The War Diary of Mervyn Crawshay

Wed 26 Aug. 1914

Slept on road by horse on cobbles, moved a dawn and joined Division at Clary, covering left of 4th Division which was entrenched on high ground South of Le Cateau- Cambrai. We get food from infantry as we are starving. Battle rages all day, very heavy machine gun fire. Machine guns repel 1st German attack, but our force driven back by about 5 to 1 later. Cav[alry] Div[ision] inactive, forming flank guard to 4th Division. Get away unpursued.

The Regiment get broken up late at night in village. I saw dead beat infantry and wagons everywhere, a hopeless tangle seemingly, and realised what a strategic retirement really was.

Get into a small cottage where a kindly woman tucked me up and gave me brandy.

Thurs 27 Aug. 1914

Marched out early and joined up with Ansell in a hollow by a village. The infantry retirement a sight to have seen. The men were dead beat by exhaustion, but were ready to fight at any moment.

We joined Division at Roussoy at get in touch with a Brigade of French Dragoons.

The regiment was put on a forward crest in extended order. I joined up with 3 Hussars.

Several shells very close, a splinter strikes my nose.

We were to be the last squadron to retire, and it looked as if we were badly for it. Carabineers killed in wood behind us, go to another position. After a long trek get to Peronne late. Aeroplane brings in message re Germans. We cleared out, and did the memorable night march, men dropping from exhaustion, etc. etc. We got separated and the regiment dropped in a road at Bethuncourt as it turned out. Saw motor, which we thought was a German search light bottling us.

Johnson, Archie and I rode together.

For five nights the regiment had not had 2 hours sleep a night.

28 Aug. 1914

At dawn I looked at map and found the Germans would soon arrive; everyone was asleep, including Ansell, Balfour and staff.

As I reported, I was told to form Rear guard at bridge with 1st Troop. Went to sleep, woken up to say strong column enemy approaching. It looked pretty bad, then another column (cavalry) on right, which proved to be Sordits divisions brought to help us out.

They pushed the Germans back.

We retired to Néry, where we found food by road side, then to Cressy.

We got orders to return North, watered in a peaceful field, bivouacked near town.

Bought things and had dinner in an hotel. Everyone much bucked up, thinking retirement over

We lived by requisition and will.

Fugitives (civilians) block the roads all the way, carts, cycles etc.

 

Sat 29 Aug. 1914

Expected a quiet day, but at 8am hear a company of German Infantry at Bethancourt, and the river held there.

Saddle up and away A. Squadron to Ossoy bridge.

At 12 ordered to concentrate at Honfleur.

I was ordered to come back at once, but Archie and Patterson and Oswalds patrol were left out.

A. Squadron took up a position by Lesle to help them get in.

Germans came within a few hundred yards, shelling Lesle, then stopped for lunch. Get my patrols in, a near thing.

Retired through Cressy, Lagny to Plessis, billet in a billiard room in a small sort of Inn and get a wash at the pump there.

Sun 30 Aug. 1914

A long hot mornings trek. Watered by a canal where we secured a bottle of white wine.

Arrive at Choisy au Bac on the Oise, much the best billet we have had yet in an artists house.

Expect to get a rest here.

Enjoy a swim in the river.

 

Mon 31 Aug. 1914

A long hot march, wine being given to us by the way. Water on the river at Verb and see the French tirailleurs from Nice.

Up a steep hill and come to Néry. I am the right out-post squadron. Get bread in a peasants house and dinner late in a billiard room.

I thought of sleeping in cemetery but in the end did not do so, but slept end of lines on straw, not thinking how many would sleep in this cemetery next day.

 

The War Diary of Mervyn Crawshay

Tues 18 Aug. 1914

In train all day, stop for a few minutes at various places to water, the people giving one fruit and post cards all the way up.

Arrive at Hautmont in dark and eventually get to a very wet field with long grass, where we lie down.

Wed 19 Aug. 1914

Lead off to Colleret. A very Belgian-French village. Go into billets. On the whole we are in clover [its atmosphere of chicken, farm straw deleted] etc, attending to horses after their journey.

Rode in afternoon with Johnson, the interpreter, and others over the Belgian frontier, and saw the enemies country.

Thurs 20 Aug. 1914

Take A. Squadron for exercise over the country. Find it hopelessly wired in, it looks as if one could cross it anywhere, but we took one hour to go one mile.

Get back to billets for lunch.

Fri 21 Aug. 1914

Marched into Belgium, and struck the pavé. As we were going to billets a large force of Germans reported.

  1. squadron was behind; we massed in some comotion behind a hill. It all fizzled out. Trecked across roots to Villiers St.Ghislain. Ansell took all the Squadron leaders round all defences.

Sat 22 Aug. 1914

This morning busy entrenching my Section. I had a chill after the cold orchard.

Detaining motor fugitives and questioning same. News suddenly from 3rd Brigade that Germans were coming.

  1. squadron to wood to out flank, occupied wood all day.

Saw Germans in distance, one shell within 300 yards. 4 Hussars shelled. Greys opened battle with machine guns. Bays captured patrol in wood. Hear of 4h D.G., change down pavé.

We made long night march over pavé thro’ Mons, round and round thro’ thousands of shouting people. Eventually drop into a village into a farm billet and get a bed.

Sun 23 Aug. 1914

Made night march at a moments notice to the railway line East of Gr., the cavalry are to sight there trenches by night.

Rested all day. Civilian labour eventually comes.

Mon 24 Aug. 1914

At dawn continue our trenches.

A gap is left on my right flank, report to Briggs, he says it is not in his section.

Sure enough, the Germans appear exactly opposite this point of weakness. I cannot make out if friend or foe till a shot comes close to me. Then 2nd troop fires. After we see them in their grey and spiked helmets, left turn and straight at village which they soon get from the cavalry screen. Soon the village ablaze with shells and fire. We retire, various excited men fall into ditches, and rally up to a big factory; Allenby comes there.

We find shells coming close so follow on with Squadron and join Ansell at Elonges.

About 2.pm suddenly recalled, down a hill thro’ a village, and on far side come into thick of it by a haystack. Bullets on all sides. After some hot fighting, retire to farm, several wounded there.

A squadron rear guard to division while it went through village, but Germans never came on.

Retired to Genlain.

Tues 25 Aug. 1914

Start at 5.am. We were left of Rearguard of army, Bays on our right. I was sent to Artres, get to top of ridge safely, and 2 troops are watering, when Germans, (2 batteries and 1 regt. of Jaegers) appear 100 yards off. We managed to rally to a quarry, opened on heavily, but quarry protects us. Get out by troops, and back to regiment, a lucky get out.

Regain Division, then are left as Rear Guard.

Ansell holds on, with a section of guns, very long to save Red Cross. Shelled all round us. Dropped some Uhlans at a farm.

French troops cut up in Valenciennes, we cover their retreat.

Put in infantry trenches, pulled out by Allenby. Retire at dark to a town by a mill. Had to clear at very short notice, supposed to be surrounded. Eventually dropped on road near Beaumont. Very cold and wet.

The War Diary of Mervyn Crawshay

Sat 15 Aug. 1914

(Leave the Firs before dawn). It pours with rain, we all go to large rest camp at Southampton, while it continues to pour. A. Squadron officers go into town for lunch and nearly get left behind. A long and tedious day embarking.

Sun 16 Aug. 1914

A little peace on the ship. Arrive after lunch, a most difficult dis-embarkation, as the fittings of the boat were constructed in 3 days. My squadron is the last off. Tie up in a huge cotton shed, and sleep on the bales there.

Mon 17 Aug. 1914

A route march, practise sword exercises. We go into Havre and dine at a big restaurant. Big thing, the whole place full of “entente cordial”.

Entrain late at night.

 

The War Diary of Captain Mervyn Crawshay

August 4th. 2014 marks the 100th Anniversary of the First World War; this catastrophic period of the 20th Century is receiving widespread media coverage with the publication of a wide range of books and articles. At the Glamorgan archives we are fortunate to have within our collection many photographic and written records of the impact this “Total War” had on individuals and society in general. These records give the general public and research students the opportunity to gain an insight into subjects ranging from the effect on children (school log books) to war time measures on the home front (Local Authority Minutes). However, this short article looks at a unique item in the collection; the diary of Captain Mervyn Crawshay during the opening weeks of the War in Belgium. Crawshay gives a daily account of his experience commencing on 15 Aug until being killed in action on 31 Oct 1914.

Prior to discussing Crawshay’s diary it is reasonable to ask; “How did a member of one the wealthiest most powerful families in Wales find himself in action fighting German forces in Belgium?”  Mervyn Crawshay was born on 5th May 1881 in Dimlands, Llantwit Major, the son of Tudor Crawshay, High Sheriff of Glamorgan (1887), and grandson of iron master William Crawshay of Merthyr Tydfil. The Crawshay family were the dominant power in the iron industry of north Glamorgan throughout a major part of the 19th Century. However, Mervyn choose to follow a career in the army and joined the Worcester Regiment in 1902, serving for two years in the South Africa war, gaining the Queen’s medal with two clasps. In 1908 Crawshay transferred to 5th Dragoon Guards (Princess Charlotte of Wales) and was promoted to captain in April 1911. Crawshay was a noted fine horseman and represented England in military tournaments held in America in 1913, winning the Gold Cup in the competition open to the world.

Mervyn Crawshay was a member of the comparatively small British Expeditionary Force (BEF) dispatched to assist the French in defending Belgium in the face of a German invasion. Belgium, a small country, offered a route by which either France or Germany could turn the other’s flank. However, under the Treaty of London 1839 Belgian neutrality was guaranteed by the five major European powers who all signed to defend Belgium neutrality in the event of invasion. German General Schlieffen had drawn plans up as early as 1905 to outflank the French Army by invading Belgium, giving an easier route to Paris and the capture of the channel ports. The growing tension in the summer of 1914, together with complex series of alliances, resulted in 3 million German and French troops facing each other. The refusal of the German Government to cease the invasion of Belgium led Britain and France to declare war on 4th. August 1914.

The speed of events is evident from Crawshay’s account; the entries of the 15/16 August describe leaving Southampton and arriving in Le Havre. A week later, after travelling through northern France and crossing the Belgian border, the BEF were in action close to Mons. To derive a greater understanding of Mervyn Crawshay’s diary entries, the events between the 21st and 29th August are classed as the Battle of Mons. The main feature of this battle was a retreat by the BEF in the face of overwhelming German forces: 70,000 opposed 160,000.

Aug 24…I cannot make out if friend or foe till a shot comes close to me … After we see them in their grey spiked helmets…Soon the village is ablaze with shells and fire…

Aug 26, Engagement at Le Cateau… We got food from the infantry as we are starving. Battle rages all day very heavy machine gun fire…

Aug 27, The infantry retirement; sight to have seen. The men were dead beat by exhaustion but were ready to fight at any moment…For five nights the regiment has not had two hours sleep a night.

During the rear guard action at Le Cateau the BEF suffered 8000 causalities; German losses were estimated to be 15,000.This fiercely fought rear guard action is graphically described in entries up to 6th September. The next 3-4weeks of entries in Crawshay’s diary describe his involvement in Battle of the Marne.

Sept 7… Sir John French (Commander of BEF) order issued to effect that British Army had had a bad time in retirement, but was now going to advance to co-operate with French  Army…We passed wounded Germans and a few dead in the streets. At Choisy the whole place upside down, looted by Germans.

Following a month of fierce fighting the professionalism shown by the BEF together with the French had a number of important consequences. The German advance on Paris was stopped and the strategic objective of outflanking the French Army had failed.

Sept 27th, an eventful day for Crawshay…Shells about but not close except one; Saw Winston Churchill in a motor… My writing stopped by a coal box and order to go to billets. (coal box was WW1 slang for a 5.9inch. German shell)

The positive aspect of Mervyn Crawshay’s leg injury was him being granted leave from the Front and he took the opportunity to travel to Paris.

Oct 5th, Kavanagh and I go straight to the Ritz where we are taken in free, it has just reopened…Round Paris, to Chatham Champs Elysee and tea at Café de la Paix…Harvey of the 9th Lancers joins up, we go to Moulin Rouge.

All too soon recalled to report back to the Regiment, after managing to obtain petrol and a furious night drive… I motor on to the billet with Osborne, everyone surprised to see me back so soon, and sound.  

The remaining entries for October describe the fierce fighting in the area of Messines, in official records known as the 1st Battle of Ypres or the Race to the Sea. As a consequence of the German defeat at the Battle of the Marne they launched a major offensive which led to both armies trying to gain the initiative to reach the coast of the North Sea. It was at a crucial point in this battle at the end October that Mervyn Crawshay became fatally wounded. Accounts indicate that Crawshay’s First Cavalry Division attempted to defend an impossible position at Wytschaete for 48 hours against overwhelming odds before being overrun.

By Mid-November the German offensive stopped but the BEF held on to a defensive salient at Ypres; British casualties were reported at 58,155. One significant feature clearly described by Crawshay in this period of the War was a mobile war of rapid movement. By the end of November Germany accepted it had failed in its strategic plan for a rapid victory in France and set the scene for both sides for the next four years by digging defensive trenches.

There’s a bitter irony in Crawshay’s death at Ypres in Oct 1914 in that three years later, following the deaths of many further  millions of other brave soldiers, 1917 witnessed one of the most horrendous battles of the entire First World War also fought at Ypres; that of Passiondale.

Over the next few months Glamorgan Archives will be featuring each entry from Mervyn Crawshay’s war diary on our blog, so that his experience of the war can be followed one hundred years later.

Glamorgan Archives Joint Committee

Our 75th anniversary blog comes to an end with the final post recording our 75 75th deposits.

The Glamorgan Archives Joint Committee is the governing body of Glamorgan Archives.  In its current form it comprises 16 elected members from each of the funding authorities in proportion to population so Cardiff has 5 members, Rhondda Cynon Taf has 4, Bridgend, Caerphilly and the Vale of Glamorgan send 2 each while Merthyr Tydfil has a single representative.  The role of chair and vice-chair is shared between the authorities, changing annually according to an agreed rota so that each authority holds the chair over a period of 6 years.  There is provision for a number of co-opted members deemed to have knowledge and experience of value to the Joint Committee in its deliberations, and authorities also send officers to observe.  Cardiff, as the authority providing support services, usually fields financial, legal and secretariat officers.  Voting is confined to elected members only.

The committee meets at least 4 times a year and the Glamorgan Archivist takes a report on activities to each meeting.  All papers can be read on Cardiff’s web site where meeting dates are also posted.  Meetings, which are always held in Glamorgan Archives, are generally open to the public.

Elected members have always been strongly supportive of the archives and its activities.  Members are our link to the local authorities which fund the joint service.  They are active archive champions without whom the new building could never have been achieved.  They approve our annual plan of work and receive updates on progress towards anticipated targets throughout the year as well as agreeing the budget to be passed to each authority for final approval.  The Glamorgan Archivist is appointed directly by the Joint Committee to manage archive services for the 6 authorities and to control the agreed budget.

We have been fortunate to have been able to retain members for long periods ensuring a continuity of experience; some current members were on the joint committee back in the days of Mid and South Glamorgan County Councils.  New members continue to bring enthusiasm and commitment.  Members have also contributed to the archives as depositors and some of their deposits form the 75th accession in several years.  We continue to be grateful for their support and look forward to working with them in the future.

Curtain Up!

The 75th accession received in 1995 was a collection of theatre programmes.  As part of the Curtain Up! project currently running at Glamorgan Archives, theatre playbills advertising performances at Cardiff’s Theatre Royal are in the process of being catalogued. The playbills date from the years 1885-1895 and advertise a wide range of performances, including Victorian burlesques, Gilbert and Sullivan classics and the annual Cardiff Christmas pantomimes!

 

The Theatre Royal was situated on the corner of St Mary’s Street and Wood Street and was built in 1878. It was referred to as the second Theatre Royal, as the first, situated in Crockherbtown (now known as Queen Street) had burnt down the previous year, on 11th December 1877. The fire was thought to have originated in the theatre’s store sheds which were storing straw for a production of ‘The Scamps of London’.

The new Theatre Royal was constructed by Webb & Sons of Birmingham to the designs of Waring and Blesaley. The theatre was built as a playhouse with an auditorium consisting of pit, pit stalls, boxes and gallery. It had increased accommodation, seating up to 2000 people compared to the 1000 that could be seated in the old Theatre Royal.

 

The new Theatre Royal officially opened on Monday 7th October 1878 with W. Gilbert’s ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’, a production that would feature again over the coming years.

A large variety of travelling shows performed at the Theatre Royal. Operas were the most popular form of entertainment, with free lists being frequently suspended and the Taff Vale Railway and Great Western Railway running special trains to accommodate the theatre goers. Novelty acts also drew in the crowds, with performances from a ‘Band of Real Indians’, ’16 Educated Horses’  and ‘King Barney the St Bernard Dog’.

Sadly, the second Theatre Royal also burned down, in 1899, but was rebuilt immediately in the same style. The theatre still stands in Cardiff today but now functions as a well known public house, ‘The Prince of Wales’.

The Women’s Archive of Wales

Our list of 75 75th accessions includes a deposit received via the Women’s Archive of Wales.

The Women’s Archive of Wales was established in 1997. Its aim is to raise the profile of women in the history of Wales and encourage the study and understanding of those women’s lives. It works with archives services across Wales to ensure that documents relating to the history of women are preserved for the future. Items are donated to the Women’s Archive, and are then placed on deposit at the appropriate local archive service, or national body, where they are preserved in the best conditions possible and made accessible to members of the public for research.

The Women’s Archive of Wales is a charity funded through the subscriptions of members. They hold an annual conference each autumn, produce a regular newsletter and host a lecture each year at the National Eisteddfod. They also undertake a number of projects. Currently they are recording the oral histories of women who worked in the manufacturing industries throughout Wales between 1945 and 1975 as part of their Heritage Lottery funded project, Voices from the Factory Floor.

Women’s Archive of Wales collections deposited at Glamorgan Archives include records of the South Wales Branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; the Women’s Arts Association, Permanent Waves; records of local Merched y Wawr branches, and the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp Collection, along with personal papers of several local women.

You can find out more about the Women’s Archive of Wales at http://www.womensarchivewales.org/