Warhorse Ginny was a battlefield survivor


Rhian Waller

FLINTSHIRE residents are being invited to share their First World War stories.

Mold historian David Rowe has been painstakingly collecting memories and memorabilia relating to residents’ lives from 1914 to 1918.

His research has turned up vivid recollections of fighting at the front, the heroism of the ordinary men and women pulled into the conflict and the agonising wait for those left behind.

“We are going to do a display in September,” said Mr Rowe.

“The first part will be held in the ex-servicemen’s club in Mold. Other organisations are joining in – Clwyd Theatre Cymru are putting on a play, and we are hoping to get an actor to stand in the town centre and read out First World War poetry dressed as a Tommy.

“But it won’t finish there. This will be a four-year project, covering the length of the war itself.”

Mr Rowe has already spent several afternoons at Mold Library, hunting documents and accepting memorabilia from visitors who have dropped in to share their family history.

He said: “We’ve had a range of things, from medals to exemption documents detailing why someone couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be sent to the war front, to diaries, photographs, certificates given out to school children, to information attached to war memorials.

 “I’ve sat here the last 10 Saturdays, and it’s been a bit of a trickle.

“But then again, it’s given me time, with the help of Mold and District Civil Society, to start putting things in place.”

Many of the documents have been scanned, uploaded to a digital archive, and returned to their owners.

The memorabilia makes for interesting reading.

For instance, one veteran of the war ended up hauling for a local chandler – she was a horse called Ginny.

A picture donated by Joyce Fleming, 77 of Mold, shows Ginny at work a world away from the violence of the front.

She said: “I am the grand-daughter of Vic Fleming who was a partner of Fred Dyment and eventually took over his chandlery business in Mold.

“Ginny the horse served in the 1914-18 war and was wounded by a shell in 1918.

“An army vet operated and saved her life and she worked for my grandfather for a seven years. He described how he loved the horse and will always remember her for her loyalty and affection.

“I never met Ginny, I was too young. The family had gone over to motorisation by then. But they told me stories of her going around so my grandfather could sell his paraffin matches and oil.”

The documents unearthed so far also tell the story of the Voluntary Aid Detatchments who worked with medical staff to set up temporary military hospitals.

Leeswood Hall, the home of the Wynne-Eyton family, was deemed suitable for use as it had large rooms.

Mr Rowe said: “Wounded soldiers came from all parts of the UK and from various regiments.

“Some married local girls and remained in the area, while those returning to active service or home often left greeting cards and poems with the volunteers who had cared for them.”

Mr Rowe said: “Soldiers from the Royal Welch Fusiliers are recorded as having played in the famous Christmas Day football match against German soldiers.

“The various battalions of the Royal Welch Fusiliers saw much action during the war, and at Ypres, in 1914, the 1st Battalion was virtually wiped out.”

Of a strength of 1,350, only 90 survived.

Mr Rowe said: “On August 4, 1914, the 5th Battalion (Flintshire) came into being, under the command of Lt Col Basil Philips. Recruitment began in earnest, including adverts in the local papers.”

Among the ranks were Capt Thomas Keene, familiar to Mold residents as a partner in the still-existing law firm of Keene and Kelly, and Capt Thomas Parry who went on to command the battalion, and became a local MP.

Mr Rowe said: “The battalion was dispatched to the Dardanelles as the British attempted to break the deadlock in the Battle for Gallipoli.

“On August 6, 1915, in a battle at Suvla Bay, the battalion came under heavy fire and Col Philips was among those killed.”

Mr Rowe discovered an article in The Common Interest, which quotes a Herbert Bellis in reference to his uncle, Buckley musician, bandmaster and character Bill “Warrior” Roberts.

After serving on the front, Bill’s unit, which included other Buckley residents, was moved to a rest camp.

The quote read: “One afternoon, my uncle Bill Roberts, took out his cornet and started to play as he marched through the line of tents.

“On his return journey a crowd of Buckley lads called out to him: ‘Is the sun affecting thee, Bill?’

“He replied: ‘Don’t you lot know what day it is? We are just going around the Cross. It’s Buckley Jubilee day.’

“Many a tear was shed as the other lads joined in and followed my uncle, with the cornet, and so took part in the Jubilee even if it was in France.”

See full story in the Leader

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