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Flying an unarmed plane, he attacked a Junkers bomber armed only with a flare pistol.


* LBERT PERRIMAN, a surveyor with a firm of architects in Newport, was typical of thousands of young Welshmen in August 1914.

Surrounded by hoardings portraying Lord Kitchener with pointed finger and a general air of patriotic support for the outbreak of war, he was "stirred by the call".

Along with others from all walks of life - labourers, miners, clerks, teachers, farm workers - he enlisted at the local recruiting office, joining the 11th Battalion of the South Wales Borderers.

After pledging to serve "King and Country", Perriman was given (literally) the King's shilling and told to rendezvous at the Newport cattle market in two weeks' time.

When he arrived, he was one of about a hundred others "being pushed around like cattle by drovers masquerading as sergeants".

The new recruits to the 11th Battalion then marched through the town "to the cheers of the crowd lining the streets en route to the railway".

In his diary, Perriman remembers that "we were being treated as national heroes".

And indeed "heroes" they were. All the more so, because the promise of a glorious adventure to defeat the Germans by Christmas was so far from the reality that confronted the volunteers.

Llewelyn Wyn Griffith described his first days in France, after leaving behind a wet quayside on "a grey ship on a grey sea".

Rain was beating against the trucks "as we doddered through an unknown land to an unknown destination", standing in the mud of a station yard near St Omer.

Griffith faced four days and nights of fatigue and stiff-limbed weariness, "nights of little sleep and days of little rest".

It was to rain continuously for 100 hours.

The volunteers would suffer danger, deprivation, mental and physical injury and illness with a forbearance, humour and fortitude hard to imagine in the pampered 21st century.

More than 270,000 Welshmen, 10% of the population, were to serve in the First World War, with one in nine of them losing their lives.

Cecil Phillips A "typical" recruit was Cecil Phillips from Llanelli, whose father was the postmaster there.

Phillips had been training as a solicitor in London at the outbreak of war, but returned to Wales in the autumn of 1914 to join the 4th Battalion, Welsh Regiment, his local territorial battalion.

After training in Pembrokeshire, Tunbridge Wells, Scotland and Bedford - which hardly prepared him for anything that was to come his way - in July 1915, the Battalion embarked on board ship for "'service overseas", with the only clue as to their destination being the issue of Eastern kit.

They were bound for the Gallipoli peninsula, where a campaign had begun (poorly) to try to deflect attention from the Western Front and also knock Turkey out of the war.

Phillips clearly thought his embarkation was a time for taking stock and settling his affairs.

He wrote to his father giving him clear instructions on how to reclaim some overpaid income tax on his behalf, and in time-honoured fashion for departing sons, he also left a list of bills to be settled.

He concluded his letter with a realistic self-appraisal: "Though I have my faults and weaknesses, I have always tried to be unselfish and I can honestly say I have never done anything very bad."

The original attacks on the Turkish forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula in early August 1915 had proved disastrous.

The terrain was rough and inhospitable, with steep and rocky cliffs leading up from the coastline where the Allied troops were to land.

All the advantages were with the defensive force.

Phillips' 4th Battalion landed just south of Suvla Bay on August 9, totally unprepared for what was to come.

Conditions for all the troops were appalling with unbearable heat, trenches like ovens and the constant presence of large, green "corpse-flies".

More than 80% of the Allied force was to succumb to dysenteric diarrhoea (the "Gallipoli Gallop") at some time during the campaign and a quarter of the troops had to be evacuated because of sickness.

Phillips suffered just like the rest of his Battalion.

In a letter he described "the frightful pains and sickness" and that he "felt as weak as a cat".

Of the 104 men from the 4th Welsh who died at Gallipoli, 12 died from sickness or disease.

Hardly the heroic death that many of them might have imagined when volunteering at the height of patriotic fervour in the late summer and early autumn of 1914 - but heroes they were.

Cecil Phillips had gained a reputation in his Battalion for being something of a "mad jack". Rather worryingly for his parents, he had written that he "always walked about outside the trench, when the men would not show their noses out, just to give the men courage".

On August 14, 1915, Lt Cecil Phillips confirmed that his nickname was probably accurate when he rescued a fellow officer who was lying wounded, about 70 yards from the Allied trenches, under heavy enemy fire.

Phillips and a staff-sergeant from the 4th Welsh then repeated their heroic act a further three times, "running a terrible gauntlet of fire".

For his "great gallantry" Lt Phillips was awarded the Military Cross (MC) and promoted to Captain, while Staff-Sergeant Grundy received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Their actions were brave, selfless and heroic - but no more or less so than countless others that took place throughout the Gallipoli campaign. Ninety-eight men from the 4th Welsh Battalion were buried on the peninsula and a further six were buried at sea. Phillips survived the war and resumed his career as a solicitor.

Keep the home fires burning An unlikely hero of the First World War was David Ivor Davies, better known as Ivor Novello, who was born in Cardiff in 1893.

However, it was certainly not his exploits in uniform which were to bring him acclaim. In June 1916, Novello had reported to the Crystal Palace training depot of the Royal Naval Air Service as a probationary flight sub-lieutenant. His skills as a pilot were soon found wanting - he managed to crash two planes and was swiftly moved to a desk job at the Air Ministry.

Two years earlier in 1914, Novello had composed the hugely popular and sentimental song Till the Boys Come Home, better known as Keep the Home Fires Burning, with words by the American poet Lena Ford.

Sung by servicemen at the front and families at home, the song's haunting chorus became an icon of the war: Keep the home fires burning While your hearts are yearning. Though your lads are far away, They dream of home.

Ivor Novello went on to achieve glittering success as an actor, film star, playwright and composer.

During the Second World War, he also suffered a brief spell of villainy when he was imprisoned for four weeks in Wormwood Scrubs for misusing his Rolls Royce car during wartime petrol rationing.

The war in the air A noted character, flying ace and hero was James Ira Jones from St Clears, known universally, and unimaginatively, as Taffy. He had transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1915 as a mechanic, then become an observer on flights over the German lines in northern France.

In May 1917, he returned home to receive pilot training and was finally posted to 74 Squadron in early 1918.

In just three months he was credited with shooting down 37 enemy aircraft ("victories") flying the SE5a.

Jones had a reputation as a harumscarum pilot and frequently crashed his planes on landing. In all, he somehow managed to survive 28 crashes.

Jones was one of the most highlydecorated airmen of the First World War. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for destroying six enemy aircraft in 11 days, displaying "great courage, skill and initiative".

He was then awarded the Military Medal, Military Cross and a Bar to his DFC.

Finally, he received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in November 1918 for combining "skilful tactics and marksmanship with high courage".

His citation described how, when on wireless interception duty, he followed a patrol of nine Fokker biplanes and managed to join their formation unobserved.

Two Fokkers left the formation to attack an allied observation post.

Jones pursued them and attacked the higher of the two which fell on its companion.

Both planes became interlocked and fell to the ground in flames.

Although Jones had retired from the RAF in 1936, he was recalled to active service in the Second World War, aged 43.

During the Battle of Britain, flying an unarmed Hawker Henley, he attacked a Junkers Ju 88 bomber armed only with a Very pistol, used to fire signal flares.

Always a maverick, as befits a London Welsh scrum-half, Jones had a habit of attacking "Huns" dangling from their parachutes, which apparently led to many arguments in the mess.

Some officers "of the Eton and Sandhurst type" thought it was "unsportsmanlike" to do it.

Jones said that as he had never been to a public school he "was unhampered by such considerations of form".

He just pointed out that "there was a bloody war on" and he intended to avenge his pals.

Ironically, after surviving two world wars, Jones died after falling from a ladder at his home in Aberaeron, aged 65.

Another singular airman was Tom Vicars from Abermarlais Park in Carmarthenshire.

He had joined the Rifle Brigade and was commissioned in December 1914. He was immediately sent out to the Western Front and was badly wounded in January 1915, resulting in the loss of a leg. Amazingly, in 1917 he then joined the Royal Flying Corps, serving in 66 Squadron, flying Sopwith Pups.

He was promoted to Flight Commander in September 1917 and is credited with shooting down five enemy aircraft.

In his Squadron he was universally known as "Sticky" because of his false leg. Apparently, whenever a mess party got too hectic, he would take off his wooden leg to avoid it being broken.

Like many airmen of the First World War, he was not to be killed by enemy action.

On December 5, 1917, he died in a flying accident in Italy.

Family sacrifice Many individual families were to make an heroic sacrifice in their support for the war.

Robert Taunton Raikes from Treberfedd near Llangorse had six sons, five of whom were to serve in the First World War.

All five of the Raikes brothers were awarded the DSO for "meritorious or distinguished service" and two brothers were awarded the MC.

Only 8,981 DSOs were awarded throughout the war and 37,104 MCs.

Geoffrey Raikes had joined the South Wales Borderers in 1903. He was awarded the DSO in 1916, followed by two Bars (in effect, two further DSOs) in 1917 and 1918.

He rose to the rank of Major General and was knighted in 1960.

Perhaps, however, the greatest achievement of the Raikes brothers was that they all survived the war.

The Lowry family from Llandyfaelog, was not so fortunate.

They had three sons who served in the war, all of whom lost their lives. Capt Auriol Lowry, who was awarded both the DSO and MC, and Lieut Cyril Lowry died in northern France, while 2/Lieut William Lowry died at Gallipoli.

Their parents erected a 10ft high Celtic cross in the parish churchyard inscribed, "To the Glory of God and in ever loving and proud memory of their three sons who gave their lives for King and Country".

The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for valour in the face of the enemy.

The list of those awarded the VC is a roll call of heroism.

In total, 628 VCs were awarded in the First World War, 14 of them to Welshmen.

The medals themselves are highly prized by collectors and can change hands for up to pounds 400,000.

Perhaps one of the most unusual awards was that to an undoubted hero, William Williams.

Williams, from Amlwch on Anglesey, was 23 years of age at the outbreak of war, serving in the Royal Naval Reserve.

In 1917 he was aboard HMS Pargust, an ageing tramp steamer, but also a so-called Q-ship (or Mystery Ship), named after their home port of Queenstown in Ireland.

Williams had already been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and Bar.

Britain had been desperate to find a counter-measure to the effectiveness of the German U-boats which were playing havoc with her sea lanes.

Q-ships were heavily armed merchant ships, with concealed weaponry, usually carrying a cargo of balsa wood or cork to aid buoyancy if they were torpedoed.

Despite their appearance they carried a full Royal Navy crew.

Their aim was to use their apparent vulnerability to try to lure German U-boats into making a surface attack, when they would then turn the tables and open fire.

HMS Pargust was armed with a 4ft gun, two 12-pounders, two machine guns, torpedo tubes and depth charges.

On June 17, 1917, HMS Pargust, with William Williams on board, was patrolling an area of the sea south-west of Ireland.

The Q-ship was attacked by a German U-boat, UC29, and struck by a torpedo at close range.

One of the 12-pounder gun ports was blasted free from its mounting, which risked being seen and giving the game away to the enemy as to what sort of ship it was really dealing with.

William Williams, with bravery and strength in equal measures, took the full weight of the gun covers on his back, preventing discovery of the weaponry.

There was then a staged lifeboat evacuation from HMS Pargust - known as the "Panic Party" and all part of the deception - which lured UC29 within range.

The gun crew then raised the White Ensign, a requirement of international law, and opened fire.

The submarine was badly hit, split in two, blew up and sank. Capt Ernst Rosenow and 22 of his crew were killed; there were two survivors.

Unusually, the Admiralty was unable to decide which members of the crew of HMS Pargust should be awarded the Victoria Cross, because all were deemed to have acted with equal valour.

For the first time, under the conditions of the Royal Warrant for the award of the VC, it was decided that a ballot should be held by the crew for one officer and one enlisted man to receive the award.

Following the vote, Seaman William Williams and Lieut Ronald Stuart were awarded the Victoria Cross, although this was announced without fanfare or detail due to the secrecy surrounding the role of the Q-ships.

Williams survived the war, returned to Anglesey and died in 1965.

His VC is now held by the National Museum of Wales.

Aftermath After the Armistice was signed in November 1918, Lloyd George, in a speech in Wolverhampton, asked the rhetorical question: "What is our task?" His answer was: "To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in".

Of course, not all Welsh "Tommies" were heroes - there were critics of the way some Welsh soldiers fought at the Battle of Mametz, for example.

However, the vast majority defied Kitchener's comment that Welsh soldiers were "wild and insubordinate", fighting with honour and bravery.

One time resident of Swansea, Walter Savage Landor's description of those who fought in the Crimean War was equally relevant to the Welsh recruits: Hail, ye indomitable heroes, hail!

Despite of all your generals ye prevail.


* A montage of pictures, ranging from Ira aged 4, to King George V congratulating the RAF team on winning the inter-services rugby at Twickenham, 1921. Ira 'Taffy' Jones dropped the winning goal * Group Captain James Ira Thomas 'Taffy' Jones, DSO, MC, DFC & Bar, MM and Cross of St George, of 74 Tiger Squadron, RFC and RAF, who fought in both world wars
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 8, 2011
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