1914-2014: Abergele & District Commemorations: John Roberts

Private 7017 John Roberts, Somerset Light Infantry, 1st Battalion, ‘A’ Company, 11th Brigade, 4th Division. Killed in Action 21 October 1914, Attack on La Gheer, Battle of Armentières, First Battle of Ypres.

Listed as ‘John Roberts, Towyn’ on the Abergele War Memorial. Born Conwy, enlisted Swansea, lived Manchester Cottages, Towyn. No known grave, Panel 3, Ploegsteert Memorial, Berks Cemetery Extension, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium. Abergele War Memorial. Abergele Town Memorial. Towyn War Memorial.

John arrived in France 11 September 1914 as a reinforcement for the 1st Somerset Light Infantry which had landed 22 August 1914. The 1st Somerset Light Infantry moved from Armentieres to Ploegsteert on 20 October 1914. The following morning they marched to the north-east corner of Ploegsteert Wood and took part in an attack on La Gheer.

La Gheer was a hamlet in the British 12th Brigade area, astride an important crossroads at the south-east tip of Ploegsteert wood. At 5.15 a.m., 21 October 1914 a strong attack on the British 12th Brigade by eight battalions of the German XIX (Saxon) Corps was launched. The 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, holding La Gheer, were forced backwards losing many men as prisoners of war in the process.

Its posession by the Germans threatened British control of the entire wood and allowed them to enfilade British positions both north and south. It was vital that La Gheer was retaken quickly and the task was assigned to a mixed force of four battalions from 12th and 11th Brigades, including the 1st Somerset Light Infantry. The attack involved John’s A Company, supported by B Company, advancing from the eastern edge of the wood and turning southwards. The assault required a bayonet charge on German positions in the hamlet of La Gheer. The hamlet was soon cleared and taken.

The attack had been a great success and captured 143 German prisoners as well as releasing 45 Inniskilling Fusiliers who had been captured in the initial German advance. The cost of the success was 1 Officer and 7 men killed, including Private John Roberts of Towyn.

John’s body was either not recovered, not identified or buried in a grave that was subsequently lost, and his name is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial.

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Abergele Lipreading Support

If you’d like to learn or brush up your lipreading skills, head on over to Hafod y Parc, Abergele, every third Friday afternoon of the month…


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Gwrych Halloween

There are some ghostly happenings planned at Gwrych Castle this Halloween, organised by the Gwrych Trust, according to the Trust’s Jake Basford:

“Gwrych Castle has been famous for its ghostly happenings, with stories coming from famous boxers who trained there having spotted the Countess wandering the Gardens, and pictures of ghosts making headlines in recent years (only to turn out to be Hermione from Harry Potter). This is why Gwrych Trust is recreating the spooky experience with a series of Ghost Hunts, Walks, and, a special themed Open Day over Halloween.”

31 October (Halloween Night): Ghost Walks (6pm-9pm) running around the Castle, 50 people per guide, age 16+, costing £15 per person which includes a hot beverage and pumpkin soup. Ghost Hunts (9pm-2am) taking place in the Gardens, 30 people per group, age 18+, costing £30 per person.

1 November (All Saints Day): Open Day (12-4pm) at Gwrych Castle, no minimum age requirement, £5 per person, Halloween theme. Ghost Walks (6pm-9pm) running around the Castle, 50 people per guide, age 16+, costing £15 per person which includes a hot beverage and pumpkin soup. Ghost Hunts (9pm-2am) taking place in the Gardens, 30 people per group, age 18+, costing £30 per person.


Tickets are on sale from Gwrych’s ticketing site from 15 Oct 2014

Mark Baker, Chair of Gwrych Trust, said, “With the success of previous Open Days at the Castle we thought we would really go for it with Halloween this year. There are many ghost stories rampant about Gwrych, from previous owners to current volunteers, so it may be necessary to do a second edition of Myths and Legends one day!”




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1914-2014: Abergele & District Commemorations: Fred Roberts

Unlike all the other commemorations that I will post, this one is actually requesting help,  and any that can be given would be gratefully received as Fred has eluded me for many years.

He is recorded on the Abergele War Memorial and on the Town Memorial. He is listed on the ‘Roll of Honour of Abergele Officers and Men’ as printed in the Abergele and Pensarn Visitor, 30 January 1915, as having been killed, so he had died before that date. Another source suggests that he lived at Morfa Cottage on the border between Towyn and Bodelwyddan. Adding significantly to the confusion is the article below from the Liverpool Daily Post of 23 December 1914.

The only Fred Williams of Abergele to die in the war was from Bryntirion Terrace and he died in Gallipoli in August 1915. Therefore the article below must be referring to Fred Roberts of Morfa, despite getting his surname wrong. However, no Fred Roberts of the Royal Field Artillery died in 1914!

What the article does do is narrow the time period for Fred’s death to before 23 December 1914, but even this does not really help. There were three men named Fred Roberts who died in 1914, but two were killed in action, not by typhoid, and the other died in the UK.

The search goes on.

Williams (Roberts), Fred

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Pensarn Station 1948

Here’s a lovely old engraving kindly submitted by Delyth Ann. It depicts the opening of Pensarn station in 1848, as printed in the London Illustrated News at the time:


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1914-2014: Abergele & District Commemorations: Leo Dobbins

Private 429 Leo Dobbins, 1/1st Denbighshire Yeomanry. Died 30 September 1914, aged 19.

Son of John and Bridget Dobbins, of 138, Wellington Street, Rhyl. Born Rhyl. Enlisted Rhyl. Plot 100, Rhyl Town Cemetery. Rhyl War Memorial. Prestatyn War Memorial. Not commemorated in the Abergele district.

Leo was a pre-war member of the Denbighshire Yeomanry and was mobilised immediately on the outbreak of war in August 1914. In civilian life he worked as a Clerk at Abergele Post Office and was well known and liked in the district even though he was not from Abergele itself. He died of natural causes in the military training camp at Bungay, Norfolk, where the Denbighshire Yeomanry were training at the time.

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Old postcard taken from the outskirts of Abergele

I originally thought the photo for this old postcard might have been taken from the old hospital chalet at the top of Tower Hill’s Red Rock, but the orientation of Mynydd Seion in relation to St Michaels isn’t quite right. I’m wondering now if it might have been taken from the Doorknob on Tan y Goppa…? It all depends on whether the white in the foreground is limestone rock or flowers. Any ideas?

Old postcard looking down on Abergele from Red Rock

Old postcard looking down on Abergele from Red Rock
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The pipe that filled the paddling pool

Have you ever noticed this rusty cast iron pipe in the Gele beneath the bridge at the top end of High St? Brian Haynes told me that its purpose was to fill the paddling pool that used to be in the Playnies (King George’s Field).

The concrete pool was there when I was a child in the 60s and 70s. During the 1980s it became a gardening project for Emrys ap Iwan students. This pool is filled in today.

I don’t have a photo of the pool but here’s one of where it used to be and one of the pipe used to keep it filled with water.



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1914-2014: Abergele & District Commemorations: Stuart Kirby Jones

Updated 10/10/14

Lieutenant Stuart Kirby Jones M.R.C.V.S, Army Veterinary Corps. Veterinary Officer attached to 25th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, 1st Division. Died of Wounds, 17 September 1914, Battle of the Aisne, aged 25. (His Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone states 18 September 1914 but the death date of the 17th appears in every other document I have encountered and is accepted here)

Known as Kirby. Son of the late William and Alexandrina Jones. Born at Wavertree, Liverpool. Plot 1. 1., Les Gonards Cemetery, Versailles, Paris. Not commemorated in the Abergele district. Commemorated on the War Memorials of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and Liverpool University.

Kirby’s late father was a Dental Surgeon in Liverpool and this medical background clearly influenced young Kirby who went on to study veterinary science at Liverpool University, graduating in 1911. He was already working in the Abergele area, serving a four year apprenticeship with Rowland S. Rowlands, the Vet for Pensarn. The 1911 Census captures him as a Veterinary Student boarding with Mr. Rowlands at ‘The Laurels’. Shortly after the Census, in November 1911, he undertook a course of training at the Army Veterinary School in Aldershot and was gazetted to the Army Veterinary Corps Reserve and attached to 2 Dragoon Guards. He had moved to Pembroke just before the outbreak of the war but, nevertheless he was still remembered well in Pensarn and Abergele and he had family in the area. His uncle, for example, was the Borough Rate Collector for Conwy.

At the outbreak of war, Kirby was appointed Veterinary Officer in charge of 25 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery and posted to the Western Front. He was amongst the first to be shipped to France, disembarking there on 14 August 1914. He was involved in the Battle of Mons, the retreat from Mons, the Battle of Etreux and the Battle of the Marne. He received his fatal wounding on 15 September when the 1st Division was involved in the First Battle of the Aisne (12-15 September).

On that day he found himself on the Moulins to Bourg road and turned his horse to the side to take a moment to himself. From his pocket he pulled a letter from home and began reading. Moments later a huge German shell landed just yards away. A large fragment caught him in the thigh, shattering his leg. Seriously wounded, he was taken to the nearest Field Ambulance which patched him up and evacuated him to the French No. 2 General Hospital near Versailles where he died two days later on 17 September 1914.

Kirby’s funeral took place on 21 September. The French had reserved a section of the local cemetery for British casualties and Kirby was the first Briton to be laid to rest there. The Chaplain who conducted the service took the time to write to Kirby’s mother.

“You will have heard already from here of the death of your brave son who has given his life for his country; but I think you will like me to write and tell you of his funeral which took place this morning, September 21st. It was carried out with full military honours, and a large crowd was present of French Dragoons and infantry. A large number of French officers were also there and also the Colonel commanding and the Major of this Hospital. At the close of the service a French Colonel spoke a few touching words as to the services rendered by your son to his own country and to ours. I know, too, that you will be touched to hear that several wreaths of flowers were sent by French people here. The grave is in a beautiful cemetery on the outskirts of this town, the Cimitiares des Gonards, which lies on the slope of a hill, and is surrounded by trees. It is in a portion in the cemetery which has been reserved for the British soldiers, and will be marked with a plain wooden cross bearing your son’s name. I am enclosing a small piece of heather which I plucked this morning within a few yards of the grave. May I be allowed to express my deep sympathy with you in your sorrow? It is my earnest prayer that the God of all comforts will Himself comfort you.”

Letter sent to Kirby’s mother by the Chaplain to the Forces stationed at Versailles.


Lieutenant Stuart Kirby Jones


Kirby in ‘civvies’. Photo from the ‘Veterinary Record‘, 3 October 1914.

(This, and other sources that allowed me to update the story, kindly supplied by Pete Matthews)

Kirby's headstone, courtesy of Lisa Bell.

Kirby’s headstone, courtesy of Christine Hall.

Descendants visit Kirby's grave on the 100th anniversary of his death. Courtesy of Lisa Bell.

Descendants visit Kirby’s grave on the 100th anniversary of his death. Courtesy of Christine Hall.

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1914-2014: Abergele & District Commemorations: Gwilym George Jones

Lance Corporal 10939 Gwilym George Jones, 1st South Wales Borderers, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division. Killed in Action 14 September 1914, Battle of the Aisne, aged 21.

Son of Abel and Jane Jones, of Quarry View, Llanddulas. Born Llanddulas, enlisted Brecon. No known grave, La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre Memorial, Marne, France. Llanddulas War Memorial.

Gwilym Jones was a regular soldier who had been with the South Wales Borderers for 3 years, having enlisted aged 18. He was reported to already be at the front by 3 September 1914. He was killed just days before his 22nd birthday.

For further details of the battle, see Private John Roberts (below) who served in the same Brigade.

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