Tag Archives: WW1

U-boat off Llandudno

1 May

It was cold and damp on the evening of August 16 1915 when Walter Wood, accountant to the Llandudno Urban Council, left the town’s County Club.  Outside, he was buttoning his coat up against the weather when a soldier approached him, offered him a polite greeting and started walking with him down Lloyd Street.  Fearing that he was going to be the victim of a robbery, the accountant turned and ran back to the building in which he had spent the evening.  He burst into the lobby followed by half a dozen soldiers, excitedly, shouting “We’ve got him; we’ve got him”. 

For two days hundreds of soldiers had been searching for three German prisoners of war who had escaped from a camp in Llansannan.  Dyffryn Aled had been requisitioned in 1914 to accommodate captured German officers and while interned there, Lieutenant-Commander Hermann Tholens and Captain Heinrich von Hennig hatched a plan to escape and rendezvous with a German submarine off the Great Orme.  On the night of August 13 1915, along with Captain Hans von Heldorf, they forced their way through the barred windows of the 18th century mansion and walked the twenty miles to Llandudno.  Confident that they would not be missed until the camp’s morning roll call, the three enjoyed a meal in a café before hiding for the day. 

At dusk the three Germans left their hideout and tried to scramble down the cliffs below the Great Orme’s lighthouse.  In the dark waters below a submarine moved towards them waiting for a signal which never came as the officers failed to find their way down to the beach.  All was not lost for the three, however, as the plan was for the U-boat to rendezvous at the same position for three consecutive nights.  The following night Tholens, von Hennig and von Heldorf made it to the foot of the Orme but failed to make contact with the submarine and assumed, wrongly, that it was not coming.  It turned out to be just a few hundred yards away, their view of each other blocked by a limestone buttress.

Dejected, cold and hungry the Germans decided to walk into Llandudno, split up, and try and get a train to London.  After buying a packet of cigarettes, Tholens went into a café in Mostyn Street where waitress, Nellie Hughes, served him a cup of coffee and piece of cake.  He left the coffee bar and outside the Tudno Hotel was approached by Police Constable Morris Williams who asked his identity, the German replied “I am a Lieutenant-Commander in the German Navy, I am one of the officers who escaped from the camp at Denbigh.  I want to be arrested”. Williams escorted him to the police station.

Unable to locate the other two fugitives the authorities staked out the railway station but no men matching the descriptions entered the concourse.  To be sure the London-bound train was stopped at Colwyn Bay and every compartment searched but to no avail as von Hennig and von Heldorf had just entered the offices of the Silver Motor Company in Llandudno.  They asked for a car but when staff tried engaging them in conversation the Germans departed abruptly. 

That evening, around the same time the innocent council accountant was being harangued, cab driver, Alfred Davies was on his way to pick up a fare from the Pier Pavilion. He noticed two men standing under an ornamental lamp in North Parade in the pouring rain.  He pulled over and asked if they needed a cab and understanding that they did, he opened the door for them and they climbed in. In broken English they asked to be taken “to the colonel” so he took them to the headquarters of the London Welsh battalion who were billeted in Gloddaeth Street. The following day all three were taken back to the camp in Llansannan in an ambulance belonging to the London Welsh, and they subsequently each served three months in Chelmsford Jail for the attempted escape.

Elias Henry Jones

26 Jan

Overlooking the Menai Straits in Bangor is the imposing house – Menaidale – the home of Elias Henry Jones a twentieth century soldier, author and academic. Eldest son of Sir Henry Jones he was born in Aberystwyth in September 1883 and was educated at Glanadda Infants School in Bangor and Llangernyw Village School before attending Glasgow High School when his father was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy at the City’s university.  Elias continued his education at the Universities of Glasgow, Grenoble and Oxford.

He was a brilliant student and at the age of 21 successfully passed the Indian Civil Service examination and from 1906 to 1915 held various district appointments in Burma.  At the outbreak of the First World War he served in an artillery regiment in Mesopotamia, at first in the ranks and then later as a commissioned officer.

He was captured at the surrender of Kut-el-Amara and was taken Prisoner of War in Anatolia, Turkey and force marched 700 miles to a camp at Yozgad. The story of his captivity is told in his book “The Road to En-dor” where he described how along with Lieutenant C.W. Hill (an Australian serving in the R.A.F.) their escape. Duty-bound as officers to attempt escape, Jones sensed that what had previously been the harmless fun of fooling around with a homemade Ouija board could be turned into something much more productive. Playing on the naive nature of their captors, Hill and Jones weaved an incredibly elaborate plot and hatched a plan to escape.  Acting as mediums for the Ouija board, they attempted to convince their captors that they could reveal the whereabouts of buried treasure on the Mediterranean coast, once there, they planned to abscond to Cyprus. Although the original plan failed, Jones and Hill decided to persist with the ruse of insanity to gain repatriation on medical grounds. They succeeded (although a fake suicide attempt by Elias Jones nearly cost him his life) and they were approved for a prisoner exchange and arrived back in Britain a couple of months before the end of the war.

In 1919, while on military sick leave, he became secretary to Lord Curzon on the ‘Middle East Committee’ of which Winston Churchill was also a member. Later he returned to Burma where he became Commissioner of Excise and Secretary to the Departments of Education, Public Health and Local Government. He was also a member of the Burma Legislative Council.

In April 1922 he came to live at Menai Dale with his wife, Mair, and four children before returning to Burma the very next day.  His daughter recalled him walking out of the front door while her Mother played “the tune from ‘Rusticana’ which was their tune” on the piano.

In 1924, Jones retired from the Indian Civil Service, and came back to Bangor to be with his family and occupied himself with public work. Elias Henry Jones was a keen fisherman and a good shot and enjoyed nothing more than fishing and shooting in the Lake District and Snowdonia with his sons. Elected to Bangor town council in 1928, in the same year he was also appointed a member of the Councils of both the University of Wales and the University of North Wales and acted as a tutor in Economics and Political Science at Coleg Harlech.

In 1933 he became Secretary and Registrar to the University College of North Wales even though he was already serving on over sixty committees connected with voluntary public work.  He became ill in November 1940, four months after his son Arthur had been killed in action in the Second World War.

Just before his death in December 1942 he stated “that there should be no flowers and no fuss” and that those who would have sent wreaths should “save their money for Coleg Harlech to make the path easier for some poor lad”. He died at Runwell Hospital in Essex after a long illness aged 59 years.

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