In February 2014 an article for Wales Online by Sion Morgan told the story of the photo-journal of a soldier, Alfred Griffiths, wounded in the First World War (http://bit.ly/1EXhG0c). The journal had been found in a charity shop in Cornwall by Robert Aindow. From the details provided in the journal and information in the 1911 census Robert Aindow identified the soldier as Alfred Thomas Griffiths, the son of David and Rosetta Griffiths of 13 Comet Street, Cardiff. An appeal was made for further information on Alf and, in a further article on 7 October (http://bit.ly/1K08QTM), it was confirmed that the Journal had been bought by a Cardiff historian, Derek Gigg, from Llanishen. Derek had been able to add to the detail on Alf’s war service with the Devon Regiment and again made an appeal for any further information.
The Roath Road Roamer
Copies of ‘The Roath Road Roamer’, published from 1914-19 by the Roath Road Wesleyan Church and held at Glamorgan Archives, have helped to flesh out Alf’s story. Drawing on letters and photographs from men and women in the armed forces and news gleaned from soldiers on leave, ‘The Roath Road Roamer’ tracked the war service of 460 men and 19 women from Cardiff. It was produced monthly, distributed throughout the area and sent overseas.
Alf Griffiths was a ‘Roath Roamer’ and the magazine follows his war time experiences, and those of the men from the Roath area of Cardiff who fought alongside him in France. It also tracks Alf’s personal battle to recover from the wounds sustained at the battle of the Somme in 1916 and his eventual discharge from the Army in 1918.
Alfred Thomas Griffiths first featured in ‘The Roamer’ in December 1914. His name was included in the Roll of Honour of those serving in the armed forces who were formerly on the Sunday School roll. The entry confirms that, at the outbreak of war, the Griffiths family were still living at 13 Comet Street and that Alf joined the 11th Battalion of the Devon Regiment (Vol.2, p.7).
Alf’s family, therefore, almost certainly attended the Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Church situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road (previously known at Roath Road). Along with other families from Comet Street, including the Townsend family at 40 Comet Street, Alf would have attended services and Sunday School at the Church. Records for the Roath Road Wesleyan Church held at Glamorgan Archives confirm that up to 850 children attended Sunday School each week, supervised by 40 teachers and 50 helpers (DWESCR299). ‘The Roamer’ contains details of three members of the Townsend family who fought in the War – Fred, who joined the Army, and his sisters Edith and Gladys, who later in the War joined the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps. It is likely that Fred and Alf were friends as ‘The Roamer’ records that they were both members of the Church Boys’ Brigade (the 14th Cardiff Company) and both enlisted early in the War with the Devon Regiment. However, in the photograph of Alf featured in ‘The Roamer’ in February 1915 (Vol.4, p.4) he is pictured alongside three other recruits to the Devon Regiment, Lance Corporal John W Laidlaw, Private James Brixton and Private Herbert J Morrisey.
Unusually ‘The Roamer’ does not record what happened to John Laidlaw. However, we do know that Alf, Jim Brixton and Bert Morrisey were also close friends. They had all attended the same class of the Roath Road Sunday School taught by Mr Haime (Vol.2, p.7) and had been members of the Church Boys’ Brigade. The picture in Alf Griffiths’ photo journal of the Boys’ Brigade parade is almost certainly a photograph of the 14th Company of the Cardiff Battalion – the Roath Road Company.
The Brigade was well supported with around 50 members at any one time. The boys were required to attend Bible Class on Sunday mornings with meetings every weekday evening for drill and band practice, gymnastics and first aid. As young men they had maintained their links with the Church and at the outbreak of the war Bert Morrisey was the Staff-Sergeant in the Boys’ Brigade (Vol.25, p.2). Given that they joined the 11th Battalion of the Devon Regiment it is very likely that they had taken the decision to enlist in Kitchener’s New Army together. It was with some pride that the Church magazine claimed the four as ‘Roath Roamers’ and the caption for the picture described the new recruits as:
‘Four Fine Fellows who have all done well in the 14th Cardiff Company of the Boys’ Brigade and who are now serving King and Country….’
The Brixtons were a local family from Treharris Street, Roath although, by 1914, Jim was living at Thesiger Street. All three sons served in the armed forces. Their sister, Dorothy, helped with the Sunday School at Roath Road (DWESCR299) and later joined the Land Army. She was featured in ‘The Roamer’ as one of the ‘Lady Roamers’. It is likely that, after the photograph was taken, the four men were separated for, in May 1915, ‘The Roamer’ reported that Jim Brixton was with the 2nd Battalion of the Devon Regiment and had ‘…the honour of being the first Roath Road man in Kitchener’s New Army to go to the Front’ (Vol.7, p.6).
By April 1915 ‘The Roamer’ reported that Bert and Alf had both been promoted to Lance Corporal (Vol.6, p.8) and by November 1915 they were both ‘at the Front’ with Bert recently promoted to Corporal (Vol.13, p.8). In addition, they had transferred to the 9th Battalion of the Devon Regiment. In the build up to the offensive on the Somme in July 1916 Alf was promoted to Corporal and Bert to Sergeant (Vol.20, p.8). They may have been reunited with Fred Townsend who had returned to the 9th battalion after recovering from a wound (a bullet through the thigh) sustained in October 1915 (Vol.20, p.8 and Vol.13, p.3). Jim Brixton was also at the Front at this time having returned to the 2nd Battalion of the Devon Regiment (Vol.20, p.5).
The Battle of the Somme opened on 1 July 1916 and ‘The Roamer’ reported that Alf was seriously wounded on the first day of the offensive when serving with the 20/1 Trench Mortar Battery. A month later, in August 1916, ‘The Roamer’ printed a letter from Alf written from his hospital bed in Aberdeen.
‘I am wondering if you have heard the bad news that I am lying in hospital wounded. The wounds are not of the worst. I had one bullet wound in the face and it has broken the lower jaw-bone. The second one is a bullet wound in the in the left foot…. I was wounded on the July 1st, the first day of the Big Advance unfortunately. I am very lucky to be alive as many young fellows alongside me were killed’ (Vol.22, p.3).
The photograph in Alf’s Photo Journal of Red Cross nurses, dated August 1916, was probably taken at Aberdeen. Reflecting on the launch of the offensive ‘The Roamer’ noted:
‘Of all months July of course has been the most anxious for us. The number of those actually in France at the time the Big Push started was as follows – Officers 8, NCO’s 18 and men 58. A total of 84. Why the run on the figure 8 we do not quite know but there it is. Some of those who profess to draw omens from such things can perhaps help us. The days have been dark ones for us from a personal standpoint , though bright and glorious enough with Victory. As we go to press not much news of our lads has come to hand, and while we might fear some may be bad enough when it reaches us, we hope and pray for the best’ (Vol.22, pp.2-3).
Alf would also have been in Aberdeen when the news arrived that Bert Morrisey was missing and later reported as killed in action on 4 September at the Somme. He was 21 years old and, at the time, the 13th Roamer to be killed in action (Vol.25, p.2 and Vol.26, p.6). He was also one of the 22 former members of the 14th Boys’ Brigade Company killed during the war (DWESCR302). In the same month Jim Brixton had been recommended for the Military Medal for ‘…some very plucky work as a stretcher bearer one night on the Front, in the open facing the German machine guns ….’.
Alf’s wounds were more serious than portrayed in his letter. On January 10 1917 he was still in hospital at Aberdeen.
‘Instead of that operation I told you about, the doctor through the X Rays, has found it necessary to put the splint back in my mouth and cement it. That means I shall have to go through the cure again. It is very disappointing but I intend to have the proper cure. I expect to be here some little time yet. Am anxiously waiting for the Roamer’ (Vol.29, p.6).
It was not until May 1917 that ‘The Roamer’ reported that Alf was home in Cardiff – ‘…his patience has been rewarded at last’ (Vol.31, p.8). By July 1917 ‘…he was back at the Front again’ (Vol.33, p.7) but reported as wounded and in hospital in September 1917 along with his Boys’ Brigade Pal, Jim Brixton (Vol.35, p.5). ‘The Roamer’ took a dim view of Alf’s treatment by the Army:
‘As we expected Corporal Alfred Griffiths (9th Batt Devon Regiment) is back from France and is in hospital in London. He was badly wounded in the jaw on 1st July 1916, but after nearly 12 months in hospital was sent out again before he was right’ (Vol.39, p.4).
‘The Roamer’ continued to keep a close watch on Alf’s progress. In July 1918 it reported:
‘Corporal Alfred T Griffith (Devon Regiment) who was wounded on 1st July 1916, on the first day of the Big Push of two years ago, had been hospital most of the time since except for a short revisit to France. At present he is in London and he has recently undergone another operation on his jaw, which we trust will be more successful than the previous ones’ (Vol.45, p.8).
Alf never fully recovered from the injuries sustained at the Somme and two months later ‘The Roamer’ noted:
‘Corporal Alfred T Griffiths after a long and trying time in hospital, as mentioned in previous issues (it is two years and two months ago that we was wounded) has been fortunate in getting his discharge from the Army’ (Vol.47, p.8).
Of Alf’s pals both Fred Townsend and Jim Brixton survived the War. However, Fred was badly wounded at Ypres in November 1917. In a letter to ‘The Roamer’ he set out the details:
‘I was rather unlucky for we had been through two attacks and we were being relieved that night. I was sent back to guide the relief up when I got hit. It made a bit of gash from my shoulder down half way to the elbow, and cut the artery, and so made me lose a lot of blood’ (Vol.38, pp.2-3).
After a lengthy period in hospital he was discharged from the 9th Battalion of the Devon Regiment in November 1918 but, as a result of the damage to his left arm and shoulder, his arm was ‘still unfortunately not much good’ (Vol.48, p.7). Lance Corporal James Brixton featured in the Roamer’s ‘Page of Smilers’ in March 1919 – those who had been recently demobbed. He was awarded the Military Medal in 1917 for bravery in the field in September 1916. It was later confirmed that this included bringing in a wounded officer under heavy shell fire (Vol.27, p.3 and Vol.43, pp.3-4). The award was made at a public presentation in Cardiff on 26 November 1917. Jim’s brother Alfred was also awarded the Military Medal later in the same year (Vol.38, p.8 and Vol.39, p.2).
‘The Roamer’ held its first ‘Welcome Home’ reunion for demobilised servicemen in April 1919. Jim Brixton was one of the first to write to ‘The Roamer’ setting out his hope that the magazine and regular reunions be continued (Vol.54, p.5). We know from records held at Glamorgan Archives that although the last edition of ‘The Roath Road Roamer’ was in October 1919, the Church continued to run a series of reunion meetings including regular meetings for former members of the Boys’ Brigade (DWESCR302). There is no evidence but it is just possible that Alf, Jim and Fred were able, therefore, to get together to reminisce about their days in the Boys’ Brigade and their war time experiences.
If you want to discover more about the 460 men and 19 women from the Roath area who served in the First World War, Glamorgan Archives holds copies of the 57 editions of ‘The Roath Road Roamer’ produced from November 1914 to October 1919 (DAWES6).
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer