David Swidenbank Vice Chairman.
Below is from the debate in the House of Commons on how the UK will mark the centenary of the First World War 7th November 2014
Madeleine's story is a very personal one which Ceri at the museum has researched and filled a number of missing gaps for her. Just another part of the work that may be lost should we lose the fight with BCBC .
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): John Morris said that all history is local. If ever we should respect that saying, it is during the commemoration of the great war.
Last weekend, I was asked by Andrew Hillier and David Swidenbank to visit my local museum in Porthcawl because it is facing closure. They showed me around rooms full of uniforms and artefacts that they had collected in preparation for the commemoration of the war. Sadly, the local council is facing £36 million of cuts over the next two years. There will be cuts to school transport and other essential services. Unfortunately, the museum also faces closure. I hope that the Heritage
Lottery Fund will come to the rescue and that that tragic loss to the community of Porthcawl and the history of south Wales will be avoided.
The other reason I visited the museum was that Ceri Joseph, who was taking a history walk that weekend, had often been in touch with me. My inbox is full of communications from Ceri, who has a passion for history that is reminiscent of an amateur detective. I have talked to her over many years about the names on the Porthcawl war memorial. She has spent months and years researching the stories and uncovering who the people on the war memorial were. In the words of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, she has brought them “in from the cold”. Some of them were local and some had relatives who lived locally. It is not necessarily just local people who are named on war memorials, because anybody could put a name forward. Some people appear on several war memorials. The names of some local people who died do not appear at all.
Mr Gray: What the hon. Lady is describing strikes a chord with the work that is being done by my constituent Richard Broadhead to research the lost dead of the first world war. About 60 men from Wiltshire and no doubt many from south Wales died shortly after the end of the first world war of wounds and other causes associated with the war, but are not commemorated on war memorials or on Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones. That is something we ought to correct.
Mrs Moon: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has seen the information that has been sent out by the war heritage all-party parliamentary group this week, which identifies where there are war graves in our constituencies, but I have found it very moving and extremely helpful. I was grateful to be able to pass that information on to my local history society. The museum intends to do a lot of work with schools and present exhibitions around the town, and put together a world war one trench so that people can get some idea of what local people and volunteers experienced.
Ceri also helped me personally with my family history. I have lived all my life with two faded photographs of Albert Edward Ironside, my grandfather. Apart from a small pocket diary written during active service in France and Belgium, I have his “Soldiers’ Small Book”, the two photographs, his will, and the King George memorial penny that was sent to the families of those who served and died on the front line. My grandfather was a member of the Royal Engineers and responsible for providing signals communication. Ceri and her husband plan to visit all the graves of those from Porthcawl who died, and they have generously offered also to visit my grandfather’s grave. I, too, have visited that grave, mainly because I wanted to take my son and so that my grandfather would somehow know that his life had carried on with four grandchildren and, to date, eight great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren—none of them mine so far.entries for the next few days record lots of rain and a unique experience of the first train journeys to the front:
“Station platforms were all crowded with people to see us go by. We got chocolate and cigarettes in galore and splendid reception.”
On 23 August he records:
“We rested for the day. The war commenced around here at 12 o’clock, the firing was terrible to stand all day and all night. We are about 2 miles from the firing line. Saw 2 German aeroplanes above our head.”
This was the start of the first battle of Mons, and in the next few days the British Army was in retreat. He records:
“Passed through Mons at Bavay stayed at Wwaso for a rest, we were exposed to shell fire for 3 hours before we retired. The shells fell in the town as we were leaving it. We had to leave everything behind us, cables and communications lines as we could not pick them up on account of the closeness of the Germans. We were lucky to get away at all.”
Then the diary jumps.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Most people retreated from the battle of Mons, but two battalions did not—the Norfolks and the Cheshires. They were surrounded and they fought to the last. Even the commanding officer was killed.
Mrs Moon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that moving information.
It is less well known that the soldiers who fled lived without food and water, their boots filling with blood from bloated feet. When they arrived at Monthyon, my grandfather records that they
“stayed there for the night properly knocked out both horses and men. We found this place upside down with the people, their houses its terrible to see these poor people on the road in a large cart and they don’t know where to go for safety. It’s heartbreaking to see them.”
We need to remember all those civilians who suffered horrific experiences during the first world war.
The entry for 17 October is revealing:
“Very fine morning, all my chums congratulated me on my birthday. We got a blanket served out to us. We have had nothing to cover us since we came out. Severe fighting is going all along the canal.”
On 29 October he says:
On 29 October he says:
“Terrific firing all day and night. The Indian troops came here to relieve us. They look a fine lot of men—Ghurkhas, Sikhs and Punjabs.”
The diary covers only the first year of the war, and I knew little of the rest of his experience. Ceri, however, helped me uncover more information, and I hope that that is the sort of work that local museums and societies will do for many, bringing their family members back to them.
Ceri also brought to my attention the fact that my grandfather’s first world war medal had recently been sold. I thank the hon. Members for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) for their help in trying to get Britannia Military Antiques and Collectables to bring that medal back to the family. Sadly, despite all the efforts, including letters, e-mails and telephone calls, so far I have not been successful.
Families need to take ownership of the family members who died on behalf of their communities and their country. This is a chance for the country to honour those people and bring them back from the cold.