First World War – Personal Perspectives

By – David Gwyer (Assistant Curator)

 

Almost exactly one hundred years ago, on the 18th of November, 1916, the Battle of the Somme ended.

British Troops Marching to the Trenches

At its conclusion over 1,000,000 servicemen were dead, injured or missing, including almost 420,000 British and Colonial troops. To show for these losses, the British line had advanced just 6 miles in over 4 months fighting. These are mind-numbing figures. The suffering and grief they encapsulate are difficult to imagine, let alone come to terms with. How do you even begin to come to an understanding of loss on this scale? Perhaps the place to start is with the individual. Each casualty figure was someone’s son, someone’s father, brother, husband or sweetheart. We can relate to individual loss more readily because many of us know how it feels to lose someone close. We are familiar with the emotional turmoil through which the grieving process takes us – denial, anger, depression, before, if we are fortunate, coming to some sort of acceptance.

We should always bear this in mind when we talk about war losses. The rights and wrongs, the causes and results, of the First World War have been, and will be, discussed for many years. Amongst all the talk of geo-political manoeuvring, alliance building and military imperative we should never lose sight of the fact that at the heart of these discussions should be the suffering of the men and women who were killed and injured and their relatives whose lives were changed forever.

The present exhibition at Pontypridd Museum tries to put into focus some of the individual stories of local men who served in the First World War, using objects, photographs and documents which reflect their lives and experiences and, in some cases, their deaths.

Men like Albert Hinton of Middle Street, Trallwn, who served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Salonika in northern Greece. This is a little-known theatre of conflict in the First World War but it cost the lives of over 10,000 British servicemen, including Albert Hinton. A heart-shaped cushion made by Albert while serving in Salonika is one of the poignant objects on display.

Or men like Alfred Harold Parfitt who joined the Royal Navy at the outbreak of the First World War and was only 19 when he died. But Alfred was not killed in action. He died when an accidental explosion destroyed his ship, H.M.S. Natal, whilst she lay at anchor off the north-east coast of Scotland on 30th December, 1915. He was amongst 421 on board who died that day.

If we take the time to learn about some of these individual stories it might help us realise more fully, what each one of those casualty figures truly represents.

The exhibition runs until 23rd December.