The real missing of the Great War

The Great War Archive has attracted a considerable number of artifacts and stories from all over the country. Contributors are registering a memorial for those involved in that terrible conflict, either at home or abroad, in uniform or as civilians. Many stories are very poignant, concerning the death of a loved one whose name is now recorded as ‘Missing in Action’ on the Menin Gate, the Thiepval Memorial, or in Commonwealth War Graves the world over. However, thanks to one very recent submission, we will be able to record one man whose name does not appear on any memorial.

William Robert Jones (front row, far right) was born on the 2nd January 1887, in the Rhondda valley to a mining family. He himself was a miner in 1913 when he married Amy Anne Williams. He was a musician and enlisted in 1916 joining the 32nd Bn Royal Fusiliers where he served as a bandsman and stretcher bearer, In 1918, because of the many casualties suffered during the German offensives, William was attached to the 10th Royal West Surreys
(“The Queen’s”) and was reported missing on the 22nd March 1918. He was 31 years of age. In many ways his story would be unremarkable, just another casualty of the Great War, but William’s story does not end there. Because he was new to The Queen’s, his paperwork had not been processed and thus his death was never recorded. Consequently, at present no memorial to him exists. The Commonwealth Graves Commission are now in contact with the Home Office, and enquiries are ongoing,
 but at present the only memorial to William Jones is Oxford University’s Great War Archive. The items were submitted by David Evans of South Wales.

To read about other interesting items submitted to the Great War Archive visit the Editor's Pick Blog.


Message in a matchbox

George Cavan was a Company Sergeant Major in the 9th (Glasgow Highlanders) Battalion Highland Light Infantry. He lived with his family, his wife Jean and three daughters, in the Drill Hall in Carluke, Scotland. While away at training camp the orders came through to dispatch to France. The train he was on with his troops went through his home station but did not stop there. He threw out onto the platform a matchbox containing a note to his family. On one side was the name of his wife and on the other the message to the family. Someone picked up the matchbox and delivered it to the family. George was killed just a few days after arriving at the front in France on the 13th April, 1918. He lies in an unmarked grave but is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial. The items were submitted by Maureen Rogers, currently living in Australia.


The experiences of a POW

During the First World War Richard Griffiths was shot in both arms in battle and taken prisoner by the German Forces. Though always reluctant to talk about his experiences, some years later when his daughter had learned shorthand, she persuaded him to tell some of his story, and she wrote to his dictation. This memoir, along with photos of his time at Lager Lechfeld Prisoner of War Camp, near Munich, were brought into the submission day at Caernarfon Castle on May 8th by his granddaughter Mairwen Haldane. A particularly poignant extract of his memoir reads:

The first incident I would like to tell you about is as we were being marched away, wounded prisoners, about 12 of us. I happened to be the last one in the crowd walking along the road, when a German soldier came out of a cottage, and got hold of me - pushed me inside this cottage. He then started shouting at me in German but of course I could not understand him, in fact I got the "windup". I thought may be I was going to be shot.. I was crippled in both arms and could not defend myself in any way. He took me into a bedroom. What were there but two English soldiers, very badly wounded, and he wanted me to cheer them up. It struck me it was a humane act on his part as I had heard so much about the Germans being cruel and wicked.

This photograph was taken in the hospital wing at Lager Lechfeld Prisoner of War Camp. Richard Griffith's is back row, second from the right.

Ironwork for the tomb of the unknown warrior

The British Tomb of The Unknown Warrior holds an unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield during the First World War. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, London on November 11, 1920. The creation of the ironwork which adorns the tomb was commissioned to DJ Williams Brunswick Ironworks in Caernarfon, North Wales. He worked for two days and nights to make the bands and the handles for the coffin and to antique hammer the coffin's plaque. The coffin was transported to France where the remains of an unknown service man had been selected for burial. Even the battlefield the Warrior came from is not known, and has been kept secret so that the Unknown Warrior might serve as a symbol for all of the unknown dead wherever they fell.

This photograph shows a plaque that was not used for the coffin. The plaque along with various documents relating to the coffins commission and other unused pieces was brought in by Pam Smith on the behalf of Brunswick Ironworks to the submission day held at Caernarfon Castle on May 8th.