Home Front

My interest in researching my grandfather’s part in the First World War sparked into life after a walking holiday in Snowdonia in the early nineties. Being there fired up the memories of the things he told me about him and his brothers at a time that would change their lives forever. While there I revisited some of the sites “Grandpa” had shown us on an earlier family holiday when I was 10. Where I was expecting to see names on local memorials, there was nothing.

With no internet, no online records or downloads invented, it meant writing a letter to the MOD records office and hoping for the best was as good as it could get. Some weeks later I received a reply. Something about officers’ files being ‘weeded’ and something else about records destroyed in the Blitz. There were a few lines, dates of embarkations and disembarkations, he was 5ft 9. I couldn’t believe that that kind of detail about my Grandpa lay filed away for over 75 years – I was hooked. I sent two more letters asking about his younger brothers. One had similar success, the other drew a blank – not even listed as dead. No records or the wrong man. A soldier on the Helles Memorial in Turkey with a similar name – but not him. Charlie had come home to die.

It all started from memories of talking to my Grandpa at his kitchen table in the early 70s. He and my grandmother gave up his beloved North Wales to move back to England to see me and my brother and sister grow up. I can’t quite remember how we got onto the Great War – and finding out later, like many others, that he’d never really talked about it before, made me the unwitting custodian of these very particular anecdotes. I suppose inquiring innocence allowed me to ask the sort of questions small boys do.  He used words alien words like platoons, puttees and howitzers while he smoked his Woodbines. To entertain me he would put the cigarette in his mouth for a few seconds, but back to front, followed by a wheezy “Muttley” laugh at my alarmed delight. (Wacky Races was a firm favourite of his). He told me there was a lot of Smoking had been taken up in earnest to counter the smell of trench life.

Whereas I feel I’ve forgotten anything useful that I learned at school, I’ve held on to his little pieces of information ever since then, giving me just enough to dig further into the past. With the flow of information now accessible and the time and generosity of an online army of experts and enthusiasts, it’s become fascinating to build on his story, fleshing out those memories to gain a better understanding of what he and his brothers had to endure. Even at the time I could see that behind the stories that kept me interested or made us smile, there was a sense of sadness and loss that had taken years to come to terms with.

My Grandpa, George Edward (Eddie) Morris was born in 1891 in Colwyn Bay in North Wales. He was the middle of five boys, Henry and Andrew being older with Robert and Charles the two youngest. Their father, also Henry, was a bank manager for the Metropolitan Bank of England and Wales, a job that meant them moving to Newcastle Emlyn in south west Wales for a number of years.

RWF brothers outside hotel

97 years later I found the same guesthouse

The 1911 Census shows their Scottish mother, Marjory, was visiting her sister and father in Chester while husband Henry was at home with the younger boys and a house keeper. Henry, Andrew and Eddie had already entered the banking profession, working as clerks and living in lodgings in three different parts of the south. It can’t have been too long after this, that all three decided that banking and the grey working towns of South Wales wasn’t for them. They’d seen the advertising proclaiming that new and adventurous lives could be found in Brazil and Argentina. Like many of their fellow countrymen they decided to go.

The two older brothers had already sailed from Liverpool when my Grandpa, who was learning Spanish in preparation for South America, had his plans interrupted by an appendicitis and a world war. Although nearly ending his life at the time I believe the recurrence of the infection, and with no antibiotics in existence, meant his war was cut short giving him the chance to go home – and live.

Henry and Andy went to Chile and Argentina, where they formed a partnership to buy sheep and deliver them to another point to sell at a profit. Henry collected the sales proceeds, and ran off to Brazil, leaving Andy with the unpaid debt for the sheep. The banks in Argentina said he should have declared bankruptcy, but he felt honour bound to repay the debt taking him many years to clear. He eventually worked for the shipping company, Moxey Savon, which took cargo to and from Argentina to Egypt. When they set up an office in Chile, Andy became their manager.

In December 1914, Bertie, a trainee solicitor in his uncle’s firm, was 21 and Charlie was a 17 card-backyear old school boy. With the family home now back in their father’s hometown of Caernarfon, the boys traveled to Bangor to enlist into “Kitchener’s Army”. With Charlie failing to convince he was 19 at the first attempt, they went back again with a revised date of birth, and finally got in. Both enlisted by a Pte John Daniel into the 16th (Pals) Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, they were “billeted” along with other recruits in the Mostyn Guest House along the seafront in Llandudno. While there, they sent a photo as a birthday card to Eddie. It shows them with their friends appearing relaxed and looking forward to their army adventure. As it happened, the war wasn’t “over by Christmas” so there was no chance of missing out.

Having not really absorbed the detail on the back of the card, which had lived in a large box of family photos, the significance of “Pals” or the battalion number written on the back, meant very little. Over the years, the occasional look in the library or a bookshop brought nothing of note. I’d never imagined that records would exist to link these young men to places and events.

Over the past 2-3 years I’ve made some real discoveries and have been able to piece together movements, battles and personal recollections. Much of this would not have been possible without the help of many people who’ve generously shared vital parts of their own research with me. I’ve come across great kindness and patience, even making contact with relatives of men who fought and literally died along side my family. A debt of thanks is owed to the members of the Great War Forum – a formidable bunch of experts with a sometimes awe inspiring knowledge of all things WW1.

This site is a work in process so I’ll adding things as new information comes along. There will be a few typos plus a fair bit of schoolboy grammar. In fact I was better at this when I was a schoolboy. Hopefully I’ll iron it out in time…

AngleseyView

A view the brothers would have known when home on leave during the war. Looking across the Menai Straits from Newborough beach on Anglesey towards Snowdonia