Shock at discovery of ‘priceless’ army badges

Reporter:

Rebecca Cole

A PRICELESS collection of war memorabilia has been unearthed by a Wrexham family.

Rare photographs, letters and uniform badges give an insight into the secret world of an elite commando whose Second World War regiment led to the creation of the SAS.

Sisters Pat James, 62, and Cath Cunnah, 58, made the startling discovery when they were looking for pictures of their father as a Bersham Colliery miner for Yale College’s Rural Stories project.

The memorabilia was discovered in a forgotten box of Mr Rees’ paperwork.

Caroline Mannion, museum officer at the Cheshire Military Museum, added: “It’s impossible to give items like this a monetary value. They’re historically priceless.”

Pat, of Coed-y-Glyn, Wrexham, said she and her three sisters knew their dad, Erwyn ‘Taff’ Rees, had served in the Second World War but they had no idea he was a member of the No. 4 Commando unit.

“We knew he’d seen action but he never spoke about it so we had no idea about the details,” she told the Leader.

“We were always proud of our dad but finding this out made us respect him in a whole new way.”

Cath, from Garden Village, added: “When we started looking into his life I never ever thought we’d find anything like this. It’s completely out of the blue.”

The No.4 Commando was a crack team of infantrymen, formed in 1940 as part of the 1st Special Service Brigade, which acted as a model from which the SAS was created in 1941.

According to his daughters, Taff acted as a ‘back-man’ to one of the officers and, along with his fellow commandos, he was in the first wave of landings at
Normandy on D-Day. His orders were to destroy enemy guns before the mass
assault began.

Cath said: “I remember around the 50th anniversary of D-Day when dad was living in a residential home in Llangollen.

“He had a period of really bad nightmares and we’d always known him have awful nerves.

“It’s understandable he didn’t want to talk about what he’d seen. The only thing he ever told me was how he had slashed the tyres of enemy planes with a knife.”

Pat’s husband John, 63, added: “He would have been sworn to secrecy over his role in the war but I do know the Commandos were nicknamed the ‘suicide squads’ because when they went out on missions so few came back alive.”

Taff, originally from Llanelli, South Wales, came home from Normandy with shrapnel in his leg and settled down to life in the mine in Wrexham and started a family with wife Betty.

Now, 60 years later, the family are seeing their dad in a new light and are proud to be the owners of such a rare and historically important collection.

Tony Pugh, head of media studies at Yale, is delighted by the find and believes such stories are what make the scheme so worthwhile.

He now hopes the one-of-a-kind collection of artefacts will help the college win vital Welsh Assembly Government funding.

“The family were teamed up with Lee Salisbury, one of our media production students, who worked together to find out more about Taff’s life,” said Mr Pugh.

“It’s a great way to get our students and the local community working together to discover our shared history.

“But we’re fighting for funds to keep the project going and this story reinforces what the workshops achieve – they keep memories alive. There must be more wonderful stories like this in Wrexham and we want to help people find them.

“The potential value of Taff’s memorabilia is incredible – it's all one-of-a-kind stuff so how do you put a price on that?”

Taff died in 1996 but thanks to this amazing chance discovery his daughters now feel they know him a little better.

Pat added: “We’ve always been proud of our dad and it's nice to know a bit more about him. If we’d found this out while he was still alive we would’ve understood him better.”

Alastair Massie, head of archives at the National Army Museum, said: “This discovery is a really interesting one and it’s very unusual for a family to find out their dad fought in the No.4 Commando after such a long time.

“The Commandos were an elite force who undertook special missions so the realisation that a family member served with them often has a big impact on families and to find out under such circumstances is wonderful.”

See full story in the Leader

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