Thomas Harry of Glamorgan and Patagonia, revisited

Regular readers of the Glamorgan Archives blog may remember that last year, as part of our 75th anniversary celebrations, we posted a short article on a letter within our collection written by Thomas Harry, a native of Glamorgan who emigrated to Patagonia in 1865.

A Welsh settlement, known as ‘Y Wladfa’, was established in Patagonia during the mid-19th century. The first Welsh settlers, 153 in number, set sail for Patagonia on board the clipper Mimosa. They arrived in Puerto Madryn on 28th July 1865, exactly 150 years ago today. Amongst them was Thomas Harry.

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When Thomas Harry wrote his letter home in 1873, he was a single man, living and farming at Tan y Castell Farm and struggling to make a living on the harsh Patagonian plain. In our article we appealed for information from anyone who knew what became of Thomas Harry. Did he stay and thrive in his adopted country, or did he return home to Wales? We received a number of responses, and this is what they revealed.

Thomas Harry was brought up in Laleston, Bridgend, but by the time he was 18 he was working underground in Mountain Ash and living with his Aunt, Mary Jones, the sister of his mother, and her husband and their family. Others from Mountain Ash on board the Mimosa included John and Elizabeth Jones and their daughter Margaret; whilst Mary Jones, Thomas’s aunt, gave birth to a son John on board.

Although Thomas Harry was still a single man when he wrote the letter home which is now held at Glamorgan Archives, he later married Jane Jones, widow of Eleazor Jones, and together they had three children. In an account of Anglican baptisms performed in 1885 we read of Luther, Arthur and Mary being presented to the Reverend Hugh Davies at Trelew for baptism on 26th March by Thomas Harri and Jane Jones of Tan y Castell. The family house was destroyed in the great flood of the Camwy Valley in 1899, but was rebuilt on the foundations and called Granja del Castillo in honour of the original home.

Today there are some 50,000 Patagonians of Welsh descent, a small number of whom are still Welsh speakers. Amongst them are Thomas Harry’s descendants. The Harry family also continues here in Wales.

A photograph of those who sailed on the Mimosa, taken 25 years after their arrival in Patagonia, can be viewed on the People’s Collection Wales: http://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/14135 Thomas Harry is pictured standing, fifth from the left.

We would like to thank Rita Tait for much of the information used in compiling this post. Rita’s maternal great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Harry, came from Colwinston and was a first cousin to Thomas Harry.

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St Fagans Castle during the First World War

A guest blog by Elen Phillips – Principal Curator: Contemporary & Community History at St Fagans National History Museum. With her colleague, Sioned Williams, she is currently researching the history of St Fagans Castle during the First World War for a book to be published later this year.

Over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals opened in Britain during the First World War. Staffed for the most part by volunteers, they provided nursing care to soldiers with non-life threatening injuries. Forty-nine of these temporary medical facilities opened in Glamorgan, with the accommodation ranging from workmen’s institutes to stately homes.

In March 1916, the Red Cross opened an auxiliary hospital in a banqueting hall in the grounds of St Fagans Castle – the site of the present-day National History Museum. During the First World War, the Castle was home to the Earl and Countess of Plymouth. Along with the Bute family of Cardiff Castle, the Plymouths were the most prominent landowners in the area.

As Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan, the Earl played an active role in drumming up support for the war effort in south-east Wales. In September 1914, he came to national prominence as chair of the influential Welsh Army Corps committee, tasked with delivering Lloyd George’s vision for a ‘Welsh Army in the field’.

While her husband focused on military affairs, the Countess of Plymouth devoted much of her time to charitable causes. During the war, she was President of the Glamorgan Branch of the Red Cross and, in the years leading-up to 1914, hosted several meetings and fundraising activities in support of the movement. At one such meeting at St Fagans Castle in November 1909, the first Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) unit in Wales was formed – a move which would subsequently ease the recruitment of volunteer nurses for the St Fagans Red Cross Hospital.

The VAD scheme was launched in 1909 by the Red Cross and the Order of St John, under the auspices of the War Office, to provide supplementary nursing services in the event of war. Detachments (or units) were organised at county level, with each volunteer member receiving tuition in first aid and basic nursing skills. In 1910, about 200 VAD members from Glamorgan gathered at St Fagans Castle for a training day. A reporter from the Cardiff Times witnessed the action:

An interesting demonstration was given in a field, showing how the wounded can be carried to the rear for treatment at hospital bases. Dr Sparrow explaining how first aid can be given without special provision of splints, bandages etc. A feature of the demonstration was a spring cart, lent by James Howells and Co Cardiff, which in less than seven minutes can be improvised for twenty-four wounded soldiers under cover. Cardiff Times, 24 September 1910.

Many of the nurses who volunteered at the St Fagans Red Cross Hospital from March 1916 until it closed in March 1919 joined the VAD scheme at this early stage. One of whom was Mary Ann Dodd – known as Polly to her colleagues. She worked as a housemaid for the Plymouth family, but also did turns of duty at the hospital, as she recalled some 40 years later in an essay now archived at the Museum:

I was trained as one of her Ladyship’s VADs and very proud she was of us. I wore a cap and a white apron with a red cross on it… The Banqueting Hall was given over to 40 soldiers; the War went on, so a room was added for 30 more men… I used to cook and clean and one day a week I did the washing. Those soldiers’ socks were in a state, many had no heels in them at all. The soldiers only laughed and teased us, and when they got better, they tried to help us. NMW, MS 1293.

Soldiers and VAD nurses in the Italian Garden, St Fagans Castle, 1916 (NMW, DF003643)

Soldiers and VAD nurses in the Italian Garden, St Fagans Castle, 1916 (NMW, DF003643)

Apart from Mary Ann Dodd’s recollections and three photographs of convalescing soldiers in their hospital blue pyjamas, the Museum’s archive collection lacks primary sources directly associated with the hospital. In addition, very few traces of the building remain on-site. The Banqueting Hall is long gone – a fire in the 1950s razed the pavilion-like structure to the ground – and private homes now occupy the land where the hospital once stood. In our quest to piece together its hidden history, my colleague Sioned Williams and I have been reliant on evidence preserved at other institutions, in particular the Plymouth Estate records at Glamorgan Archives.

The Plymouth Estate records include the only known plans of the hospital in existence. The first plan was probably drawn in haste in preparation for its opening in March 1916 (GA, DPL/X/0). This clearly shows the adaptation of the Banqueting Hall into a medical facility, complete with a matron’s room and dispensary. The second plan corroborates Mary Ann Dodd’s recollections as it shows a proposed 30 bed extension to the existing 40 bed ward (GA, DPL/X/30).

Plan of the hospital, about March 1916 (GA, DPL/X/0)

Plan of the hospital, about March 1916 (GA, DPL/X/30)

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Plan showing extension to the hospital, 1917 (GA, DPL/X/30)

Although Mary Ann Dodd failed to mention a date for the extension, evidence from the Plymouth Estate Cash Book 1914-17 at Glamorgan Archives (GA, DPL/977/1) suggest that these alterations were made in early 1917. On 27 March 1917, the Cash Book lists a payment to Humphreys Ltd in respect of addition to VAD Hospital St Fagans £82.8.0. The ever-useful Welsh Newspapers Online website yields over 180 references to this Knightsbridge-based contractor – mostly advertisements such as this one from the County Observer, 19 April 1902:

HUMPHREYS’ ISOLATION HOSPITALS and SANATORIUMS, complete with administrative blocks, on view. Delivery from stock. Skilled workmen. Addresses of 500 districts where our hospitals have been erected during past 20 years.

The 1914-17 Cash Book also gives a flavour of the homely atmosphere in the hospital. In June 1916, payments were made for a new piano and repairs to a gramophone – presumably to keep the convalescing soldiers entertained. The same Cash Book also highlights a number of charitable donations made by the Earl and Countess of Plymouth. These include £13.19.2 to Marshall & Snelgrove Ltd for socks & gloves for men from St Fagans District who have enlisted; £2.5.3 to A. McLay & Co for cardboard boxes for packing presents to recruits and £12.4.5 to Hobson & Sons for Red Cross uniforms.

Charitable donations are also noted in the 1917-19 Cash Book (GA, DPL/977/2), although payments for hospital fixtures and fittings appear less frequent in this document. In early 1919, the Estate made several payments to charities supporting demobilised soldiers and to memorial funds. These included contributions to the late Col. Bruce Vaughan’s Peace Memorial Fund and to a victory carnival in aid of demobilised soldiers. Interestingly, both Cash Books contain payments on behalf of the hospital to the Plymouth Arms Hotel – the village public house. Although alcohol was discouraged during the war, the temptation was evidently too much for some!

The story of the St Fagans Red Cross Hospital features prominently in the Museum’s First World War centenary programme. In many ways, the Castle can be read as a microcosm of Wales at war. Here we have a site-specific story which mirrors the fate of wider society. Some of the most enduring cultural shifts witnessed during the First World War – such as the employment of women and mass voluntary action – are reflected in the wartime experiences of St Fagans Castle and its people. Thanks in part to the collections carefully preserved at Glamorgan Archives, this hidden history will no longer be lost in the landscape.

Elen Phillips; Principal Curator: Contemporary & Community History, St Fagans National History Museum

Roath Women and the War: Part 6

Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road . Built around 1860 it was a substantial building reputedly able to seat 1000. The Roath Road Magazine was originally established as the magazine of the Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School (DX320/3/2/i-iii). From November 1914 it was published monthly as the ‘Roath Road Roamer’ (RRR) to provide news on the war and, in particular, the fortunes of service men and women associated with the Roath Road Wesleyan Church, School and Congregation serving in the armed forces (DAWES6). It was distributed throughout the area and sent overseas to provide soldiers, families and friends with news from home and updates on colleagues serving in the forces. In particular, it featured photographs and letters from soldiers serving overseas.

From the outset the intention was that the magazine should feature the contribution made by the women of the parish and, in particular, those ‘in uniform’. Altogether, the magazine included details of 19 women from the Roath area. Many were sisters of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen and the magazine included photographs of 17 of the 19 and several letters. Referred to in the magazine as ‘our Lady Roamers’ the short pen pictures featured over the coming weeks provide an insight into how the war resulted in women moving into roles and occupations previously dominated by men.

At the outset of the war possibly the most obvious route for women looking to contribute to the war effort was to take up the call for volunteers made by both local charities and national bodies such as the Red Cross. Seven of the women featured in the magazine took this route. However, later in the War, as a result of the shortage of manpower following the introduction of conscription in 1916, opportunities opened up for women in many new areas of work. By 1918 Lady Roamers were also to be found in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Royal Air Force, the Land Army and local services including the railways and the post. Furthermore, from their letters we know that several served overseas.

Public services in Cardiff. Lizzie Veal and Annie Sanders and Girl Guide Edith Carbis

Two of the most interesting photographs were of Lizzie Veal and Annie Sanders wearing the uniforms of the Great Western Railway and the Postal Service respectively. By the end of the war such sightings would have been commonplace in Cardiff as women stepped increasingly into roles previously monopolised by men.

Lizzie Veal

We cannot be sure but this could be Elizabeth Jane Veal from Adamstown. If so, there was a family link with the railway in that her brother, George, was a railway wagon builder. Although women had been employed by the GWR before 1914, the numbers increased rapidly from 1914 onwards to fill the gaps left by men called up for the armed forces. The picture of Lizzie Veal was featured in ‘The Roamer’ in April 1919 (Vol.54, p.2). At that time she would have been one of over 1000 women employed by the GWR as porters and ticket collectors.

Annie Sanders

Unfortunately, ‘The Roamer’ also tells us very little about Annie Sanders (Vol.51, p.5). She may well have been Annie Sanders of Treharris Street. If so, Annie’s husband George was a tailor and she would have been 29 at the outbreak of war. She was photographed, complete with sack of letters, in the blue serge skirt and coat and blue hat of the postal service, introduced for women in 1914.

Finally, mention should be made of the first and youngest woman to feature in ‘The Roamer’, Edith Carbis.

Edith Carbis

Edith’s photograph appeared in the January 1915 edition with the following commentary:

‘We do not want the RRR to develop into merely a Men’s Magazine and hope to vary our pictures at any rate, so far as the kindness of our friends will permit. This month it is our pleasure to present this photo of Miss Edith Carbis, who is a member of the 1st Roath, Cardiff, Patrol of Girl Guides. She is one of our scholars of course, although unfortunately the Patrol is not connected with Roath Road. Guide Carbis has been on ‘active service’ since the War began and has been in daily attendance on the Lady Mayoress at the City Hall. The remainder of her day’s routine has been devoted to making clothes for the Belgians’ (Vol.3, p.7).

Despite the good intentions, other than the references to Nurse Alice Williams later in 1915, it was not until March 1918 that ‘The Roamer’ began to feature, on a regular basis, the photographs and details of women from Roath. It had taken some time to accept that women could steps into roles previously dominated by men. Although for many the new opportunities were short lived, no one could doubt that attitudes to work and male and female roles would never again be the same as a result of the wartime experience.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Roath Women and the War: Part 5

Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road . Built around 1860 it was a substantial building reputedly able to seat 1000. The Roath Road Magazine was originally established as the magazine of the Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School (DX320/3/2/i-iii). From November 1914 it was published monthly as the ‘Roath Road Roamer’ (RRR) to provide news on the war and, in particular, the fortunes of service men and women associated with the Roath Road Wesleyan Church, School and Congregation serving in the armed forces (DAWES6). It was distributed throughout the area and sent overseas to provide soldiers, families and friends with news from home and updates on colleagues serving in the forces. In particular, it featured photographs and letters from soldiers serving overseas.

From the outset the intention was that the magazine should feature the contribution made by the women of the parish and, in particular, those ‘in uniform’. Altogether, the magazine included details of 19 women from the Roath area. Many were sisters of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen and the magazine included photographs of 17 of the 19 and several letters. Referred to in the magazine as ‘our Lady Roamers’ the short pen pictures featured over the coming weeks provide an insight into how the war resulted in women moving into roles and occupations previously dominated by men.

At the outset of the war possibly the most obvious route for women looking to contribute to the war effort was to take up the call for volunteers made by both local charities and national bodies such as the Red Cross. Seven of the women featured in the magazine took this route. However, later in the War, as a result of the shortage of manpower following the introduction of conscription in 1916, opportunities opened up for women in many new areas of work. By 1918 Lady Roamers were also to be found in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Royal Air Force, the Land Army and local services including the railways and the post. Furthermore, from their letters we know that several served overseas.

Women’s Royal Air Force. Annie Whyte

Perhaps one of the most striking photographs is that of Annie Whyte in the uniform of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF).

Annie Whyte

The WRAF was formed late in the war in spring of 1918 and over 30,000 women enrolled, many transferring from the WAAC and its naval equivalent the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Two Roath Roamers were photographed in the uniform of the WRAF, Annie Whyte and May Hancox. From her War Record we know that Annie Whyte was 24 years of age and although living in London when she enrolled, was from Mill Road, Ely. Her father and brother were riveters at the Channel Dry Dock and during the war her brother, John, served on HMS Suffolk. In March 1918, ‘The Roamer’ printed a letter from John saying that he taken copies of the magazine to:

‘Canada, Africa South and West, Spain Portugal and Mauritius, Ceylon, Jamaica, Bermudas, Adaman Islands and Straits Settlements. Can any Roamer beat it?’ (Vol.41, p.4).

Two months later he added Japan and Russia to his list (Vol.43, p.4) and in the last edition of ‘The Roamer’, in September/October 1919, he was once more in Russia:

‘We are about 3,000 miles inland on a river that runs into the Volga…. I have all the Roamers up to date. I see my sister Annie’s photo in one of them. I suppose most of the Roamers are home now. I don’t know when I shall arrive’ (Vol.57, p.6).

As with many women in the services, Annie’s horizons were much more limited. She joined the WAAC initially and transferred in April 1918 to the newly formed WRAF. She worked primarily at the Royal Flying Corps Armament School at Uxbridge as a waitress and was later promoted to forewomen waitress. Annie’s experience would have been similar to many others, with work options limited, initially, to clerical work and household duties. However, to release more men the number of opportunities open to women, including technical trades, was steadily increased. Annie would have served in Britain given that it was not until March 1919 that the first group of WRAFs went overseas. The WRAF was disbanded in the latter half of 1919.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer