Today is Remembrance Sunday and while I don’t have any relations who were killed during conflict I do have ancestors who served in World Wars 1 and 2. The one we know a fair bit about is Great Uncle Stanley Kelly who was Mum’s Uncle and served in WW1.
Stanley was born in 1896 in Cwmbran (South Wales) and was one of 12 children to George and Eliza Kelly. Searching the census records shows the family living around the Cwmbran area, specifically Llantarnam. By 1911 they had moved further into the centre of Cwmbran. He attended the local schools and his education was helped along with two elder sisters being teachers. The 1911 census records Stanley as being 15 years old and an apprentice worker in the local Nut and Bolt factory.
His medals card records he entered the theatre of war on 17 July 1915, aged 19, and was headed to France. He joined the Army with the South Wales Borderers (Brecon) and served with the 6th Battalion.* see end of post for history of 6th Battalion.
He was awarded a number of medals and emblems which have been handed down until Mum and myself had a lovely day out at the South Wales Borderers Museum in Brecon to gift the medals and citations to them. His medals were:
- 1914/15 Star
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal with 2 oakleaves
- He was also awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre
- We also handed over his commission parchment
- Mentioned in Despatches parchment Nov 1918
- Croix de Guerre parchment.
He survived the War but his experiences haunted him so much he emigrated to Canada with his wife on June 24th, 1940 on the “Duchess of Bedford” with Canadian Pacific. They embarked at Liverpool bound for Quebec and Montreal. Stanley was 44 and his wife Jessie was 43.
DUCHESS OF BEDFORD / EMPRESS OF FRANCE 1928
was built by John Brown & Co Ltd, Glasgow in 1928 for Canadian Pacific SS Ltd. She was a 20,123 gross ton ship, length 601ft x beam 75.2ft, two funnels, two masts, twin screw and a speed of 18 knots. There was passenger accommodation for 580-cabin, 480-tourist and 510-3rd class. Launched on 24/1/1928 by Mrs Stanley Baldwin, the wife of the British prime minister, she sailed from Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Quebec and Montreal on 1/6/1928. On her second westbound crossing, she set a new record of six days, nine and a half hours from Liverpool to Montreal. In July 1933 she was in collision with an iceberg in Belle Isle Strait, but sustained only slight damage. Five days before the declaration of war in 1939, she was chartered for a trooping voyage to Bombay, and on 5/1/1940 resumed Liverpool – St John NB – Halifax voyages, being used on the Eastbound crossings to ferry Canadian troops to Britain. In August 1940 she commenced the first of three voyages to Suez via Freetown and Cape Town. In November 1941 she left Liverpool on a 5 month voyage which took her to Singapore with 4000 Indian troops and 40 nurses. Arriving at the end of January 1942, she embarked 875 women and children for evacuation to Batavia, Java. Although attacked on several occasions, she was not seriously damaged, and arrived at Liverpool on 2/4/1942. After two trips to Cape Town, she sailed from Liverpool for Boston on 7/8/1942 and on 9th August, sighted a U-Boat and sank her by gunfire. She was later used in the North African landings and shot down an enemy aircraft in November 1943. Later used in the Sicily and Salerno landings and various trooping voyages, and prisoner of war repatriations. On 3/3/1947 she arrived at Glasgow to be refitted to carry 400-1st and 300-tourist class passengers, her speed increased to 20 knots, and was renamed EMPRESS OF FRANCE in October 1947. She resumed Liverpool – Quebec – Montreal sailings on 1/9/1948 and in 1958 was fitted with new streamlined funnels and her accommodation altered to carry 218-1st and 482-tourist class passengers. She started her last Montreal – Liverpool crossing on 30/11/1960 having made 310 round voyages on the North Atlantic, and on 19/12/1960 sailed from Liverpool for Newport, Monmouthshire where she was scrapped. [North Atlantic Seaway by N.R.P.Bonsor, vol.3,p.1317-18] [Canadian Pacific – 100 years by George Musk]
Stanley and Jessie stayed in Canada for the duration of the War but returned to Wales when he retired as he missed the country. My aunt corresponded with Stanley and his brother George (who also emigrated to Canada) but this link was lost when my aunt passed away.
Sadly I’ve hit an impasse with Stanley and Jessie. I can’t get any information from the Canadian authorities so I have no idea where they went once they reached Canada. I can only assume they lived with George and Nella Kelly until they found a place of their own. All we have are some great photos.
And while my family was fortunate in having ancestors who lived through World conflicts without loss of life others were not so fortunate. My husband’s Uncle was one such person. Leslie Barker signed up for duty and served in the Royal Artillery. He was there at the Fall of Singapore, captured and on a Prison of War ship en route to Japan when the ship was torpedoed and sunk by an American submarine. Unfortunately he didn’t survive. Time hasn’t healed the grief and bitterness his sister still feels.
I wear a poppy on Armistice Day, I willingly pay my respects with the two minute silence. I remember the human factor in conflicts, the human loss of life and the awful events humans had to endure. I remember why we remember.
*The 6th Battalion was formed in September 1914 and went to France a year later as the Pioneer Battalion of the 25th Division. They spent the winter in the Armentieres sector doing heavy work in the flooded trenches. The following is an extract from the South Wales Borderer’s Museum Fact Sheet (6 May 1997):
“In the spring of 1916 the Battalion was in the line at Vimy and Neuville St. Vaast, where two companies did fine work consolidating the craters of mines blown under the German line. They were persistently shelled, and at times had to break off their work to repel an attack, but eventually handed over a thoroughly well organised position to the relieving infantry. This exploit was rewarded with two MCs, and five MMs.
In the great Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916 the Battalion was continuously employed. On one occasion they carried out a magnificent piece of Pioneer work by digging 736 yards of communication trench from one captured trench to another (the Regina Trench) under heavy shell fire. Only good discipline and a fine spirit could have accomplished this task, and the Battalion was deservedly complimented upon it.
Their next major engagement was at Messines in July 1917. Throughout April and May they were hard at work preparing for the battle, making communication trenches, tramways and roads and building a bridge for tanks over the River Douve. In the attack on 7th June in which the 5th Battalion in the 19th Division also took part, the 25th Division captured all their objectives. By the evening, two companies of the 6th had constructed 400yards of trench tramway through the captured area and two others had opened a road to within 300 yards of Messines, all in spite of continued hostile shelling and machine gun fire. By 15th June, when they were relieved, they had suffered over 100 casualties.
Moved further north for the Third Battle of Ypres the 25th Division early in August relieved the 8th Division after the latter had been held up in its attack on the Westhoek Ridge. The combination of bombardment and rain had reduced the trenches to a fearful state, the mud thigh deep in places and movement impossible. Added to this the working parties were shelled by artillery and machine-gunned by aircraft. Eventually, on 10th August 1916, the 25th Division took the ridge, B Company of the 6th doing splendid work in consolidation. Its runner was conspicuous for his gallantry. Though hit in one eye, besides being three times buried when taking a message back, he persisted in duly delivering it before getting his wounds attended to.
The winter of 1917 was spent in digging reserve lines and in March 1918, the 6th, like the 5th Battalion, found itself in the British Third Army, bearing the weight of the northern part of the great German drive on Amiens. This meant six days of hard digging and stubborn fighting, in which the high qualities of the Battalion were magnificently displayed. Moved up to the north after this trying experience the 6th, with the 5th and 2nd Battalions, met the full force of the new German offensive on the Lys, by which they sought to exploit the limited success gained in the drive on Amiens. On the 10th April, the Battalion lost 80 killed and 1oo wounded in a most gallant attack on Ploegsteert village. The attack failed, but the Germans were temporarily checked. One CSM took command when both leading company commanders were wounded, handling his men admirably, and carrying his company commander back to safety. He was awarded the DCM. Heavy fighting continued daily and by 15th April, when it was withdrawn, the 6th had suffered over 400 casualties in constant rearguard actions. Like the 5th Battalion it had shown that it could fight as well as dig and uphold the old traditions of the Twenty-Fourth.
With the 5th Battalion, the 6th shared the Battle Honour of “Aisne, 1918). Here the wearied Battalion had to undergo the pressure of another attack, and displayed in meeting it the same sterling qualities which had carried it through the Battle of the Lys. It cost it 250 casualties.
This was its last taste of infantry fighting, in the subsequent advance to victory in the summer and autumn of 1918 it was fully empoyed in repairing the communications, often in most difficult conditions and under heavy fire. The battalion was finally disbanded in the autumn of 1919″