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Bernard_Lewis

Neath and Briton Ferry in the First World War

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Bernard_Lewis

Firstly, I must declare a slight interest. I have met the author on several occasions to offer advice on my experience of the publishing process. In the event the author, Jonathan Skidmore, decided to self-publish his work to a high standard of production, rather higher than that offered by several 'mainstream' publishers. It is a substantial tome, measuring 310mm x 215mm and running to 386 pages. It is hardback and printed on glossy paper in black and white. 

 

Jonathan states that the book is the result of five years' of research and those who live in and around Neath and Briton Ferry (and some on the GWF) will be aware of his regular appeals for information on the fallen of the area. He has addressed the local antiquarian society and staged a photographic exhibition that was designed to stir a few memories in the minds of those who viewed it - in the hope that dusty family heirlooms would be dug out of drawers and cupboards. Leaflets and posters have appeared in numerous locations and many people have, in fact, come forward with information. Such was Jonathan's determination that none should be omitted that the book contains a loosely inserted 'page 221A' that tells the (late) story of Pte R.D. Rees, DCM of the RWF.

 

The work is largely a roll of honour. But it is actually much more than that. A brief outline of Neath and Briton Ferry in 1914 moves on to the successes and failures of local recruiting (Briton Ferry was viewed by some as being disinterested in the course of the war) and its effect on the local industries (primarily coal, steel and tinplate). Another chapter looks at anti-German riots (one incident at Neath required a police baton charge to dispel the crowd) as well as fundraising and medical facilities.

 

The history of the construction of the war memorials at Neath and Briton Ferry is recounted in detail before the effect of three battles (Chunuk Bair, Loos and, almost inevitably in a book dealing with Wales, Mametz Wood) are examined for their local impact. Also covered is the story of Captain Ernest Rollings, MC and Bar, famous as 'The Man Who Won the War' after he captured some important plans of the Hindenburg Line in August 1918. He was later made a Freeman of Neath. Cecil Redvers Griffiths was conscripted in 1918 but the Armistice was signed before he was able to proceed overseas. At the 1920 Olympic Games, he won a gold medal after running the first leg of the 400 yards relay. A blue plaque was unveiled in his honour at the Neath Sports Centre in June 2018. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas, GCB, KCMG, MVO gets a mention as having served at Jutland and also having sold to the Neath Corporation the land on which the war memorial stands.

 

There is a chapter detailing the men who were awarded gallantry medals and another on those who became POWs. 

 

The names of those on village memorials (Resolven, Cadoxton etc) are also explored and the lives of some who returned are also outlined.

 

The main part of the book (commencing at page 115) naturally provides pen portraits of every KIA that could be identified in Mr Skidmore's researches. The names (459 of them) on the Neath Memorial Gates cover six plaques, commencing with the casualties of the Royal Navy and ending with six men with a unit 'unknown' designation though the author has identified three of them. As is usual, the known background of each casualty is given as well as the circumstances of his death. There are numerous illustrations. 

 

As regards Briton Ferry, the surviving records of the 'Ferry Boys at the Front Fund' have been tabulated by the author. This lists all who are known to have served not just those who were KIA. Names, rank, address,units and employment details are recorded. One 'lad' who stood out was the indomitable George Best (no, not that one!) who had fought at Gingindhlovu in the 1879 Zulu War as well as the Boer War of 1899-1902. As the book tells us: '...at a spritely fifty-six years of age he was sent to France with the 6th Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers' having fibbed about his age! He served at the Front for two years before being 'discovered' and sent home. Undeterred, he re-enlisted in 1918 but into the ASC. When the time came to unveil the Briton Ferry war memorial a request to FM The Earl Haig was politely declined and it fell to former Sgt George Best to proudly perform the honours!

 

This is undoubtedly the best book of its kind that I have seen. The research has been exhaustive, the writing style is good and the scope goes far beyond that of similar volumes. Production standards are high and I dread to think what the author has invested in it. At any event, priced at £25, a £5 donation is made to a local charity for every copy sold. The author is a member of the GWF:

 

Jonathan is username Cymro. PM him if you'd like a copy. 

 

Bernard

 

 

 

 

Edited by Bernard_Lewis

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Cymro

It's Cymro, Bernard - and thank you so much for such a positive review.  Yes, it's been six years of work actually, and such an uplifting experience. I've been in touch with literally hundreds of local families and they've been universally helpful, kind, and willing to scurry up to the loft or to contact distant relatives for original photos, letters and diaries. My dad was the local GP, mam the Welsh teacher and my grandfather the local Congregationalist  minister so its often been a question of renewing old friendships and being reminded of past events. History is so close to the surface.

 

There are over 400 original portrait photos of casualties and others that have not seen the light of day before, as well as a series of hitherto unpublished diaries including some incredibly descriptive entries on the battles o Loos and Mametz Wood by local men.

 

If any of the pals (or pals of pals) would like a copy, I have a number of copies left of the original run of 750 (most are sold), and will happily post out. Just drop me a message and we'll go from there.

 

Yours, exhausted!

Jon Skidmore

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Janie Zohrer

Found this just recently (Oct 2019) and wished that I had known about it all last year when the book was launched.  My father was born in Briton Ferry in 1911 -his father Capt J. Mckie was a ship's pilot for the port of Biton Ferry.  My grandmother as part of the  British Legion campaigned long and hard for pensions for war widows going up to Westminster to state her case!!  She was  awarded with the honour of unveiling the Briton Ferry war memorial and we still have the clock she was presented with bearing a small brass plaque thanking her for doing so. I hope this is of interest to you and ask where I can buy a copy of your book  which must be fascinating esp as it seems to cover Neath and Skewen as well as Briton Ferry.  My father married a Skewen 'girl' and worked in management in The Metal Box Co. In Neath.  Although they moved to Porthcawl where I was raised  I am well-aquainted with these areas and people.

 

Yours Sincerely

 

Janie Zohrer (nee Mckie).

 

PS

I note you now live in Vienna where I also used to live and work.  As you see I have an Austrian surname now!

 

 

 

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