Penallt in the First World War
The outbreak of war in 1914 appears to have had more immediate effects than it did in 1939, though the first one reported seems a little irrelevant: the annual Flower Show at the Argoed, planned for 7th August, was cancelled and it was not held again for six years. Life had suddenly become real and earnest with no place for such frivolities. Young men hastened to volunteer and before the month was out the first casualty lists were published. On 4th September The Hon Arthur Pelham of Moorcroft chaired a recruiting meeting at the school and by Christmas 16 men from Penallt had enlisted.
The civilians were just as keen to contribute what they could to the war effort. On 16th October a meeting was called to organise to aid for the hard-pressed people of Belgium, and a house to house collection during the following week produced £13 5s 2d. On 11th December it was reported that a concert had raised £3 12s 0d for the Prince of Wales Relief Fund (for the families of servicemen killed or wounded) and further concerts in aid of various welfare schemes were given as the war continued. The school children made their own contributions, collecting £4 1s 0d in the first half of 1916. When we consider these sums of money we should bear in mind that in 1914 the Monmouth District Council stated that most of the inhabitants of Penalt had incomes of around 10 shillings a week and would not be able to afford the annual rent of £10 for a council house. Probably for this reason Penallt’s contributions were made more in kind than in cash. In 1916 it was recorded that weekly collections in the parish for the Red Cross hospital in Monmouth had in the past year yielded 840 eggs, 60lbs of jam, 50 bottles of preserved fruit and almost a ton of vegetables, a great deal of honey and enough feathers to stuff over 100 pillows, as well as many home-made bed jackets and pairs of pyjamas and slippers!
By the beginning of 1917 the parish had 38 men on active service and conscription was becoming necessary as the casualties mounted. Local tribunals considered pleas for exemption, usually on the grounds of essential agricultural work; in December of that year W T Jones of Tregagle was refused exemption but W S Ricketts of Penallt was ‘conditionally’ exempted. Three months earlier the death had been reported of Signaller R C Gunter and in January 1918 Driver A H England, who had died of wounds, was buried at Penallt.
At last came the Armistice, greeted with a great outburst of joy, as this account in The Beacon shows:
‘Forthwith the one bell at St Mary’s was rung for all it was worth to spread the joyful news throughout the vicinity. A team of bellringers was gathered together during the afternoon and in the evening they trudged to the Parish Church and rang merry peals there for nearly two hours. Fortunately the wind was in the north-east and their glad sound was heard over hill and dale and down along the winding river. One of the ringers, George Gleed, though a cripple, was determined to ring even though it took him over an hour and a half to cover the distance along the dark lanes from his home.
Owing to the kindness of Mr Chatfield, the whole of the parishioners were able to give expression to their joy on Tuesday evening. A huge stack of straw, bracken and furze was prepared in one of the Argoed fileds. At 6.30 the school-children marched in procession to the spot, with banners flying and beating everything metallic that would serve as kettledrums. Another procession came from the Argoed with many flags and pennons. The combustible heap was set ablaze and, while the sparks flew upwards, the children struck up patriotic songs in which all the parishioners joined.
The Misses Diana and Wendelin Beyts, attended by many willing attendants, went round and served buns and cakes to all and sundry. The festivities concluded with singing lustily ‘God Save the King’, three hearty cheers for His Majesty and Queen Mary, vociferous cheers for our sailors and soldiers and three more cheers for Mr Chatfield.’
Sadly the celebrations were followed by confirmation of the deaths of a number of other men previously listed as missing. Among these were Private Harry Roberts, son of George Roberts of Cherry Tree, Tregagle, and Private William Wilkins, son of Mr and Mrs Wilkins of Park Farm, New Mills, one of three members of his family killed. In all, thirteen men of the parish had given their lives. Others, though, began to return home. George Davies, whose parents farmed at The Old House, Lydart, and Harold Hudson, son of Mrs Sarah Hudson of Primrose Bank, were released prisoners of war for whom a ‘social benefit’ was held in January 1919; and later that month Private Leonard Bevan, partially disabled by his wounds, was presented at the Bush Inn with £9 12s 6d, collected by neighbours. A committee was set up, with Mrs du Heaume as treasure to organise the creation of a ‘Welcome Home Fund’ for returning servicemen, and the Monmouth Pierrots staged a concert in the school to raise funds for it.
So Penallt, like the rest of the country, slowly returned to normal life, though in many ways things were never to be the same again. The Flower Show was revived at the Argoed, but not until August 1920 and the erection of a War Memorial took a little longer. The tender by T Ballinger & Sons of Dingestow was accepted in January 1920; it was hoped that it would be completed by March of that year, but in February 1921 it was reported that the work had been seriously delayed by the contractor’s labour problems. However it was sincerely hoped that it could be unveiled on the following Palm Sunday, and so indeed it was. The ceremony was performed by the redoubtable Highland Chieftain The Mackintosh of Mackintosh, an old friend of the Rev du Heaume from his previous parish, and was commemorated by the presentation of Peace Mugs to all the children of the parish.