On Thursday, 15th March 2018, another well-attended meeting of the Group heard Jane Kenney, Senior Archaeologist with the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, give a most interesting, illustrated talk entitled “The Home Front in World War 1”.
Dealing mainly with North Wales, she explained that the subject had been a project for Cadw, the historic environment service of the Welsh Government, involving the re-scheduling or listing of sites, after realising that there was a lack of archaeological knowledge about these. They took into account Military landscapes, lnfrastructure, Operations and Commemoration.
It was realised that civilians were important to the war effort and in the middle of the Great War the Germans sent rigid airships, called Zeppelins, over to target the populace of London and along the East Coast.
Many areas in North Wales had training areas for the armed forces, hospitals and convalescent homes for injured troops, munitions factories and billets for civilian workers.
BRONABER near Trawsfynydd. 8,000 acres here were set up for artillery training in 1906 for both regular soldiers and volunteers – and also horses. This was extended during the war, with tents and some permanent buildings. On the edge of the camp, shops, etc. developed, known locally as ‘Tin Town”.
CONWAY MORFA. This area was used for training for volunteers, mainly for local battalions from Wales and the North West of England. Evidence of the butts and rifle range are still to be seen.
DEGANWY. Engineer battalions were trained here, and evidence of the practice trenches can be seen on Maesdu Golf Course.
LLANFAES Anglesey. This was also a training camp for engineers and evidence of trenches remains, especially in some woodland, where they have never been filled in.
DOLGELLAU. Near Dolgellau is the best surviving rifle range, where an iron target frame still exists and part of a shelter wall for observers near the targets.
LLANDUDNO. 88-90 Mostyn Street, known to many as Payne’s Cafe Royal, was requisitioned by the Royal Welch Fusiliers, and other properties in the town and in Bangor were used as billets, bringing in welcome money for locals.
After training, many of the troops were sent to the Front and those who were injured were first treated in field hospitals, then sent back to Britain. Here they were mainly looked after by Red Cross nurses, and members of the VADs (the Voluntary Aid Detachments) often recruited from middle-class girls who had not previously worked at all. The Balmoral (former YMCA), Bodlondeb Castle, Red Court, Plas Tudno were mainly used for convalescence, as were the Edward Malam Home in Deganwy and Lady Forrester Home (now the Blind Veterans Home).
BANGOR. The site which later became St. David’s Hospital provided 200 beds, as did Penrhyn Cottage Hospital on Ffriddoedd Road (now Hillgrove School).
HOLYHEAD. Dame Jane Henrietta Adean gave the property now known as Stanley Sailors’ Hospital, built in 1871.
TREARDDUR BAY. Patients were treated at what became the Darien Hotel.
TREMADOG. Wern Manor, the home of the quarry-owning Greaves family, was given and it is thought that David Lloyd George’s daughter, Olwen, may have volunteered as a nurse.
CORWEN. Pale Hall was used as a convalescent home.
NANNAU. From February 1918 until May 1921, a specialist neurological hospital was set up to treat those suffering from shell-shock. This was for officers only.
David Lloyd George as Minister for Munitions established a factory for making shell cases at the Boston Lodge Foundry at Portmadoc, now used by the Ffestiniog Rly. Co. using many of the same lathes. The Vulcan Foundry at Caernarfon also made shell cases. Cases and explosives did not come together on site, but explosives were made at Cooke’s Explosives Factory at Penrhyndeudraeth, which was founded in 1865.
At WAUNFAWR was the Marconi Long Range Wireless Transmitter Station. By 1914 this had already established trans-Atlantic transmissions and, after 1918, was the first to transmit to Australia. The bases of the huge masts can still be seen, and the large transmitter house is still there. Marconi Hall served as accommodation and is now used by a climbing club. The Receiver Station was at Tywyn, near Aberdovey, where there is evidence of the receiving masts. The bungalows built for the staff are in use to-day.
By 1917 German U-boats were targeting the Merchant Navy under unrestricted warfare and were trying to starve Britain out of the war. The front line of the war at sea was now off the coast of Anglesey. Holyhead harbour was a focus for this with local trawlers and drifters searching for the submarines. The drifters used their drift nets as “indicator nets” to identify the positions of the underwater enemy.
The U-boats laid mines which were swept by boats, which only cleared them for a few days, before more were laid. The Hunting Flotilla was based at Holyhead, comprising HMS Patrol, 1 yacht, 6 old destroyers, 16 motor launches, 2 U.S. motor launches and 2 harbour vessels. Most were armed and carried depth charges. ln September 1918, the motor launches were refitted at Rowlands’ yard in Bangor (later Dickies), and the pier at Menai Bridge was requisitioned. These operations kept the U-boats submerged and the convoy system was then put in place with merchant ships escorted by the Royal Navy. They gathered at Holyhead, proceeded to Milford Haven and went on from there.
We were shown a photo of RMS Aquitania in “dazzle camouflage” when she was used as a troopship.
At LLANGEFNI (now Mona Airfield) the Royal Naval Air Service had hangars for airships used for aerial photography. Screens had to be built at the entrance to the hangars so that a side wind could not catch the airships as they were being manhandled out. ln 1915 a wireless station was set up at Llanelian, near Amlwch for both airships and patrol vessels. There was also another airfield somewhere near Bangor.
To end her talk on a slightly light-hearted note, Jane related that, after the war ended, an Airco DH6 training biplane flew under the Menai Suspension Bridge, and THOMAS ELMHIRST accepted a bet to do the same in an airship – and succeeded!
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