The Ocean and National Magazine, 1931: Impressions of a Voyage to Australia (and New Zealand!)

The Ocean and National Magazine collection is an amazing resource for discovering what life was like for people living in the south Wales coalfield in the 1920s and 1930s. Published by the Ocean Coal Company Ltd and United National Collieries Ltd, with contributions by and for the workforce, this magazine series contains a wide variety of articles on the coal industry and its history, including industrial relations, employees, technology, culture and sporting events. Andrew Booth, one of our volunteers has recently completed the indexing of this fantastic collection. This is the fourth of a series of blog posts in which Andrew highlights stories from the Ocean and National Magazines.

D1400-9-4-1 Cover


[Image: Cover, January 1931, D1400/9/4/1]


Alongside articles on the South Wales coalfield, the magazine also features other types of articles, including travel pieces. In 1931 and 1932 the magazine included a series of articles written by W.H. Becker, director of Messrs. Latch and Batchelor Ltd., Wire Rope Manufacturers, Birmingham, detailing his visit to Australia and New Zealand. The articles started in March 1931, and continued until August 1932.

D1400-9-4-3 page 89

[Image: The SS Empress of Scotland, leaving Miraflores Locks, D1400/9/4/3, p.89]


Becker starts his account with the voyage from Southampton to the Panama Canal. It had been Becker’s dream to visit the Panama Canal and through his detailed description of the seven hour journey across the canal, readers can see that he was not left disappointed. On completing the journey across the Panama Canal, the April 1931 edition continues with Becker’s journey across the Pacific Ocean, including the crossing of the Equator, where Becker describes the weather as being intensely cold. As his journey across the Pacific continued, Becker records meeting the inhabitants of Pitcairn Island and describes some of the wildlife that he saw on the journey.

D1400-9-4-4 page 121

[Image: A glimpse of Pitcairn Island and some if its male inhabitants, D1400/9/4/4, p.121]


After crossing the Pacific, Becker lands in Wellington, New Zealand. His article in the May 1931 edition sees Becker exploring Wellington, before crossing to the South Island of New Zealand and enjoying an exciting drive through undulating country, wooded valleys and two mountain ranges. He recalled the latter stage of the journey as not being very rapid, averaging eight miles an hour because of the bends in the road. He continued to explore the South Island in the June issue, visiting Nelson, the site of an earthquake that had struck in 1929.

D1400-9-4-5 page 162

[Image: A typical motoring road in New Zealand, D1400/9/4/5, p.162]


Still on the South Island, the July issue sees Becker visiting coal mines in Greymouth and timber mills in Hokitika. Numerous coal drifts were seen close to the road in the Greymouth area and the party stopped at one such drift to talk to a group of miners – discovering that some of the workers had come from Britain, including Evan Jones, a miner from south Wales!

D1400-9-4-7 page 231

[Image: A group of happy-looking coal miners, Greymouth, New Zealand, D1400/9/4/7, p.231]


The August and September issues see Becker climbing the Franz Joseph glacier, then taking the train to Christchurch. By the end of 1931 Becker is back in Wellington, where he visits the Houses of Parliament. Heading for Auckland, he describes Wairakei and the geysers within the national reserve.

D1400-9-4-11 page 398

[Image: Prince of Wales’ Feathers’ Geyser, D1400/9/4/11, p.398 ]


Although titled a ‘Voyage to Australia’, by the end of 1931 Becker’s account was still in New Zealand and it is not until the April 1932 edition that he gets to Australia, where he recounts having seen the Sydney Harbour Bridge nearing completion. The last article on the voyage appeared in the August 1932 edition.


Andrew Booth, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer


Image: Cover, January 1931, D1400/9/4/1

Image: The SS Empress of Scotland, leaving Miraflores Locks, D1400/9/4/3, p.89

Image: A glimpse of Pitcairn Island and some if its male inhabitants, D1400/9/4/4, p.121

Image: A typical motoring road in New Zealand, D1400/9/4/5, p.162

Image: A group of happy-looking coal miners, Greymouth, New Zealand, D1400/9/4/7, p.231

Image: Prince of Wales’ Feathers’ Geyser, D1400/9/4/11, p.398

Subordination and Devastation: Two Sea Voyages from the Port of Cardiff

Glamorgan Archives holds crew agreements and log books for ships registered at the Port of Cardiff for the years 1863-1913 (ref.: DCA).  The following incidents illustrate two extraordinary occurrences recorded in these logs.

The master of the Talca (official number 50438), Charles Woollacott, a Devonshire man, aged 41, must have wondered at the events which dogged his ship during a voyage carrying coal from Cardiff to Australia, which began in July 1869 and ended in December 1870. The cook was the main cause of trouble, as Woollacott recorded in January 1870:

Image 1

…we find that the man Thom[as] Roelph engaged as cook and steward at £5 per month, does not know anything about Cooking. He cannot Boil a Potatoe…It is intended to reduce his Wages in proportion to his Incompetency.

On a long voyage food was of great importance and a cook’s inability to provide good food was a threat to the health of the crew and hence their ability to work. The problem was even more serious because the Talca was a sailing ship and the work, therefore, even more strenuous. The problems on the Talca continued, and in February an entry in the log stated:

All hands came aft to say they could not do their work if they could not get their victules better cooked.

Mercifully five days later in Freemantle, Australia, Charles Woollacott noted:

This day Thomas Raulph [sic] deserted the ship.

The story did not end here. In Freemantle another man, Richard Evans, was engaged as replacement cook. As the document among the ship’s papers proves, Evans had been a criminal transported to Australia, and, having completed his sentence he was working his passage back to England (although he deserted in Dunkirk). The crew list gives his age as 32, and his place of birth as Liverpool. It is likely that Captain Woollacott would have preferred Richard Evans to have stayed in Australia. The new cook proved insolent, insubordinate and incompetent, refusing to obey orders, until the master was forced to enter in the Log:

I did not know when I shipped him that he had been a convict. Upon the next occasion I intend to put him in confinement for the sake of Subordination of the Ship, called him aft and read this entry to him. Received a insullent reply and a threat of-what he-would do when he got home.

Transportation does not appear to have reformed Richard Evans.

In contrast, the master’s entry for the S.S. Afonwen (official number 105191) for December 1908 records an event of a different kind. Whilst the ship was docked in Messina, Sicily, on a voyage carrying coal, the area was struck by a severe earthquake. The crew members acted with great bravery, two of them being awarded the Albert medal and a third was decorated by the King of Italy for attempts to rescue local people from the disaster, risking their own lives. The ship was used to bring the injured to safety in Naples. The master, William Owen, shows professional restraint in his entry in the official log for 28 December 1908 and mentions only the physical effects of the earthquake on his ship:

Image 2

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At 5.15 all hands disturbed by heavy earthquake shock causing great confusion on board, rushing on deck but being pitched dark and the air full of dust was unable to see anything; same time tidal wave came over quay which raised the ship bodily tearing adrift all moorings… unknown steamer which was adrift collided with our starboard bow damaging same… the water now receded and ship grounded… At 7 a.m. sky cleared when we found out the quay had collapsed and town destroyed…

One member of the crew, Ali Hassan, was reported as being ashore at the time and the entry against his name in the crew list gives him as …supposed killed in earthquake.

Image 4

An article in the Western Mail for 15 December 1965, using letters and recollections of the crew, tells a more vivid tale. Captain Owen, by then in retirement in his native Amlwch, Anglesey, recalled:

a great wall of water sprang up with appalling violence; it was a miracle we came through it. The wind howled around us and waves continually swamped us as though a squall had come on. Vast eddying clouds of dust settled on the ship like a fog.

Many people fleeing the earthquake tried to swim for the ships in the harbour.  Nineteen such people are said to have reached the Afonwen including by a strange coincidence, a man from Cardiff. The next morning Captain Owen took a party of three men ashore to seek instructions at the British Consulate, but they found it had been destroyed. He wrote in the Log for 29 December 1908:

At 8 a.m. this day-I went on shore but unable to find any means of communication and no one to give instructions I returned on board and decided to proceed to Naples, sailing from Messina 10 a.m.

One of the crew who went ashore with him was Eric Possart, given in the crew list as an 18 year old apprentice from Cardiff. He wrote of the incident in a letter home to his father:

The people were all cut and bleeding… As fast as we could we were taking them aboard ships. We could only find one doctor alive. Little girls and boys saw their own hair turning white as snow

Over 100,000 people were reported to have been killed.

The majority of voyages recorded in the Cardiff crew agreements were less eventful, but the records are no less interesting as they give valuable insight into trade from Glamorgan ports, life on board a ship, as well as information on the crew and on the conditions under which they served.


‘Confined within the 4 wooden walls of a ship’: A voyage from Wales to Australia

The collection at Glamorgan Archives holds many items relating to Glamorgan inhabitants who emigrated from Wales, including several who left to start new lives in Australia and New Zealand.  One of these was Levi Davies of Pontypridd, who left his home on 21st August 1863 and finally arrived in Melbourne on 6th January 1864 after a voyage of some 18 weeks.  Levi’s diary details every day of his courageous voyage across the oceans to the other side of the world.

Levi’s journey didn’t get off to the most exciting of starts:

Left Pontypridd August 21st 1863 By the 9 o clock train to Cardiff thence by the Great Western Railway through Gloucester to Paddington Station arrived there at 4.45pm…

And some days later, he was still in London:

Tuesday 25th August: This was the great day appointed for the ship to leave London for Melbourne, went on board in the morning and soon ascertained she would not sail that day.

Tuesday 1st September: Went on board in the morning and was told she would sail some time in the evening remained on board all day, at 6.30pm she made her first start, went as far as the lock the other end of the basin, stayed there until 3pm the following day

Despite that less than auspicious start, they finally set sail on Wednesday 2nd September.  But again, they didn’t get very far:

…at 3pm it being at full tide, the first mate gave the signal to start and we did… we had two Tugg Boats (steamers) to tow us as far as Gravesend where we casted anchor for the night…

A contrary wind meant that they were forced stay put for more than a week:

Thursday 10th September: At 4.30am was awakened by the sound of the sailors heaving up the anchor… was informed by the First Mate that the wind had changed and was amenable for us to sail… now opposite Dover Castle

Once underway, Levi found that not all the passengers adapted well to life at sea.  Only a few days after leaving London, Levi notes:

…sea very rough, ship rocking worse than a cradle, men women and children vomiting and purging effected by sea sickness.

But as for Levi himself, I am hitherto quite free from the least effects of it.  His secret?  …drinking salt water is very good to prevent sea sickness…

It’s interesting to discover from the diary how the crew and passengers survived such a long journey without putting in to port to collect supplies.  Obviously they had provisions on board, but they also made the most of their surroundings, and Levi refers to some of their food:

Saturday 26th September: Threw 3 alive pigs over board, the remainder of 15 that died from distemper.

Friday 11th September: …spent the morning in company with the Mate of the ship fishing, caught 2 Dog fishes, their skins as hard as Badger

Saturday 3rd October: …at twilight caught a fish called Baracoota…

Tuesday 13th October: …caught upwards of 2500 gallons of rain water for drinking and cooking etc.

Sunday 29th November: …caught a porpoise weighing about 150lbs ate some of it for breakfast.

Levi also details the habits of his fellow passengers, of which he didn’t always approve.  While they were still anchored at Gravesend, waiting for the wind to change, he noted:

Wednesday 9th September: …some of the passengers proposed going on shore in a Boat, to which I objected… about 1pm they went and returned at 6pm, more than half drunk…

Those travelling with Levi on the Trebolgan to Melbourne were from various places, but seemed to band together by nationality:

Thursday 3rd September: …Irishmen gathered together to give us a jig, Englishmen took to play cards, Scotch men to play Draughts, and Dutch men to play Chess, I and my partner amused ourselves by walking backwards and forward on the Deck…

Levi and his fellow countrymen, all of whom were nonconformists, made every effort to keep the Sabbath during their travels:

Sunday 6th September: We Welshmen gathered together and formed a Bible class, we are only 4 Welshmen on board, one man and wife besides Thomas and me, the others are English, Irish, Scotch and Dutchmen, very little respects they show towards Sunday more than any other day.

As you would expect, the voyage was far from smooth.  At times it proved truly terrifying for those on board, passengers and crew alike:

Friday 18th September: …explosion of thunder such as I never heard before nor any other one on board this ship, the forked lightning exhibiting in various shapes on the sky, dividing the heavens as it were, the howling of the wind, the roaring of the big waves raising up like mountains tossing the ship like a ball and the pouring of the rain… was enough to sink us all in despondency and give up all hopes of ever reaching any port… all of us expected every moment to be dashed to atoms and buried under the waves…


Sunday 20th September: Was awakened this morning by the loud splashing of the great waves against the thin planks which separate us from sudden death…

Thursday 22nd October: Tremendous heavy squalls at 2am which aroused us from bed, ship almost capsized several times…  I was asking some of the sailors at breakfast time what did they think of the weather last night… they said, that is just the sort of weather for us… but actions and manners speak louder than words sometimes, although they answered in that way when the uneasy moments were over, they did not mean it, there was seriousness imparted on every countenance at the time the squall occurred…

At such times of despair, and on such a long journey, Levi’s thoughts naturally turned to home and to the friends and family he had left behind:

Thursday 24th September: …many times I climbed up the rigging turning my face towards home anxious to know the state of your mind concerning me, but many a long month must pass before it is possible for me to hear from you on account of the long journey which is before me.  Please God I shall see the end of it.

And he began to wonder whether he had made the correct decision:

The 115th day of our voyage: The light of another Christmas Day has dawned upon us  …I had some thoughts of sadness about the past and some of anxiety when I looked into the uncertainty of the future…

And, although life on board was dull at times…

Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday the 11th 12th 13th and 14th November: Nothing of much moment occurred these last few days…


The 115th day of our voyage: Now I am upon the sea with nothing to relieve the dull monotony which I have now had (with little exception) for four weary months, confined within the 4 wooden walls of a ship, with nothing but strangers for our companions.

…the new experiences Levi encountered during his voyage were wonderful indeed:

Wednesday 30th September: …saw a big fish called by some Turtle, by others Tortoise, it’s a fish with hard shells on his back.

Saturday 24th October: Crossed the line (Equator) at 6pm when old Neptune’s Secretary came on board… stated that his Divine Master was ill of cold which confined him to his room… medicine exactly to his disease not being obtainable in the waste of waters… wishing it to be understood that that particular kind of distilled spirit called rum was particularly suited to his Master’s disease…

Sunday 1st November: A meteor commencing eastwards flashed up and along the sky, towards s. west, lighting the whole heavens more clearly than anything I ever saw except the sun itself, it must have lasted about 5 seconds and then exploded in sparks, leaving a luminous streak in its course behind it, which gradually disappeared, leaving everything in darkness as before…

Wednesday 4th November: A matter of considerable excitement occurred today, a report spread among the passengers and crew that a shark was to be seen hovering about the prow of the vessel… the assertion was repeated that the rapacious monster was still there… The Captain… making his appearance with a large fishing hook in one hand and a piece of pork in the other (about 2lbs) the bait was fixed immediately and the hook attached to a rope which was carried by the Captain to the side of the ship and thrown over, in a very short time Mr Shark made his appearance… his jaws closed upon the bait… the word past, hoist away, and in a few moments we landed him safely on the Deck.

Tuesday 1st December: In this part of the world it is not dark until 9pm.  I never saw daylight before at 9pm on the 1st December.


Thursday 10th December: …sighted an iceberg about twice as large as this ship…

After months at sea, Levi and his fellow passengers finally caught sight of their destination:

Monday 4th January: Was called this morning at 5am by the First Mate (Mr Armstrong) to see land Cape Otway which was on the left of us just before we entered into Hobson’s Bay…

And, at last, they landed in Australia:

Wednesday 6th January 1864: At 3pm went to shore on a boat, walked about in Williamstown landing and St. Kilda Hill…

We don’t know a great deal as to Levi’s fate once he reached Australia.  Some notes in the diary give us clues regarding what he did in the few short years following his arrival:

Commenced work at a Farm near Bald Hills ‘Henry Loader’ on the 13th January 1864. 

L. A. Davies was appointed Secretary of the Bonshaw ‘Accident Fund’ on the 13th day of March 1868.

If any reader knows what happened to Levi Davies after his adventure on the high seas, we would be very pleased indeed to find out.

The Aberdare Cottage Homes Memorial Roll

To commemorate the anniversary of the First World War, I researched the men whose names appear on the Aberdare Cottage Homes Memorial Roll held at the Glamorgan Archives.

Aberdare Roll of Honour compressed

There are a total of 83 names on the roll, some with more information than others, and upon undertaking initial research it seemed that they all attended the Industrial School at Trecynon, Aberdare.

According to Kelly’s Directory of 1910:

The Industrial School of Merthyr Tydfil Union, Trecynon, to give it its correct title, was built in 1871 by the Guardians, originally used as an Infirmary, and in 1877 converted to its present use. There is a new receiving home, also 2 Cottage Homes; the School is intended to separate pauper children from the influence of the adults, and gives a training to the children in different trades and occupations, and there is an industrial trainer for each department. The institution holds 200 children, with Thomas J Owen as Superintendent.

My research was undertaken in two ways; primary sources using documents held at the Glamorgan Archives and secondary sources online via Ancestry, Find My Past, Forces War Records and the Aberdare Leader newspaper website.

Whilst attending the Archives, I started by searching their online catalogue in order to access documents held there. These included records of the industrial school and cottage homes; Aberdare Boys School register; the Board of Guardians minute books and the admission and discharge registers of the Merthyr Union workhouse.

I spent several months reading through these documents looking for the names on the roll; sometimes the names jumped out at me, other times I could only find family members mentioned. Gradually I built up their early lives.  Alongside this I went online trying to trace birth details along with census entries and military history.  This allowed me to build up the men’s stories leading up to and including the First World War.

Within each personal record, I have used a colour code when documenting the research – black for the information found in documents in the Archives, green for general information found online and red for military information found online.

Some of the names revealed an interesting hidden history of information, whereas other names, due to lack of initial information did not reveal very much at all. Among them there are four servicemen who won the Military Medal (MM), one who received the Distinguish Conduct Medal (DCM) and nine are recorded as casualties.

Among the servicemen on the roll are John and Kenneth Aubrey. I found both boys in the records of the Industrial School where they were admitted in October 1900, and then in the 1901 census attending at St Fagan.  John was admitted to the Training School on 1st September 1902, whereas Kenneth was admitted on 29th August 1904.  There is no mention of parents that I can find, nor where or why Kenneth was admitted two years later.  Both boys went to live with their aunt in December 1906, but were brought back to the school in June 1907.  John was put into service to Mr Peter Pugh in July 1907 and Mr Pugh later applied for custody of Kenneth in October 1908.  Both boys can be found in the 1911 census as ‘Adopted Sons’ to Mr and Mrs Pugh.  In 1912, John leaves for Australia, arriving in Brisbane, Queensland on 26th December that year.  He enlists in the Australian Imperial Force on 11th March 1916, is wounded around September 1917, but goes on to survive the war and return to Australia.  Kenneth enlists in the Welsh Regiment and is reported missing in the Dardanelles in 1915.  News eventually reached Mr and Mrs Pugh in December 1916 that Kenneth was officially reported missing on 17th August 1915.

For another soldier, Stephen Lucy, born around 1891, the only record I could confirm was that he left the Industrial School in 1907 and joined The Buffs (East Kent) Regiment as a Bandsman aged 16. He is recorded as having achieved the rank of Lance Corporal and gained the DCM for distinguished conduct as a stretcher bearer by June 1915.  Unfortunately he is wounded in the right arm and is discharged as medically unfit.  However he is given the opportunity to return to work at the Children’s Home, eventually becoming Bandmaster in 1917.  He goes on to marry and have two children.

Alexander McCarthy was admitted to the Industrial School in 1900. By 1907 he had made sufficient progress to enable him to enter for examination as a Pupil Teacher.  Although unsuccessful at that time, he went on to attend the Aberdare County School and was eventually apprenticed in 1908 as a Pupil Teacher.  In the 1911 census he is recorded as an Elementary School Teacher and in 1915 he attended St Mary’s College in Hammersmith, becoming Senior Prefect.  Later in 1915 he joined the Royal Fusiliers and in July 1916 saw action in the Battle of the Somme.  He was recommended for a Commission, due to excellent field service, as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers, but was killed in action on 23rd August 1918.

The full text of the roll of honour research is accessible on the First World War pages of the Glamorgan Archives website:

Although I have found as much information as it is possible at this time, the research is far from complete. If anyone recognises a possible ancestor amongst the names on the roll of honour and is able to fill in any missing details, please contact the Glamorgan Archives as we would love to hear from you.

Rosemary Nicholson

The Aussies from Cardiff

ANZAC day on 25th April commemorates the sacrifices of the Australian and New Zealand servicemen and women killed in military operations. It was first marked in 25 April 1916, exactly one year after Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on the Gallipoli peninsular as part of an Allied offensive to open the Dardanelles to allied navies. Throughout this period the Australians and New Zealanders fought with great bravery. Australian casualties numbered 26,000 of which 8,000 were killed in action or died of wounds or disease. Gallipoli became a symbol of the courage and heroism of the ANZAC soldiers. However, it was also a grim reminder of the many servicemen and women killed and wounded during the First World War.

Many men from Wales fought with the Royal Navy and British Army during the 8 month campaign at Gallipoli. The heroism of those who took part in the landings at Cape Helles in April 1915 and Suvla Bay in August of the same year was recorded in the press at the time and has been detailed in subsequent accounts of the Gallipoli campaign. However, less is known about the Welshmen who fought and died with the Australian Army at Gallipoli and later in France. Records held at Glamorgan Archives provide an insight into the stories of young men from Cardiff who, having emigrated to Australia in the pre-war years, volunteered for military service with the Australian Army. ‘The Roath Road Roamer’, published from 1914-19 by the Roath Road Wesleyan Church tracked, through letters and photographs, the war service of 460 men and 19 women from Cardiff. It was produced monthly, distributed locally and sent overseas. ‘The Roamer’ identified and followed the fortunes of a number of young men from Cardiff who joined the Australian Army. They included Wilfred Shute, William Lydiard, Charles Richards and John Albert Guy from Cardiff who all fought in France. In addition, ‘The Roamer’ also tells us of two young men, William Poyner and Fred Salmoni, who fought and died with the Australian Army at Gallipoli.

Fred Salmoni was the son of William and Mary Salmoni of Elm Street, Cardiff. Although originally from Wells, the Salmoni family had lived in Cardiff for many years. William Salmoni was a self employed painter and decorator but his two sons worked at a local colliery  – the elder as a clerk and Fred as a “fitter’s helper”. William Poyner was born in Kidderminster and lived there for most of his life. Although most of his family worked as weavers in the carpet industry, William moved to Cardiff in 1911 and was employed, probably as a porter, at Cardiff railway station. While in Cardiff he attended the Roath Road Church and ‘The Roamer’ embraced him as ‘one of its own’. We know from ‘The Roamer’ that he received copies of the magazine while with the Australian Army in Egypt. In March 1915 ‘The Roamer’ included a photograph of William set against an outline of a map of Australia with the caption:

‘Private William Poyner emigrated to Australia from Mr H G Howell’s class two or three year ago. It is a great pleasure to us to know, that he is now in Egypt on his way to the Front to fight for the old Country, with the 1st Australian Division’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.5, p.8.

William Poyner

William Poyner had emigrated to Western Australia in 1912 and in the same year Fred Salmoni sailed for Brisbane in Queensland. Like many young men, at the time, they were no doubt attracted by the opportunities and adventure offered by a country that was growing rapidly and, in particular, the prospects for employment in mining and farming in western and northern Australia. However, within two years of their arrival war had been declared and, although conscription was not introduced in Australia, some 400,000 young Australians volunteered  for the armed forces – approximately 1 in 3 of those aged from 18-40 years. Fred Salmoni and William Poyner were amongst those who rushed to enlist once war was declared. In August 1914 both were single and aged 21. William was as a railway worker, living at Midland, a key railway junction on the outskirts of Perth. Fred was a labourer and working In Brisbane. Such was the rush to join the colours that the Australian Army was able to insist on rigorous standards and as single, fit and healthy young men, both would have fitted the bill perfectly. In particular, William’s previous military experience with the 7th Worcesters would have been seen as a bonus. Fred enlisted in Brisbane with the 15th Battalion of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade. William Poyner joined up at Blackboy Hill, the training camp in the foothills of the Darling Range outside Perth established as the base for the 11th Battalion of the Australian 3rd Infantry Brigade. After basic training they left Fremantle on board ship for Alexandria on 2 November 1915. The troops were in high spirits and had smuggled on board as mascots 4 kangaroos and a cockatoo for the journey to Alexandria. After 5 weeks at sea, that included a skirmish with the German cruiser, Emden, which ran aground after being shelled by one of their escorts, they landed in Egypt and set up camp close to Cairo. The official record of their time in Egypt includes a photograph of the 11th Battalion – 1000 strong – in front of a pyramid. However, unofficially, although they trained hard in the heat of the desert by day, the stories of the Australians ‘lighting up’ Cairo by night were legion and included tales of panic amongst the locals on their first sighting of the kangaroos.

It was anticipated that their next destination would be England, with the opportunity for those born in Britain, almost a third of the 11th Battalion, to catch up with friends and family. So it would have been with surprise that Fred and William would have discovered on leaving Egypt that they were bound for the Greek island of Lemnos in preparation for the assault on the Dardanelles. The attempt to use the guns of the British and French fleets to subdue the Turkish defences had failed and it was decided landings would be made at two points on the peninsula. Fred and William were both in the early waves of the landings at ANZAC Cove on 25th April. Against enormous odds they secured the beachhead and made some progress inland before being held by the Turkish defences. However, the progress made was at enormous cost. Fred Salmoni died on the second day of the landings on 26 April at what came to be known as “Shrapnel Valley”.  William Poyner was reported as killed in action on 2 May. It is likely that his body was never recovered although his death is now marked at the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Lone Pine. An indication of the ferocity of the fighting and the numbers of those killed and wounded was given by the head count taken of William Poyner’s Battalion on 5 May while still under heavy fire. Of the 1000 men that had landed on 25 April, 435 were dead, wounded or missing.

‘The Roamer’ reported:

Poyner and Salmoni

‘Two of our brave fellows have fallen. By a strange coincidence both left Cardiff, three or four years ago for Australia, both joined Australian contingents when war broke out and hastened back at the call of the Motherland. Both were sent to the Dardanelles and both have fallen on the field of battle. Private Will Poyner of Mr H G Howell’s class and Lance Corporal Fred S Salmoni an old member of the 14th Cardiff Company of the Boys’ Brigade. May God comfort those who mourn their loss today. The last time we heard from our old friend Will Poyner was on the 2nd June when he asked us to forward the Roamer containing his photo to his mother who lives in Kidderminster. She had it the next day. He wrote how pleased he was with the photo that he was ‘going on very well and in the best of health, so that’s everything’. And today he is in the presence of the King’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.10, p.8.

The letter received by ‘The Roamer’ on 2nd June was probably written while William Poyner was en route to Gallipoli. His personal effects, passed to his mother in Kidderminster, were limited to cards, a match box, handkerchief and a stone. However, although he had left some years ago, he had kept up his links with friends in Cardiff . In his will, of the £40 that he asked his mother to disperse, £30 was passed to Mabel Major of Broadway, Roath. ‘The Roamer’ did not provide any clues as to the connection with the Major family. Possibly William lodged with the family while working in Cardiff or he may have met Mable though the Roath Road Church. If anyone can help in adding to this story we would be interested to hear.

‘The Roamer’ did, however, provide further insight into the fighting at Gallipoli through the letters from the many Cardiff men who fought with the Royal Navy and British regiments during the course of the campaign. The experience of Arthur James, a Cardiff docker before the war and fighting with the Hawke Battalion of the 1st Royal Naval Brigade was typical:

‘I have had a terrible time. All my chums killed and wounded …. Nearly three months of fighting has knocked me up’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.10, p.6.

In a similar tone Archie McKinnon, of the Royal Engineers wrote to ‘The Roamer’ about the conditions in Gallipoli:

‘…when our lads are relieved from the trenches they only have dugouts to rest in. No billets of any sort are available and the whole of the land we occupy is subjected to shell fire’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.12, p.6.

John Hunt of the Royal Army Medical Corps wrote:

‘Collecting the wounded in a rough country like this is not exactly a picnic. All our transport is drawn by mules, they stand the hot climate better than horses. Very little Ambulance transport is done owing to the hills and that there are no roads. This means a lot of stretcher work for bearers’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.14, p.5.

Despite the ferocity of the fighting there was a great deal of respect for the Turkish defenders – both for their fighting qualities and their humanity. Will Dance of the 2nd Welsh Field Ambulance, RAMC wrote:

‘We have been under fire about 19 days now….The Turks do not wilfully fire on the Red Cross and I can honestly tell you that… they are out and out gentlemen… We are expecting the War in the Dardanelles to finish anytime now they are whacked to the world, so it is only a matter of time’  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.12, p.6.

Will Dance’s optimism was not well placed for at the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated. The plans to open the Dardanelles to the Allied navies were abandoned and the campaign, despite the heroism of the troops, was seen as an expensive failure. Perhaps the last word should go to one of the many Aussies who arrived in Cardiff to receive treatment for their wounds at the 3rd Western Hospital, Howard Gardens, Cardiff.  Many, including Harry Sketcher-Baker, had fought at Gallipoli in 1915. In an autograph book kept by Emily Connell, a Nursing Sister at the Hospital (held at the Glamorgan Archives) he added a poem that would have been well known amongst troops and especially the Australians who went into action for the first time at Gallipoli in 1915:


‘The lad stood on the troop ship And gazed across the sea And wondered what his home would be Ruled under Germany. Now everything went lovely While out upon the sea Till we were brought to anchor Out off Gallipoli’.  Autograph Book of Nurse Emily Connell, p.24

‘The Roath Road Roamer’ went on to record of the experiences of many more Aussies from Roath during the First World War who fought in France with the Australian Army. If you want to know more about the experiences of men and women from the Roath area of Cardiff who fought 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