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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

31 July 1917, Sergeant Rees Actions Won Him The Victoria Cross

On 31 July 1917, Sergeant Ivor Rees of the 38th Welsh Division, South Wales Borderers, stormed an enemy machine-gun position. His action won him the highest military award for gallantry in the face of the enemy – the Victoria Cross.

The citation that was published in the London Gazette on 14 September, read:
“At Pilckem, Belgium, on 31 July 1917, an enemy machine gun inflicted many casualties when it opened fire at close range. Sergeant Rees, leading his platoon, gradually worked his way round the right flank, by making short rushes, to the rear of the gun position. At 20 yards from the machine gun, Sergeant Rees rushed forward towards it, shooting one of the crew, and bayoneting the other. He bombed a large concrete emplacement, killing five of the enemy and taking 30 prisoners, including two officers and capturing a machine gun, undamaged.”

Ivor Rees was born in Felinfoel, Llanelli, in 1893. He joined up in 1914, leaving his job as a steelworker, and quickly rose up to the rank of sergeant. He survived the war and returned home to Llanelli, but was unemployed for some time. Eventually he found work with the local council, where he once again rose through the ranks and became a head of department.

In the Second World War he joined the Home Guard, serving as a Company Sergeant-Major.
Rees was a fairly common surname in the district, and the locals used to refer to Rees the Postman, Rees the Baker, and Rees the VC.

He died at Tyisha, Llanelli, on 12 March 1967, and was buried at Morriston Cemetery. He has memorials at Havard Chapel, Llanelli Town Hall, Brecon Cathedral, and there is now a garden, dedicated to his memory, in his home town.

His Victoria Cross is proudly on display at the The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh, Brecon (South Wales Borderers Collection).

By Medwyn Parry

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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The National Eisteddfod of Wales: Carmarthenshire, 1–9 August

The Maes looking splendid in preparation for next week’s event.
Next week, the Royal Commission will be joining other Welsh heritage bodies at this year’s National Eisteddfod in Llanelli. Throughout the week, staff will be on hand to answer enquiries and chat to visitors.  Come and visit us in heritage row (stand 601-603), where you will also find Cadw, the National Museum Wales, and Dyfed, & Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trusts. This year’s new exhibition will focus on the centenary of the First World War and the successful Britain from Above collaborative project. Highlights will include a talk by Dr Eurwyn Wiliam, Chairman of the Royal Commission, on Friday  8 August at 10.30am in Pabell y Cymdeithasau 2, on recent Commission discoveries in Dyfed: Darganfod hanes Dyfed: darganfyddiadau diweddar Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru ac eraill. A new collaborative quiz has been arranged by Cadw, with ten questions based on information easily retrievable from the stands of the four heritage bodies, with a prize of a year’s free family Cadw membership. Come along and have a try!

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Community Archaeologist works with YAC

I have been involved with the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) for a few years now as an assistant leader. The recent work and training I have been doing with the Royal Commission has allowed me to put all these skills into practice with YAC.

YAC is the only UK-wide club for young people aged up to 17 interested in archaeology. The club is run by the Council for British Archaeology; an educational charity working for over 65 years to promote ‘Archaeology for All’. YAC’s vision is for all young people to have opportunities to be inspired and excited by archaeology, and to empower them to help shape its future.

YAC was started 40 years ago in August 1972 by Dr Kate Pretty. Its name then was Young Rescue and it was the junior branch of RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust. Initially it was just going to be based in Cambridge but after publicity in The Times it was launched as a national club.

Last week I led a session for the Swansea YAC on oral histories and I thought you might like to see what we got up to.

I started the session with a presentation on Oral History, which included interview techniques and how to use the recording equipment. We then put this into practice by interviewing grandparents, parents and each other about growing up and living in Swansea.

In previous sessions we had been working on a First World War theme, which we then continued with in the second half of the session. I had brought in a First World War themed handling collection including letters, postcards and artefacts, which we scanned. I also brought in Ordnance Survey maps from the period and modern ones along with aerial photographs and they had a great time comparing everything. We finished the session by making poppy wreaths.

I’ve also been very busy preparing events for the Festival of Archaeology – you can find more details here:

By Sarahjayne Clements.

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Sites and Monuments with links to the Great War

As part of its work programmes in support of events commemorating the First World War the Royal Commission has been enhancing the National Monuments Record in respect of sites and monuments with links to the Great War. David Leighton and Medwyn Parry have been taking a closer look at rifle ranges. These were established in significant numbers from the mid-nineteenth century onwards as local volunteer militias and rifle associations were set up. Dozens have been identified across Wales, usually located in fairly remote places such as the fringe uplands above towns and villages, old industrial workings, estuaries, marshes and sand dunes, but also on farmland.

Dolgellau rifle range (NPRN 419815): view of the still-intact target winding gear behind the revetted target mound. Rising ground to the right, on the opposite side of the road, acted as the stop-butt. Established in the mid-1890s the range was upgraded to its present form a few years later. (image: DS2014_090_001)

The County Series Ordnance Survey maps, which started to appear after 1870, depict many of these sites. They typically show a target, or a line of targets, which were probably portable, at one end of a firing line with shooting positions marked at 100 yard intervals up to a distance of 1000 yards, though usually shorter. More complex examples might include a ‘marker’s hut’ or a ‘mantelet’, a protective screen or bunker to shelter the markers, and perhaps several separate firing lines. Shooting positions were usually shown as points but were sometimes depicted schematically as ‘box’ features, which might indicate a wooden stand or perhaps something more substantial such as an earthen mound, examples of which still survive. Firing lines were often directed so that naturally rising ground behind the targets (e.g. NPRN 413309) or even an old quarry face or spoil tip (419602) might act as the ‘stop-butt’ to catch bullets. Elsewhere, earthwork banks were raised (420199).

By the later nineteenth century local militias were being drawn into the regimental system and a degree of rationalisation of training grounds took place. Some ranges were already shown as ‘disused’ on first-edition Ordnance Survey maps, but some new sites were established and many others were redeveloped as technology moved on and more powerful rifles became available.

It was not just technical advances that lay behind new developments. Safety concerns also came to the fore. War Office guidelines in the 1890s led to changes at many ranges and the closure of others. Rifle ranges, particularly the undeveloped ones, could be dangerous places and accidents, even fatalities, were not uncommon despite the use of bugles and warning flags. Such incidents were widely reported. In 1902, for example, a schoolgirl was shot dead at the Presteigne range while collecting wimberries in woodland behind the targets (420175). The Llangollen range was condemned in 1903 after a soldier was badly wounded there (413317). Markers were especially vulnerable at the older ranges where mantelets and shelter huts were placed close to targets. In 1890 a marker at the Cardigan range on the Pentwd Marshes was shot through the hand while repairing a target (413338). At the Haverfordwest range in 1896 a marker was seriously hurt when a bullet entered both his thighs and ‘passed out at the other side’. Nonetheless, the report adds, ‘the bullet struck the target…..and was registered as an inner just below the bull’s eye’. The following year the range failed a safety review and an alternative location was found (518723).

Rifle mound at the 600-yard shooting position on the Caldicot rifle range (NPRN 419523); 1 metre scale. The range was probably established just before or during the First World War and remained fully operational until the mid-1990s. (image: DS2013_511_002)

An example of upgrading is the range on Merthyr Mawr Warren near Porthcawl (415721). This was initially set up in the 1880s, or thereabouts, possibly when an earlier range at nearby Candleston was closed down (420030). It was laid out conventionally with a line of targets, markers’ huts between them, and firing positions shown as lines of posts over 600 yards. This was described as an ‘old rifle range’ in 1899 but by 1904 it had been completely remodelled with the creation (on the same site) of more permanent structures. Local newspapers described the new range and its patent design in reports of its opening. Targets were now mounted on a winding mechanism. This was set into a slit trench and allowed targets to be raised and lowered behind a revetted linear mound, which sheltered the markers under a roofed, open gallery. Beyond the targets Cog-y-brain, a massive sand dune, acted as the stop-butt. Control rooms were also built with communication cables to each firing point. Shooting positions were marked by linear mounds, which also appear on maps. The range remained in use during the Second World War and after and although some refurbishment was likely the structures visible there now are much as they were during the First World War. In developed ranges like this the massive nature of the earthworks, and their marginal locations, mean that many ranges – though long out of use – can still be traced on the ground today.

Rifle ranges were not just training grounds. They were often also venues for public entertainment. Competitions were held regularly with spectator facilities provided, usually followed by prize-giving events, and were reported in the local press. But they could also be a source of friction in communities. An example is the range on Park Common near Machynlleth, now the town golf course. An early range here had gone out of use before 1887 but in 1900 a new one was built on the same alignment as the old one (420131). Correspondence and reports of local authority meetings (1900–04) reveal the conflict this created. Objections centred on the firing line crossing the road to Llanidloes and there was also a perceived threat to common rights. However, this was the time of the Boer War and local volunteer corps numbers had increased sharply generating considerable demand for a new range. Despite the controversy the range successfully opened when it was reported that ‘shooting mounds, flag-staffs, target mound, buildings etc’ were built. The range went on to have a long history of use, throughout both world wars. The target mound and its revetment wall are still visible today, they are converted into an equipment shed.

After the First World War the number of ranges declined as fewer, larger, more centralised sites were developed. Legislation since the Second World War curtailing the ownership and use of firearms accelerated this decline. But the structural features of many ranges survive in the modern landscape and are a reminder not only of the character of local military training in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but also of what was once a popular recreational and social activity.

By David Leighton

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Monday, 14 July 2014

Happy Birthday! Coflein is ten years old

On 13 July 2004 Alun Pugh, then the Welsh Assembly Minister for Culture, Sport and the Welsh Language, launched Coflein – the online database of the National Monuments Record of Wales. In his speech to an audience at Crickhowell House, the predecessor of the Senedd Building as the home of the Welsh Assembly, the Minister described the service and the ground-breaking SWISH (Shared Web Information Services for Heritage) partnership that brought it into being. This partnership, between the Welsh Royal Commission and its counterpart organisation in Scotland, still manages Coflein, as well as other services such as Historic Wales, and has been responsible for the site’s development over the past 10 years.

The original SWISH Team in 2004 responsible for developing Coflein. The photograph includes project managers and database developers from the Royal Commissions in Scotland and Wales.

As the online version of the database of the National Monument Record of Wales, Coflein provides access to its collections on the archaeology, historic architecture, industrial and maritime heritage of Wales. When it was launched information was available on 64,000 sites. In the intervening years, because of the Royal Commission’s ongoing recording, surveying and data enhancement work, this figure has risen to almost 110,000. The figure for the increase in access to digital resources from the archive is even more remarkable. At the launch in 2004 around 3000 images were accessible. In 2014 over 105,000 digital items are available, including scanned images, maps and manuscripts as well as digital photographs. This reflects the focus on digitisation in the Commission and the change in photographic practice over the past 10 years that means all our photography is now digital. Working practices ensure that material collected in the field is rapidly made available on Coflein.

Because of the ongoing nature of the SWISH partnership, the site has evolved over the past 10 years. In 2008 changes to the underlying technology and design of the front-end allowed a major refresh to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Commission. This was followed in 2011 by a revised mapping application that allowed integration of text and map-based queries. In 2012, direct searching of the catalogue was enabled, allowing users to gather information from specific collections or contributors, in addition to existing site-based querying. Further planned developments include integration of an enquiry and e-commerce system, and the inclusion of historic maps in the mapping application.

The new mapping application, launched in 2011, allows integrated map and text searching. The photograph, of St Anne’s Lighthouse in Pembrokeshire, is one of more than 105,000 digital items from the NMRW now available on Coflein.

Recently the technology behind Coflein has been developed to serve content to other websites. People’s Collection Wales, a website that aggregates material from heritage organisations, historical societies and individuals across Wales includes nearly 10,000 items served directly from Coflein. National Monument Record information can therefore be viewed alongside items from the National Library, National Museum and other contributors. The Britain from Above website uses material from the Aerofilms Collection of the National Monuments Record of Wales alongside similar material from collections in England and Scotland as part of a UK-wide project featuring aerial photographs from 1919 to 1953 from this unique collection. The SWISH partnership itself has also developed Historic Wales, a map-based website that gathers together records from holders of information from the historic environment across Wales, including Cadw, the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts and the National Museum Wales.

Direct catalogue searching has been possible since 2012. Material from the Aerofilms Collection has been used to populate the Britain from Above website alongside material from corresponding collections in England and Scotland.

The use of Coflein has grown steadily since its launch. In the last year there have been over a million page views and over 300,000 users. Feedback from users has usually been positive, and we have received lots of additional information about sites across the country, as well as a few corrections! If you’re a regular user, then thank you for using Coflein, if you’re not then why not give it a go!

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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Call for Volunteers in the Swansea Area!

Saturday 12 July, 2014

Sarahjayne Clements, the Royal Commission’s CBA Community Archaeologist, is looking for volunteers to interview for an oral histories project she is running in Swansea with the Young Archaeologist Club. They would like to record memories of the city and scan any old photographs that you might have. They are also interested in any First World War memories, photographs and memorabilia that you may have. If you are able to help with this community project, please contact  Tel: 07817575005.

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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Aerofilms: Britain from Above comes to Cardiff Airport

Francis Lewis Wills, pilot Jerry Shaw and Claude Friese-Greene in a DH9B biplane, July 1919
© English Heritage. Aerofilms Collection AFL03/Aerofilms/C12930.
From now – 7 November, 2014

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has a fascinating exhibition of historic images now on display at Cardiff Airport. Appropriately located in this modern busy airport, the Wales Aerofilms: Britain from Above exhibition draws on historic aerial images from across Wales. From this exhibition, throughout the airport, travellers will encounter breath-taking images drawn from the unique archive of the Aerofilms Collection, dating from 1919 to 2006. Set up in the early years of aviation, Aerofilms’ founders ─ daredevil veterans from the First World War ─ were pioneers of the air, establishing the world’s first commercial air photographic business. A collection of adventurers, showmen and aviation enthusiasts, the firm married the fledgling technology of flight to the discipline of photography. From the very start of operations, Aerofilms took photographs of virtually every settlement and landscape that it flew over. Acquired for the nation in 2007 by English Heritage and the Royal Commissions on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Scotland, and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the collection contains over one million images and presents an unparalleled picture of the changing face of Britain in the twentieth century.

In parallel with national exhibitions also being held in Edinburgh, Hendon and Birmingham, the Wales exhibition now being held at Cardiff Airport will include: an image-rich introduction to the Aerofilms Collection, a wide-ranging presentation on Cardiff Then and Now, and iconic photographs of Welsh sites, including the Edwardian castles that are now World Heritage Sites. Where possible period views have been matched with the Royal Commission’s modern aerial photographs to prompt reflection on the meaning and impact of change, place and memory.

Aerofilms attending a promotional event, National Aviation Day Display, 1930s
© English Heritage. Aerofilms Collection AFL03/Aerofilms/B5794.

Oystermouth Castle, Swansea, 1947
Oystermouth Castle was founded in c.1107. This photograph shows the castle overgrown and surrounded by allotments, presumably established for the war effort. The allotment gardens are still cultivated and the castle has been restored.
© Crown Copyright RCAHMW. WAW007664, NPRN: 94508

Cardiff Civic Centre, 1920
The fine Civic Centre buildings in Cathays Park, Cardiff, showing  the City Hall, the Law Courts, and  the National Museum, which was then under construction and did not open until 1927.
© Crown Copyright RCAHMW. WPW001008, NPRN: 401617

Cardiff Civic Centre, 2006
Cardiff’s fine Civic Centre at Cathays Park, with the university buildings, National Museum, City Hall, Law Courts and Government Offices, and with the Welsh National War Memorial at its centre.
© Crown Copyright RCAHMW. AP_2006_1824
Cardiff Arms Park, 1947
Cardiff Arms Park served as the Welsh National Rugby Stadium for nearly 30 years until 1997, but its rugby history dates back to 1881 when stands were first erected on the site.
© Crown Copyright RCAHMW. WAW005393, NPRN: 3064

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