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Memorial will honour the vital role Valleys hospital played in war effort; A new monument is being unveiled to commemorate the role Aberdare Military Hospital played during World War I. Here, Tom Houghton looks at the relatively short history of the hospital as well as some of the patients who were treated there...

THE Aberdare Military Hospital was officially opened by Lord Aberdare in September 1915, and staffed by Red Cross nurses for the duration of its existence. Among the first casualties treated there was Private Rees Jenkins of Oxford Street, who had left his home in Aberdare in December 1912 for Australia.

In August 1914, he joined the Australian Imperial Force in Adelaide, and was part of the ill-fated Dardanelles Campaign in March 1915, a naval attack on Turkish forces in north-west Turkey.

Pte Jenkins was initially reported missing in action but badly wounded, and he managed to make his way back to the British line. He was later brought back to his hometown for medical treatment.

Another patient treated at the Aberdare Military Hospital was Private John Armstrong Henderson, who was 21 when he enlisted with the 39th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in Melbourne on July 24, 1917.

The battalion drew most of its recruits from the state of Victoria, where John and his family lived. Having set sail from Australia in February 1918, they arrived in Britain, en route to Suez, after four months at sea.

Pte Henderson suffered gunshot wounds in his back and foot on September 10, 1918, after a 56-hour bombardment as Allied Forces breach the Hindenburg Line, the last line of German defence.

Initially treated at the Casualty Clearing Station the following day, he was later transported by ship to Cardiff and recuperated at the Military Hospital in Trecynon.

The following year he underwent a series of leg amputations and was moved to the Third Auxiliary Hospital in Cardiff, followed by a spell at the 2nd Australian Army Hospital in London.

Having sailed for home on June 16, 1919, he was discharged from the Army on August 24, 1919, and later married Ruby Mary Therese Cochrane in 1940. He sadly died on May 20, 1963.

The Military Hospital, a satellite of the 3rd Western General Hospital in Cardiff, was run by the Aberdare and Merthyr branch of the Red Cross Society, under the supervision of Dr Isaac Banks, a local Aberdare doctor who gained an OBE in 1919 in recognition of his services at the hospital.

Although initially designed to accommodate 60 beds, by Christmas 1917 there were 200 patients resident at the Aberdare Military Hospital. By the time it closed in May 1919, it had treated 2,000 servicemen and had carried out more than 300 operations. A new information board is set to be unveiled on Saturday outside the building on Llewellyn Street, which is now Tegfan Resource Centre, a care home for elderly, to mark Armed Forces Day.

A parade will then follow to nearby Aberdare Park, allowing the public to either join the parade or to line the route in support of our Armed Forces.

A parachute jump will be performed, weather permitting, by the world-famous Red Devils, the British Army's Parachute Regiment Display Team at approximately noon, followed by the traditional raising of the flag service.

All of this will then be followed by a celebration of the work of the Armed Forces, with lots of fun and family attractions around Aberdare Park.

Armed Forces Day is the opportunity for the public to show their support for the dedicated men and women who make up the Armed Forces community, past and present.

Rhondda Cynon Taf council's deputy leader Councillor Maureen Webber with responsibility for Armed Forces, said: "The unveiling of the information board at Tegfan Resource Centre forms an important part of our Armed Forces Day in Aberdare.

"We once again join together to celebrate the contribution made by those who serve and have served in the Armed Forces. The Aberdare Military Hospital played a vital role during the First World War, caring for injured soldiers who made it back from the front line. Sadly, many others did not make it back.

"The Armed Forces Day event will be a period of reflection of the past and a celebration of the future, with lots of attractions in Aberdare Park as well as the poignant Raising of the Flag Service."

The council said it was proud of its Armed Forces Covenant, which sets out the commitment the local authority shows former and serving members of the Armed Forces and their families, from financial assistance to signposting to support services.

The local authority said it was one of the first in Wales to establish an Armed Forces Covenant in order to reiterate its commitment and value to the Armed Forces, both past and present.

On the Eden Memorial at Saint Elvan's church, there are 222 names of soldiers from the Parish of Aberdare who died in the Great War, representing 42 different regiments - giving the clearest picture of how many of the town's men fell in the conflict.

Short biographies of nearly all of the casualties are recorded there, and their places of burial given.

Various Armed Forces Day events took place across South Wales last weekend, with Caerphilly hosting the Welsh national event, which saw veterans, serving forces personnel and cadets parade through the town, as well as a Drumhead Service, Spitfire performance and parachute display.

First Minister Carwyn Jones, who was in attendance on the day, said: "We have a proud military history in Wales, and being here today gives us the opportunity to remember some of the anniversaries of previous conflicts in our nation's history. This year will mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele where amongst thousands of young men, Hedd Wyn our Welsh poet lost his life.

"Armed Forces Day is an opportunity to pay tribute to those that have served, are serving and to remember those that have made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country and way of life."

| Saturday's Armed Forces Day events in Aberdare start with the unveiling at Tegfan Resource Centre at 11.15am, followed by events at Aberdare Park from noon until 4pm. All are welcome. For further details, call 01443 424123.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 28, 2017
Words:993
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