At the going down of the sun...

A SHOW OF ARMS: The Welsh Regiment Territorial Force march through Ammanford's Quay Street en route to their summer camp at Glynmoch as part of the recruitment drive for Lord Kitchener's New Army.

DOOMED YOUTH: Private Arthur Williams of Heol Las died at the Battle of Loos while serving with 9 Royal Welch Fusiliers.

LOST AT SEA: John Dyfrig Williams was the only man from the Ammanford area who died while serving with the Royal Navy. John went down with HMS Indefatigable at the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916.

PALS FROM HOME: CSM Isaac Jones (seated with cane) was a veteran of the Boar War and served in France with the Carmarthenshire Pals (Welsh Regt). The Pals were formed by soldiers recruited from the county. CSM Jones lived in Margaret Street and was a trus

First published in News
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by , Editor

At 11am on August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary following the latter’s refusal to halt hostilities in the wake of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia.

Great Britain had entered the Great War.

On August 6, the first British lives of the war were lost as 150 seamen died when the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Amphion was sunk by German mines in the North Sea.

The following day – August 7 - First members of the British Expeditionary Force landed in France.

Four days later – August 11, the British Government launched the iconic “'Your King and Country Need You” slogan in a bid to enlist the first 100,000 to Lord Kitchener's New Army. The plea was answered within two weeks.

The recruitment policy continued unabated as men flocked to answer their country’s clarion call.

Despite the majority of the men in South Wales working in reserved occupations which were crucial to the war effort, such as mining, and therefore not expected to enlist for military action, Kitchener’s call touched hearts and minds across the valleys and young men signed up for action.

The call to arms was answered all across south Wales – not least in east Carmarthenshire.

These are the stories of just some of those who came to their country’s aid....

Prior to the outbreak of the war, John William Farrell was a Police Constable in Ammanford.

His occupation ensured he had no need to answer Kitchener’s call, but by May 1915, he – and three of his fellow officers – had volunteered for active service.

All four joined the Royal Field Artillery as Bombardiers and they served together in France and Flanders.

John Farrell was killed in action on June 10, 1917. He is buried at Mendinghem Military Cemetery in Belgium.

His pals all survived the war.

James Prout of Talbot Road, Ammanford, was, like so many of his Welsh brothers-in-arms, a miner by profession.

However, he and his brother Stanley had enlisted within months of war being declared.

The Prout brothers witnessed the full terrors of the Great War and were present at some of the battles which, with the passing of time, have come to symbolise the madness, the bravery and the unimaginable horror of those four terrible years, such as the Somme Offensive of July to November 1916.

The engagement on the banks of that river on the Western Front has been labelled the bloodiest battle in human history, with more than one million men dead or seriously injured in those five months of carnage.

James Prout was awarded the Military Medal for “Bravery in the field during the big push on the Somme”.

Today we cannot even begin to imagine the true nature of a deed deemed so noteworthy and deserving in a conflict where every single moment of every single day was a battle just to stay alive.

James and Stan both returned to Ammanford after their duty to King and Country was complete, but the horrors of the battlefield never left them.

James was a founder member of the British Legion and the early meetings of the Ammanford branch were held in his front room.

Thomas Rainford was, by any measure, a hero of the Great War.

Another Ammanford miner who could, had he so chosen, remained underground for the duration of the war. Instead he decided to accept the King’s Shilling and signed up for active duty.

Thomas enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery and spent the war in the vanguard of the fighting.

At Armentieres in August, 1916, he was placed in charge of communication lines linking forward spotters with the British guns.

During furious German shelling, the lines were severed and all communications lost.

Thomas crawled across the open ground under constant enemy fire and restored the vital links.

He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the second highest gallantry medal presented to a serving British soldier.

At the Battle of Loos he received a “Red Card” for his bravery in carrying out repeated repairs to the communication lines under heavy enemy fire during a German counter-attack.

At Vermilles, his battery suffered heavy casualties including his Battery Commander. Thomas was promoted to corporal and took command of the battery, a post he held for 16 long months.

He was “Mentioned in Despatches” twice, firstly to Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig and later to General Sir John French.

Following the war he returned to Ammanford.

Three more Amman Valley men received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry in the war: Sgt D Lloyd Evans (Welsh Regtiment), Sgt James Morris (Cameron Highlanders) and CSM TH Rogers (Royal Engineers).

Joseph Scarci was an Italian national who had come to settle in College Street, Ammanford, before the war.

A skilled mechanic and electrician, Joseph was also fluent in four languages – a talent which soon made him invaluable to the war effort with armies of various nations allied against the forces of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Joseph’s linguist skills saw him act as a translator for a variety of high-ranking officers in France and Belgium.

It was during a spell away from the front-line in 1917 when he spotted a familiar looking horseman approaching.

The rider was Gunner James Shaw, the son of Ammanford councillor and colliery director JC Shaw. The Shaw family lived at Devonia in High Street.

James Shaw was killed on the battlefields of France, but Joseph seemed destined to survive the war and in 1918, with the conflict drawing to a close, he found himself performing translation duties close to the Italian border.

Joseph was granted leave to cross the border to visit relatives, but on the trip contracted Spanish Flu, the deadly virus which killed more than 50 million people between 1918 and 1920. Joseph was dead within days and was buried in his homeland, surviving the horrors of the war, but never returning to his family in Ammanford.

John Dyfrig Williams holds a unique position in Ammanford’s military history as they only man from the valley to have died in combat during World War One while serving with the Royal Navy.

Stoker 1st Class Williams was the son of John Havard and Mary Williams, of 49 Maesquarre Road.

He died aged just 20 when he went down with his ship, the HMS Indefatigable, at the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916.

Shortly before 4pm, the British Fleet, including the battle cruiser Indefatigable, opened fire on the German High Seas Fleet at Jutland Bank just off the coast of Denmark.

In the ensuing battle, the Indefatigable was hit by several salvos from the 11-inch guns of the German cruiser Von der Tann and was forced to fall out of the line.

However, the damage was too great and she went down when her ammunition magazine exploded.

Of the 1,000-strong crew, all but a handful were lost.

John Dyfrig is commemorated on the Plymouth Memorial with his ship-mates looking out over Plymouth Hoe in Devon.

Arthur Williams of 33 Heol Las, was stationed with the 9th Royal Welch Fusiliers outside the mining town of Loos in September 1915.

Also in those trenches in northern France awaiting the order to advance were Arthur’s brother Richard, Private Stephen Prout – another Ammanford boy – and Corporal John Evans of Cross Hands.

When the whistles rang out to charge during the early hours of September 25, Arthur and his comrades went “over the top”.

But the advance was slow and Arthur was gunned down long before he reached the German lines, taking a bullet to the stomach.

He was transported to a military hospital 150 miles south-east to No2 Stationary Hospital at Rouen, arriving either on September 26 or 27, but died of his wounds.

Richard, Stephen and John all survived the war, but Arthur was buried at Abbeville Communal War Cemetery near the Somme.

To hear Amman Valley movie star John Rhys Davies read the Guardian’s tribute to Arthur, visit southwalesguardian.co.uk At the outbreak of the war Tom Fletcher and his wife ran the newsagents at 27 College Street.

Their family more than most were quick to answer Kitchener’s call.

Five of Tom Fletcher’s children enlisted.

Charles Fletcher became a sapper with the 5th Field Company, Royal Engineers, his younger brother Archie joined the Royal Garrison Artillery.

Bernard and Myrddryn signed on for the infantry while sister Emma became a nurse at Griffithstown Military Hospital in Pontypool.

Sapper Fletcher, who before the war worked at the Amman Valley Chronicle which would one day merge with the Guardian, saw action in Egypt before being posted to France.

Just one week before the cessation of hostilities his parents were informed he had died in hospital near Calais, not of wounds sustained on the battlefield, but of double pneumonia. He was 25.

Meanwhile Archie - in the final acts of the Great War - was wounded. His parents only learning of his injuries three days after the ceasefire – though he would recover.

The Fletchers’ despair was not over however and four days after learning of Archie’s injuries and less than a fortnight after the death of Charles, Emma – who had spent the war tending wounded soldiers – was struck down by the dreaded Spanish Flu.

She died on November 19 aged 28, as much a victim of the conflict as had been her brother.

Shortly after returning to her duties, nurse Emma Grace Fletcher, fell victim to the virulent strain of influenza, which was widespread in Britain and Europe. She died suddenly on Tuesday the 19th of November 1918 aged 28 years.

More than 230 soldier-patients escorted her coffin to the railway station before it travelled home to Ammanford.

With special thanks to Major Ken Burton of the Royal British Legion, Ammanford Branch.

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