 days earlier his brother Enos had been killed fighting at Ypres and is buried in the Welsh Guards cemetery at Les Boeufs. His two other brothers, Thomas John and Evan had also been wounded in battle. My grandmother’s torment must have been almost unbearable, as news of the death of her brother Enos and the injuries of her other brothers trickled through.

The seriousness of Dai’s wounds necessitated his return to this country to recuperate. Nineteen months later, on 31 March 1918 he was considered sufficiently recovered to be sent back to the front line. At the end of October 1918 Dai was part of a mission to infiltrate enemy lines by crossing the River Selle near Bavai. For his courage on that mission Dai was awarded the Military Medal. There were no citations for Military Medals in the First World War so we don’t have full details of his actions but his award was published in the London Gazette on 17 June 1919. In the “History of the Welsh Guards” David Owen Jones is named as one of those, amongst others, who displayed courage and initiative before crossing the River Selle. None of the others named appears to have been from Cardiganshire. I believe that Dai talked little of that night but my grandmother always thought he should have been given a higher award. Maybe she was a little biased.

A few days after the mission on 6 November 1918 and just five days before the end of the war, Dai was badly wounded for the second time, in both legs and his left arm, by machine gun fire. On the same day his relative Sim Jones from Glynarthen was killed at Manancourt.

Dai took 5 years to recover from his wounds. He joined the Cardiganshire Police force in May 1923 and was stationed at Aberystwyth and Cardigan. In 1926 he had been doing summer duty at Devil’s Bridge and on 18 September had gone on his motor bike to Llangurig where he had traced a man from Leighton Buzzard, who was wanted by Aberystwyth police for allegedly handling stolen goods. Having arrested and delivered the man to Aberystwyth police station Dai was returning home to Devil’s Bridge with two friends, Jenkin Phillip Lewis of Rhiwmynach and John Lewis, gardener at the Hafod Arms Hotel, Devil’s Bridge. Jenkin and John were riding on a motor bike a few yards in front of Dai but when they reached the 13th milestone from Aberystwyth they lost sight of Dai’s headlights. They stopped and turned back to look for him. They searched for about an hour until they eventually found him, fifteen feet below the road on the riverbank lying underneath his motor bike. He was killed instantly. He was 27 years of age and about to be married.

Maybe, after all that Dai had experienced, he thought himself indestructible but his body had been much weakened by his terrible wounds. Perhaps it proved too difficult for him to handle a heavy police motor bike that night. Judging by the tone of the newspaper report of the accident the community was really shocked by his death. He was described as a smart and capable officer who was very popular.

David Owen Jones was buried alongside his parents and brother Joshua at Glynarthen cemetery. A plaque was erected in his honour in 1994 in the new police headquarters at Aberystwyth.

The family does not known the whereabouts of the Military Medal but we believe it may have been given to Dai’s fiancĂ©e who may have lived in Aberystwyth. We would be very interested to know the identity of Dai’s intended and the whereabouts of the medal.

Sources:  Capt. R E Fletcher  - Headquarters Welsh Guards, Birdcage Walk, London.
                 History of the Welsh Guards  by CH Dudley Ward (John Murray 1920)

Friday, 2 November 2012

Llanboidy Tithe Schedule 1844

Many years ago, I spent hours and hours transcribing the Llanboidy parish Tithe Schedule of 1844 in the Carmarthen Records Office and here it is for all to see:


The biggest landowner in the parish was Walter Rice Howell Powell of Maesgwynne. 

Walter Rice Howell Powell (1819 - 26 June 1889) was a  Liberal politician.
Powell is still remembered in Llanboidy by the drinking fountain inscribed "This fountain is erected to commemorate the completion of the work for supplying this village with water in compliance with the last wish of W. R. H. Powell M.P."
Powell was the son of Walter Rice Howell Powell and his wife Mary Powell. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. On the death of his father in 1834 he inherited Maesgwynne estate of 3,468 acres (14.03 km) in the parish of Llanboidy, Carmarthenshire, which had been owned by the Howell family. For 50 years he was master of the foxhounds. He was a J.P. for Pembroke, Carmarthen and Cardiganshire and was High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1849. In 1867 he funded a 24 piece brass band for Llanboidy.
Powell was elected Member of Parliament for Carmarthenshire in 1880 and when it was divided in 1885 became member for Carmarthenshire West, which he held until his death in 1889.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Glamorgan Family History Society Fair - Merthyr Tydfil 13 October 2012

I had a very enjoyable and informative day at the Glamorgan FHS Annual Fair at Merthyr Tyfil Leisure Centre last Saturday.
The photo was taken of the stand before the doors opened.
I chatted with many people and it was fascinating to hear their family history stories and about their brick balls.
I was able to help a gentleman who had a print out of one of his ancestors with an unknown parish name of "Lannboydee" recorded on the print out.  I was able to tell him that the parish was very probably Llanboidy in Carmarthenshire.
At the Fair we held a free prize draw with the prize "Half a Day with a Professional Genealogist". The winner was Mr C Jaggers of Glynneath who is researching Jones and Perrott families.
Thanks to all the volunteers who organised the Fair and I will definitely be there next year.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Colourfully Blue Carmarthenshire Ancestors of Paul Daniels..

Guest post by GREG HOWES  a professional genealogist who worked with Paul Daniels and others on the BBC programme "Coming Home"

When we think of Paul Daniels the magician, most of us would think of an entertainer from the North of England, but much of Paul Daniel’s family history resides squarely in the County of Carmarthenshire, as I was about to find out whilst researching as a freelance genealogist for the BBC television programme “Coming home”.

David Daniel - a conventional policeman with a very colourful love life. 
Two of Paul’s direct ancestors were Policemen within the County.  The most recent was Paul’s Great Grandfather -  David Augustus Woozley Daniel 1855-1945.

David Daniel spent most of the early part of his working life in the Police force as Police Constable in Carmarthenshire and his police diaries are housed in Carmarthenshire archives. 

David’s diaries are both legible and concise and give us an insight into the day to day problems he was up against - drunkenness, selling liquor without a licence, stealing and disturbing the peace.  As a Police Constable, David lived and worked at many varying places around the County. Llandeilo (late 1870s), Conwil Elfed (early 1880s), and latterly Ferryside, where his beats included Kidwelly, and Llansaint.

David joined the police force as a “second class Constable”, PC Number 25, on May 19th, 1877. It says on his record that was aged 24 years and 6 months, but actually he was only 21 and 6 months.

He was described on the “Candidate for the Situation of Police Constable” form, as

Complexion = florid,
Height = 5 feet 81/2 inches
Eyes = Grey
Hair = dark brown

He was single at the time of joining the police force and he described his previous employment as, Fireman and Shoemaking.

One of the three signatures for his recommendation for the police force was from a local Vicar Rev Latimer M Lewis.

The conduct clause these witness signed read as this: -

“He is sober, honest, and of good temper; and that his connexions and associates are respectable”.

David’s only noted, misconduct is in the “Police and defaulters book (box 93), and was entered as follows, “that on the June, 15th, 1878 he was unable to prove a case of drunkenness at the “Petty Sessions” without consulting his diary, which had to be produced in Court.  He was fined 10 shillings for this misconduct”. 

He continued his roll as a local bobby until he quit the Police force in 13.11.1897 at his wife’s request.  Margaret, his second wife apparently did not want to move to Llanelli so she made him resign from the force.

David’s domestic life was somewhat unconventional and Paul’s Grandfather was born out of wedlock to the older sister of his second wife, who was also the niece of his first wife!

As you can see family history can at times be a very tangled knot indeed.

David Woozley - a less than conventional policeman.
The other policeman in the family was Paul’s Great, Great, Great Grandfather David Woozley,1784-1866.

David Woozley was a very colourful character and we first find him serving in Carmarthenshire Militia in Ireland in 1801-1802. After that he served as a member of the Carmarthenshire “Watch and Ward”, which was like stop gap between the old medieval policing and the police force as we know them today.  David was first noted as being part of this in 1828, eight years before an established Police Force in Carmarthen was created.

Not only was there all of the trouble that came along with Carmarthen having a busy port, there as also regular outbreaks of political violence between the “reds” and the “blues”. The blues were the Tories, and the reds Wigs, both were organised by the counties upper classes.

David Woozley was appointed to the Borough Force in 1836, the year the Carmarthen police force started. Many of the first policemen were ex jailbirds and or drunks, too lazy to do an honest days work.

David died at the ripe old age of 81 while still occupying the role as Police Station house keeper, which he had held for 30 years. Many members of the police force attended as pall-bearers at the funeral which was said to have been the largest and most respectable of its kind ever witnessed in Carmarthen.

David Woozley was directly involved in the Rebecca Riots uprising of 1843, a very turbulent time in the history of Carmarthenshire. Details to follow in a later post. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Love Story for Santes Dwynwen's Day.( The Welsh St Valentines Day)

This is the true story of  how love conquers all... but only if you're prepared to be very patient.

Bronwen and Dai were born around the time of the First World War to farming families in the parish of Llanboidy in west Carmarthenshire. Bronwen was a distant cousin of my Mother's and it is she who told me this story.

Bronwen  came from a progressive farming family that believed in giving their daughters every opportunity in life. They were a large family and Bronwen was considered the "beauty"  but not the most academic. Nevertheless, she was sent away to a good school to further her education and experiences but decided after she finished her education to stay on the farm to help her mother run the busy household.

Dai was a farmer's son from Pencwnc Farm, Llanboidy. Dai was also good looking with an open happy face that matched his mild good nature.

When Bronwen and Dai meet there was an instant attraction and to no one's surprise they fell in love. An engagement soon followed and Bronwen excitedly prepared herself for a life as a farmer's wife at Pencnwc Farm.

But there were two major difficulties to overcome  - Dai's sister and Dai's soft heart.

Dai's parents had now passed away but Dai's sister lived on the farm with Dai. She had no interest in the farm, no interest in marrying and no interest in sharing the house with another woman. She refused point blank to accept Bronwen as a sister in law.

It may seem odd to us looking at things from today's perceptive that Dai would have tolerated his sister's attitude but she had every right to stay on the farm and the farm was Dai's liveihood. If he moved away he would have had nothing. He was also the type of man who wouldnt throw his weight around - he wanted everyone to be happy.

Bronwen was also a very mild mannered person but after the situation had dragged on for almost 20 YEARS, she finally decided enough was enough and announced she was emigrating to America. This wasn't an idle threat, within a couple of months she had sailed the Atlantic to live and work with relatives in the US.

This left Dai completely heart broken but at last galvanised him into action. For the first time in his life he asked his neighbours for help. He arranged for them to look after the farm while he sailed over to America to plead and beg his fiancee to come back home with him. It was unheard  for a farmer to spend more than a day away from the farm at this time and he was the talk of the district. He also took out a loan to enable him to build an extension on the farmhouse as separate accommodation for his sister. She didnt like it at all but Dai was insistent.

This belated plan of action worked and Bronwen returned to Wales to be married and to live out her days at Pencnwc. Sadly, they married too late in life to have children.

I visited the farm in the 1970s with my family and had a wonderful meal with the hospitable Bronwen and Dai. I never saw Dai's sister - she stayed in her part of the house, curtains closed.

Legend has it that she spent her time playing Patience.

Pencnwc Farm is only a couple of miles away from Cefnmeurig Cottage. and was the home of my great great grandparents.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The 10 Best Free Websites for West Wales Family Historians

#1 Genuki (Genealogy UK and Ireland)
Whatever stage you're at with your family history you will need to consult this quite amazingly comprehensive site. It is non-commercial and run by volunteers who know what they're doing. We are very very lucky in west Wales to have one of the most dedicated family historians in the country in Gareth Hicks helping us out. He looks after the Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion (Cardiganshire) and all the parishes relating to the three counties' pages. If it's not listed here it probably doesn't exist.
For Carmarthenshire county and parishes - http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/CMN/
For Pembrokeshire county and parishes -  http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/PEM/
For Ceredigion county and parishes -        http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/CGN/

#2 Welsh Mariners
Even though west Wales is lapped by water on two sides we forget how important the sea was to our ancestors. Roads were virtually non existent and those that did exist were very rough. It would make much more sense to sail from say Aberporth to Milford Haven than try and get there by land. It is well worth checking this Welsh Mariners database  which has been set up as a labour of love by Dr Reg Davies. It contains a fully searchable database of 23,500 mariners covering the period 1800-1945.

 Even if you think that your family had no connection with the sea you may be mistaken - even some small smallholders were known to have owned a  Sloop (small sailing ship) for transport and trade. Sounds idyllic doesn't it? - growing your own veg and sailing at the weekend - back breaking and perilous more like.

#3 National Library of Wales
The question "Have you visited the National Library yet?" should be written in large capitals on every Welsh family historian's brick wall. It must be one of the best positioned National Library's in the world with its uninterrupted view over Cardigan Bay, but it's location in Aberystwyth does make it rather a trek (by road , I've never tried getting there by Sloop).

I digress - the reason I've included their website in the "Top 10" is because of their digitised and searchable database of pre 1858 Welsh Wills. You can spend hours checking to see whether there is a will in existence for various ancestors but it's undoubtedly a very useful resource.

In the old days you had to ask the Library for a parish listing and then order a copy of the will. I have the listings for the following parishes - CMN Llangan, Henllan Amgoed, Llanboidy, Llangynin, Llanwinio, Meidrim, Llandysilio; CGN Llandygwydd, Llangoedmor, Llangrannog, Penbryn; PEM Walton East, Llanbedr Felffre. I would be happy to email anyone a copy of the part of  the listings if they thought it would be useful for their research.

#4  Welsh Archives
If you're at the second stage of your research and have exhausted all the standard sources such as census data, wills and Births, Marriages and Death then a search through the Welsh Archives might prove fruitful.
This website covers all  catalogued collections held by all 13 local government archive services in Wales plus the Welsh University archives, National Library, National Museum and Royal Commission for Ancient Monuments in Wales archives.
The catalogues can be browsed, text searched or indexed searched. I particularly like the fact you can browse the archive as you might find something you didn't even know you were looking for. There is a fair amount of information for each indexed item but you will not be able to view the item itself online, you will have to visit or contact the archive repository for that.
There is always the hope that hidden in a quiet corner of a collection, that nobody has taken any notice of, there will be a 1872 transcript of all the gravestones in all the chapels and  all the churches in west Wales.
If I find it - you'll see it here first.!

#5 Plwyf Llangynfelyn 
I wish I had some ancestors in the north Cardiganshire parish of Llangynfelyn as all the relevant transcripts can been found on this great little site. Many aspire to record online all the historical documents of their favourite parish but most give up before the task is completed. The site hasn't been updated since 2006 but that doesn't matter as all the work has been done. You will find census records, parish records, chapel records, tithe records, maps and photos. It's a joy to navigate and full marks to the individuals behind the project.

#6  Ceredigion Archives "The Search Room by the Sea"
There is something very heartwarming when you come across someone who really loves their work and this is certainly the case with Helen Palmer, the Ceredigion County Archivist. She not only loves her job but she also loves people and positively encourages and promotes the study of Cardiganshire history and genealogy. The website reflects this. The collections have been transcribed  with a large amount of detail, useful to the family historian, available on the site.

#7 Returns of Owners of Land 1873
There were very few large land owners in west Wales in the 19th century but there were hundreds of people of owned small farms and small parcels of land. This site has digitised copies of this important document - The Return of Owners of Land 1873. Everyone who owned more than an acre in 1873 is listed here.

#8 Dyfed Family History Society
The Society members have put a lot of work in indexing the 1830 Pigots Directories, listing and photographing all the churches and chapels in the three counties and compiling a Place Name Directory. They have made it freely available here.

#9 Brawdy Books
This really is a hidden gem of a site. It contains details of the archive of Francis Jones, probably west Wales' finest Genealogist. He lived a life full of intellectual romance and physical adventure and spent 70 years studying and writing about the families and history of west Wales. It is well worth searching the site to see whether Mr Jones wrote something witty and observational about your ancestors.

#10  Pembrokeshire Archives
This local authority Records website has their catalegue online, with a great deal analysed down to item level.

These are my personal favourites but I'm sure there are others out there that I've missed. Please let me know about YOUR personal favourites and why they have been helpful to you.