Tag Archives: Home Front

Llandudno Solicitor wins Wimbledon

28 Jun

James Cecil Parke is still widely regarded as Ireland’s greatest sportsman but was also a decorated soldier, gold medallist of the Irish Law Society and prominent leader in the local Scout movement.

He was born in Clones, County Monaghan in 1881 and was an all-round sportsman excelling at golf, cricket, rugby and tennis.  While studying Law at Trinity College, Dublin he was first capped for Ireland in rugby going on to captain his country.  As a tennis player he won many major tournaments including an Olympic silver medal in 1908; the Australian men’s singles and doubles titles and the Wimbledon mixed doubles title in 1914.  He also represented Britain in the Davis Cup, helping to win the trophy in 1912 by beating Australasia.

At the outbreak of World War One he volunteered to join the Leinster Regiment and was wounded at Gallipoli in 1915.  Later he was transferred to the Essex Regiment and attained the rank of Major.  He returned to France where he was wounded for a second time and was mentioned in despatches for his war work.

In 1920 he came to Llandudno and joined the practice of Messrs Chamberlain and Johnson. His love of sport continued and he was instrumental in the setting up of the tennis courts in Craig y Don.  He was chairman of the North Wales Golf Club at West Shore  and an avid supporter of the Scout movement being both the Local Commissioner and Secretary of the Llandudno Association. He died suddenly after collapsing on Mostyn Street.

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Traces of war in the Ogwen Valley

3 Feb

Yesterday’s snow in Snowdonia meant that the already beautiful Ogwen Valley was even more stunning (if a little cold!).

In the spring and summer of 1940, ‘stop lines’ were built all over the United Kingdom to repel, or at least slow down, a German invasion. The North Wales defences were especially important as the British were worried that the German invasion force would use ‘neutral’ Southern Ireland as a ‘stepping stone’ when trying to invade.

In the Nant Ffrancon and Ogwen Valley areas of North Wales evidence of anti-tank fortifications are still visible today. The ‘dragon’s teeth’ were built of local stone at the head of the Nant Ffrancon while various spigot mortar emplacements can be found around Ogwen Cottage. A number of pill-boxes are also evident in the Ogwen Valley and also around Capel Curig. The weather today was a reminder how cold it would have been to man these defences 75 years ago.

Llanfairfechan aviator – Captain Val Baker.

4 Jan

Captain Valentine Baker was the youngest son of Mr and Mrs J M Baker of Grove Cottage, Llanfairfechan. His father was for many years agent on the Gorddinog Estate, a large estate near Abergwyngregyn owned by the Platt family. Val was educated at Llanfairfechan National School before being sent to a private school in Bangor. On leaving school he worked as a clerk for Lloyds Bank at both the Bangor and Caernarfon branches. His elder brother, Horace, also worked for Lloyds and was for many years manager of the Llanfairfechan branch.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Baker enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Armoured Car Section and was a despatch rider, serving in Gallipoli.  During this campaign he was shot in the neck, invalided out of the Royal Navy and sent back to Llanfairfechan.  The bullet was never removed and remained lodged near his spinal cord for the rest of his life.  After three weeks recuperating he decided to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and after a period of training was posted abroad.  On the morning of departure, Baker learnt that he had been accepted into the Royal Flying Corps. Flying was his forte, he felt safe in the air, once telling a friend “the higher the safer”. While serving in the Royal Flying Corps he was awarded the Airforce Flying Cross to go with the Military Cross he had been awarded earlier in the war.  In 1916, Baker married Llanfairfechan girl, Dilys Eames, with whom they had one son, Denys Val Baker, the famous Cornish author.

After the First World War he was given a job with the Air Ministry in Whitehall in the Secret Codes Department. He left this post in 1921 to continue his flying career taking a job with Vickers Limited which took him to Java in the Dutch East Indies and also Chile. He returned to the UK and founded the famous flying school at Heston Aerodrome where he taught luminaries such as Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), his brother Prince George, Duke of Kent and Amy Johnson – the pioneering female aviator – to fly.

When teaching he was a tough task master who demanded implicit obedience from his pupils, “I don’t care two hoots,” he once said, “whether they are titled folk or just Tom, Dick or Harry”.

In 1934, Baker left Heston to join his friend, James Martin, and founded the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company, where Baker was the company’s test pilot. During a test flight of the Martin-Baker MB 3 prototype, the engine seized and he was forced into an emergency landing, during which the aircraft struck a tree stump and caught fire. He died on September 14, 1942 aged 54 and is buried at Denham close to the Martin-Baker factory.

Llandudno and the Belgian Soldiers

4 Jun

Besides the thousands of British soldiers who were billeted in Llandudno during the First World War there were also a small number of Belgian infantrymen in the town – staying here for a very different reason.

In the days before the outbreak of the war the German government demanded that her armies be allowed free passage through Belgium to reach France.  These requests were refused, Belgian neutrality was ignored and when Germany did invade it brought Britain into the war as she was bound by an 1839 agreement to protect Belgium.  The Belgian army put up stubborn resistance and held up the German offensive for nearly a month even though her army was only around a tenth of the size of the German army. However it came at a great cost to the Belgian people – thousands of civilians and soldiers were killed or wounded and more than 250 000 fled seeking refuge in Britain.

In October 1914 a train carrying 80 wounded Belgian soldiers steamed slowly into Llandudno railway station, greeted by a large crowd of cheering well-wishers.  The injured soldiers waved back, their tin helmets aloft in appreciation, as they made their way from the carriages to the charabancs which waited to convey them to Lady Forester’s convalescent home (now Blind Veterans).  Lady Forester’s opened in 1902 and at the outset of the First World War was put at the disposal of the military authorities.

One Belgian soldier recuperating at Lady Forester’s was actually no more than a child.  A couple of months earlier Nestor Swille was a carefree schoolboy in Brussels, but by the time he arrived in Llandudno he was a battle scarred warrior.  At thirteen years of age he was probably one of the youngest to fight the Germans, for Nestor ran away from his parent’s home with the intention of ‘doing his bit’ for his country. 

Hector Swille joined the 11th Infantry Regiment and was given a rifle, a bicycle, a helmet and the job of messenger.  Through the summer of 1914 the teenager rode his machine without incident but at Haacht his luck changed and he was wounded by an enemy shell close to the frontline.  Knocked unconscious from the force of the blast, blinded when the bottle of disinfectant in his dispatch case exploded and, blood-soaked from the shrapnel wounds, he lay there until a fellow Belgian soldier came to his aid.   Badly injured, young Nestor still ensured that the message was delivered to its recipient by another dispatch rider before being taken to a hospital in Antwerp and then onto Llandudno.

The fate of Nestor Swille is unknown, but it is unlikely that he would have been allowed to return to the front-line because of his age.

Lady Forester’s was one of half a dozen buildings in Llandudno requisitioned by either the military or the Red Cross for use as hospitals during the First World War.  Plas Tudno on Church Walks was used as a Red Cross hospital for injured British servicemen.  In 1915 there was a demonstration outside the hospital when it was discovered that a porter employed there was a German national.  The soldiers insisted that Robert Hempel should be dismissed immediately and the following night the police arrested him and he was taken to an internee camp near Queensferry.

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French Badge?

8 Feb

French Badge?

Picked up this badge in New Zealand a few years ago for a few dollars. Would love to be able to find out a bit more about it. Wondering if it might be French as it has the Cross of Lorraine in the centre which was the symbol used by the Free French forces during the Second World War. The ‘FL’ could stand for Francais Libres and then there is the date!

Gibson Girl Box Kite

2 Feb

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Been busy adding new exhibits to the museum this week, one item is this Gibson Girl kite.  During the Second World War, British bombers of the Royal Air Force were equipped with survival equipment to aid the recovery of the crew if they ended up in the sea.  One of the items was a hand cranked radio and in order to optimise the signal this kite was issued to get the aerial into the air.  It folded down into a pouch, was lightweight and bright yellow in colour.

Amongst the air crew of Bomber Command it became known as the ‘Gibson Girl’ because of its shape.  American aircrew had been issued with these box kites earlier in the war and it was probably they who coined the phrase ‘Gibson Girl’.  Charles Gibson was an American illustrator in the early twentieth century and drew what he saw as the “ideal of an American beauty” –a lady with an hour glass figure.

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Chum the Airedale

25 Jan

Chum the Airedale

Mrs Marjory French was trapped in an Anderson shelter at her home in Purley, London, after a high explosive bomb had destroyed her house. The first signs of rescue came when two large paws were digging fast and furiously at the rubble around the air raid shelter. Her rescuer was Chum, an Airedale Terrier, owned by her next door neighbour. He excavated an opening large enough for Mrs French to get through, seized her by grabbing her dress in his jaws, and dragged her out. Mrs French recalled that Chum was about to make off “with-out even waiting for a pat”. She later reported the incident to Our Dumb Friends’ League (later became the Blue Cross) which presented him with its special medal for canine bravery on January 25th 1941.