January - April 1915
During January, approximately 1000 more men had descended on Porthcawl, bringing the total to 3,500. Of the new arrivals, 240 were attached to the 7th Welsh Cyclists, under the command of Colonel Wilson, stationed at the Pier Hotel. Their duty was to patrol the coast from the Ogmore River to Aberavon. According to the Rest Home ledgers, now held by the museum, 176 men of the 1st Welsh Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps also, arrived; and were, stationed at the Rest Home from January 15th – 28th. One of their number included Percy Henry Brooke, an ironmonger’s assistant from Philadelphia Road, Porthcawl. However, within two years whilst at Grantham, Lincolnshire, Percy had enlisted into the Lancashire Fusiliers. After being missing for many weeks, Corporal Percy H Brooke was reported as having being killed in action on 18th March 1918, at Templeux le Geurard, The Somme, during the German Spring Offensive. He was 27 years old.
Two more Porthcawl men enlisted that January; into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. John Williams (Signal-porter) and John William Ridall (Lamp man) had been employees of the Great Western Railway. It was reported that by the end of January, 9,358 GWR Railway men had enlisted into the services. John Williams was to survive the war but, sadly, Sergeant Ridall was killed amidst heavy shelling during the Battle of Guillemont in the Somme. In the letter, received by his prospective, future father-in-law, Albert Williams, it stated that ‘ He left the trenches 25/8/16 to go to the dressing station in company of a stretcher-bearer. He was not wounded but suffering from shell shock. The man whom he was with was found a day later killed by shell-fire; and no trace could be found of Sgt Riddall.’ The official telegram was to report ‘Missing believed killed.’ Sgt. Ridall had been expected home within the month to be married to Evelyn Williams of Philadelphia Road. His body was never recovered. As a result his name appears on the Theipval Memorial in the Somme. He was 26 years old.
The constant stream of men arriving in Porthcawl, to enlist in the various regiments, led to a near billeting crisis. By mid-January the numbers were such that pressure was put on Colonel Wilkie, Commander of the Porthcawl units, to consider enforcing compulsory billeting on the residents. Subsequently, the situation was alleviated due to the decision to send another unit of the 17th Battalion, Welsh Regiment (1st Glamorgan Bantams) to Colwyn Bay for further training. On Saturday, the 16th January, the crowd cheered the Bantams, along John Street to the Railway Station, to the sound of the band playing ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary.’ The same reception was afforded to the 123rd/124th Royal Engineers when they left on 23rd January. ‘The men paraded on the Esplanade at 9 o’clock and marched to the railway station headed by the buglers. Colonel Wilkie was at the station supervising their departure.” (‘Porthcawl News’ 28th January 1915.)
Colonel Charles Joseph Wilkie had, a month before, been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, attached to the 17th Battalion, Welsh Regiment. A career soldier, born in Melbourne, Australia in 1869; having attended a public school in Brighton and Owen’s College, Manchester, he joined the militia. In1892, transferring to the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry as a 2nd Lieutenant, he saw service in India and Ireland before retiring from the army in 1907.
However, his expertise was soon called upon after the Haldane Act, that same year, which re-structured the British Army. It led to the creation of a newly formed Territorial Force and National Reserve, which required direction and leadership. Colonel Wilkie represented Wales on most of the committees connected with this challenge. In late 1914 he was involved with the mobilization of the Territorial Battalions, during which time he was stationed at Porthcawl until his departure to Colwyn Bay at the end of the January. He and his wife, Dora, had rented rooms at the Marine Hotel, during their stay. At a regimental dinner preceding his departure to join his regiment in North Wales, Colonel Wilkie claimed “We are going to Berlin and collect Iron crosses as mementoes... We will call ourselves there, the Porthcawl Club.” (‘Porthcawl News’ 21st January 1915.) In June 1916, commanding the 17th Battalion, Welsh Regiment, he arrived in France. Colonel Wilkie was killed in action on 18th October 1916. He was 47 years old.
Besides the military presence in the town, focus at home tended to be directed toward the sale of the town’s gasworks. It was soon hoped that it would become the property of the ratepayers and that it’s efficiency would then greatly improve. It could not happen quickly enough, as many residents had complained of having difficulty seeing each other after dark and cooking morning breakfast.
Another concern was the price of wheat and flour, which had risen 2/- to 55/- a quarter.
Rumours of aliens and imposters continued to alarm people. The War Office sent out a warning in January for the public to be on the lookout for imposters ‘posing as wounded soldiers.’ Evidence of such cases had been placed in the hands of the police. The public were , also, alerted to the effects of war on their health. It was believed that many were ‘unconsciously approaching a breakdown.’ To meet this situation the War Office directed the public to the taking of British Sanaphos ‘which completely supersedes the German preparation, Sanatogen.’ (‘Porthcawl News’ 21st January 1915.)
Finally, that January, under the direction of Mrs. Dora Wilkie , the ladies of the town were employed knitting mittens and neck-comforters to be sent to the troops at the front; and serving tea at the ‘Bon Marche Tearooms,’ John Street, to the Cyclist Corps.