Spectre of Passchendaele looms as Fronwen man becomes the county’s only VC

By Contributed Item in Local People

Porthcawl historian Ceri Joseph continues her look back on life in Porthcawl 100 years ago duing World War One – this time, it’s the month of July, 1917.

The month began with the sad news of the death of Gunner William John Deeble, Royal Horse Artillery, who had died at Norwich Hospital on 12th July 1917 as a result of gas poisoning sustained in France, a few weeks previously.

William was the second of eight children, born in 1883 to Annie and Richard Deeble, of 4, New Road, Porthcawl. In 1912, William had married Jane Turner, who was working as a domestic servant to Robert Rankin, builder, 7, Suffolk Place.

Following their marriage they moved to Barry, Jane’s hometown where in 1913, their daughter Olive was born, followed by Iris in 1916. William is buried in Merthyr Dyfan Cemetery, Barry.

William was not the only Deeble from Porthcawl to serve in World War One. His brother James, a painter and decorator in the town, served for a short time with the Monmouthshire Regiment, before he was discharged on 2nd July 1917, suffering with a condition that severely affected his digestive system.

However, another brother Sidney, a former quarryman, having enlisted into the Royal Horse Artillery Reserve on 1st July 1910 at Port Talbot, was embodied into the RHA Regiment on 5th August 1914, the day after war was declared.

Throughout the next two years he served on the Home Front, then in August 1916, as Gunner Sidney Deeble, attached to the Royal Field Artillery, with another Porthcawlian, Corporal Harry Batters, he underwent training at Salisbury Plain.

Harry, unfortunately, suffered so severe an injury whilst training that he was discharged that same month. Sid, on the other hand, as part of the 58th Trench Mortar Battery, was posted, on 20th January 1917, to the Western Front where his unit saw action at Messines and Passchendaele.

Returning to ‘Blighty’ in April 1918, Sid was promoted to Corporal and transferred to the Labour Corps on 31st August 1918, from whence he was discharged on 30th April 1919.

Finally, there was another Deeble that served in the war. Miss Frances Deeble served with the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps. (WAAC) Formed in July 1917, the WAAC was organised into four units: cookery, mechanical, clerical and miscellaneous. The War Office had stated that any job given to a member of WAAC, had to result in a man being released for frontline duties.

On the Western Front, the month of July 1917 was taken up with preparations for an offensive in Flanders. Following the somewhat limited success of laying a significant number of mines under the German lines, preceding the ‘Big Push’ at Messines, it was decided to repeat the tactic at a place called Passchendaele.

Once again, within the ranks of the Royal Engineers were miners from south Wales, and the North East of England, who were employed in this extremely dangerous task. Many lost their lives in the execution of their duty, as did men from other units.

One such man was Corporal Albert Edward Ironside, attached to the ‘O’ Cable Section, Royal Engineers, who was killed on 22nd July 1917, whilst laying communication lines, preceding the battle. Albert, a farm labourer from Sunderland, married with one son, also, called Albert Edward, had enlisted in the RE prior to the war.

On 15th August he landed in France with the BEF and throughout the next three years would have been assigned to laying signal communications in various parts of the Western Front. In July 1917, his unit was assigned to laying cables in unsuitable terrain, fearing bombardment from German shelling, amidst the heavy rainfall in the weeks leading up to Passchendaele.

However, the Germans had changed tactics by July 1917. They allowed the enemy to cover an increasing amount of ground in the hope that they would lose momentum. Consequently, forward signal parties would often become involved in fighting.

Such evidence suggests that Corporal Ironside may have, therefore, been entrapped and died fighting. Corporal Albert Edward Ironside is buried in Dozinghem Cemetery, North East of Ypres and is the grandfather of Bridgend MP Mrs Madeleine Moon.

Chief Officer Angus Grant, Mercantile Marine was one of two lives lost, when his ship ‘Begona’ No 4 was torpedoed and sunk on 27th July, off Fastnet, by German Submarine U46, whilst sailing from Bona to Cork with a cargo of phosphates.

Angus, one of seven children was born on 14th November 1870 in Pencoed where his parents, Donald and Mary, ran the village Post Office.

When Angus was 14 years old he joined the Great Western Railway and worked on Pencoed Station, but on 7th June 1886, aged 15 years, he enlisted into the Merchant Service, eventually gaining his Master Mariner Certificate in March 1897 and a Certificate of Competency as an Extra Master Mariner, in June 1897.

At the time of his death Angus had served for 31 years in the Merchant Service. Angus never married and before his death had bought a house in Porthcawl, at 32, Esplanade Avenue. His sister Catherine Pyves (widow) continued to live there after he died.

The British military’s decision to mount an offensive in Flanders in July, was taken with the intention of taking the high ground at Passchendaele, pushing through the German 4th Army and then swinging northwards to the Belgian Coast; in an attempt to capture the German occupied ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge. Success would mean stopping the German U Boats from sinking British merchant ships, carrying essential supplies to our shores.

The offensive began on 31st July 1917 and lasted for four months; amidst heavy rainfall and treacherous mud. During the opening attack on Pilckem Ridge, two local men lost their lives.

Captain Ralph Picton Daniel, 17th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, born 1882, was one of 11 children born to Philip and Naomi Daniel, of Burry Port. In the 1901 Census, Ralph is working in Pembrey, as a cashier for a White Lead Works, yet in 1911 he is recorded as boarding in Abertillery working as a storekeeper for a colliery.

Commissioned into the RWF in March 1915, he was posted to France on 6th September 1916. In April 1917, he married Edith Williams in Brighton, who being only 17 years old was too young to be the beneficiary of Ralph’s will. At the time of his death his mother, Naomi, who had been born in Tythegston , had moved back to the area following his father Phillip’s death in 1899.

Naomi lived at 18, Fenton Place, Porthcawl where Ralph had visited the month before his death. Captain Daniel is buried at Artillery Wood Cemetery, Belgium, and is remembered on Porthcawl War Memorial.

However, the other local man who died on that first day was not a Porthcawlian, yet certainly deserves special mention. Corporal James Llewellyn Davies, 13th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, for ‘a conspicuous act of extreme bravery’ was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross; the highest award for bravery in the Commonwealth.

Corporal Davies was born at Fronwen, Ogmore Vale on 16th March 1886. A coalminer by trade, he married Elizabeth Richards in 1906 and they had three daughters and one son. On 12th October 1914, James enlisted into the Royal Garrison Artillery, transferring to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in June 1915.

Private Davies was promoted to the rank of Corporal 11 days before his death and still remains Bridgend county’s only recipient of the Victoria Cross.

On that day, along the same trench Ellis Humphreys Evans, pseudonym ‘Hedd Wyn,’ was also killed. His poem ‘Yr Arwr’, posthumously won him the Chair at the Eisteddfod at Birkenhead in September 1917.

In honour and respect for his memory the Bardic Chair was draped in a black cloth. Yet, very few people realise that it was a local Congregational Minister who won the Bardic Crown that year.

William Evans, Bardic name ‘Wil Ifan’ won with his poem ‘Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed.’ In 1925 the Reverend William Evans became the minister at Bridgend Congregational Church, (now the Phoenix Wine Bar) until the late 1950s.

Ceri Joseph.

Add Comment

Add Your Comment

You don't need an account to leave a comment

By posting your comment you agree to our T & C