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Explore Your Archive 2020: Make us a map!

Four Forests, Llanddewi Brefi (detail)
Cribyn c. 1965 (LIB/3/1)

2020 is a year like no other. And although it is a time we will never forget, it’s still important to keep a record of it in the county archives. One of the silver linings of this very challenging year has been the opportunity to explore our local area in more detail, and we’ve discovered more about the environment, nature and ourselves along the way.

We’d love you to make and send us your maps reflecting your own experience. They can be made in any medium and sent either by post or electronically. They could be drawn, painted, or created as a digital picture. You might even choose to make a film instead, or a sound-map! We will keep the whole collection as a commemoration of our Ceredigion communities in 2020.

What could be in your map?

Embroidery by Beryl Lewis based on a plan of Cardigan in the Priory Estate map book (PE/1/1)

You could map the route of your favourite walk, or the little local world around you under lockdown (indoors or out). You might want to include interesting buildings, the wildlife you saw in lanes and hedges, woods and fields, maybe a corner in your town or village where you had a wonderful (socially-distanced!) chat with a friend or stranger.
Your map doesn’t even have to show a real place; it could be the map of the beautiful desert island that you imagined on bleaker days to keep yourself sane and happy.
It doesn’t matter if your map isn’t a work of art – though works of art are welcome!

Maps are as much as about ideas as anything else and we’d love to share your ideas.
We’d like to know who you are so we can thank you, but your personal details will be kept separately from the maps and not made available to the public when the maps become part of our collections, unless you specifically want us to reveal your identity.

Send your maps to archives@ceredigion.gov.uk or by post to Ceredigion Archives, Old Town Hall, Queen’s Square, Aberystwyth SY23 2EB.

All the maps shown here are hand-drawn or handmade! But if you need more inspiration, please visit our Explore Your Archive exhibition in the Aberystwyth Bandstand.

Posted in Cardiganshire, Explore Your Archive | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Captain Richard G. Read of Llangawsai, Llanbadarn Fawr

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan on the 15th of August 2020 we present a guest blog by Simon Burgess, Capt. Read’s great grandson.

During World War 2, Richard Read was a prisoner of war, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore on the 15th February 1942.  He, with nearly 150,000 mainly British, Australian and New Zealander (but also Indian and Dutch) troops became a prisoner of war. Winston Churchill called it the ‘worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history’. There followed over three and a half years of brutality and exploitation for Read and his fellow POWs. Those taking part in the Far East campaign were known as the Forgotten Army, as for those back home the more immediate threat to their lives was the war in Europe.

Image 1 -R G Read December 1945

Captain R G Read in December 1945, within a few weeks of his return to Aberystwyth

Richard George Read was a Captain in the Royal Artillery. He had already spent 25 years in the Royal Artillery before World War 2 began.

He joined the Army aged 14 in 1914. During the First World War he spent time in France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). After the war he was posted overseas, spending time in Palestine and Egypt. He spent nearly a decade in Egypt; it was there that he met Daisy Preston, a nanny, at the Abbassia Army Barracks School, Cairo. He and Daisy married in the British Consulate in Cairo in 1927 and within a year his eldest daughter, Eileen, was born. The family returned to Britain in 1930. Richard was with ‘F’ Battery Royal Horse Artillery at this time, before a posting to Mid Wales (Cardigan Battery) allowed him to settle with his family in Aberystwyth. The family home was in Llangawsai, Llanbadarn Fawr. By now a Battery Quartermaster Sergeant, he was awarded his Long Service Medal in January 1936, before leaving in 1938.

Richard re-enlisted just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, as a Lieutenant (QM) in the Territorial Army in Aberystwyth and Cardigan, at first with the 102nd (which later became 146th Regiment) Royal Artillery, and was promoted to Captain during this period.

In 1941 he decided to relinquish his Captain’s rank to join the 118th  Field Regiment Royal Artillery as Lieutenant again, perhaps because this Unit was due to be shipped to the Middle East and he wanted to ‘do his duty’ in action. Forming part of the 18th Division, the 118th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery departed the UK in late 1941, expecting to travel to the Middle East.

Image 10 training in India

Lt. R. G. Read either in training in India or possibly after arrival in Singapore in February 1942

However, the war against Japan in the Far East was not going well and Churchill decided to deploy the 18th Division to Singapore. Initially spending two weeks in India for some rushed and last minute training, it arrived in Singapore at the end of January 1942 when the battle was already virtually lost.

Image 3 - Gen Wavell

General Wavell’s last order sent 10th February 1942, just days before the surrender on the 15th February; the order contains instruction ‘Commanders and Senior Officers must lead their troops and, if necessary, die with them. There must be no thought of surrender and every unit must fight it out to the end and in close contact with the enemy.’

The Division landed during air raids on Singapore harbour and many men disembarked without the right equipment and very little training for Far East warfare. Within two weeks on the 15th February 1942 Singapore had surrendered to the invading Japanese.

Image 4 Gen Percival

General Percival – Telegram surrender to the Japanese on 15th February 1942

Image 5 - Gen. Yamashita letter

General Yamashita – Terms of the surrender of Allied Troops in Singapore

Image 5A - Surrender to the Nippon army

General Yamashita – telegram seeking the surrender of the Allied forces to the Nippon Army 13th February 1942

The Japanese had refused to sign up to the Geneva Convention and many of the camp guards were notorious for their acts of cruelty to their prisoners. The interpretation of the Japanese honour code Bushido  which was used in the training of Japanese troops during WWII meant that men who surrendered were considered beneath contempt, and resulted in guards regarding their prisoners as unworthy of humane treatment.

Image 14 - POW Card

Japanese Prisoner of War record card for Lt R.G. Read

Read kept a diary, and managed to write entries for most of his incarceration. His diaries make for some harrowing reading: prisoners were used as slave labour on the infamous ‘Death Railway’ built by the POWs between Burma and Thailand, in mines and in Japan or its invaded territories. Tales of hardship, starvation, beatings and death fill his diary. Richard entered weighing 12st 10lbs but by the time of his release was down to 7st 10lbs, a reduction of 40%.


Diary, May 1944. ‘Snail, rats, seaweed, […] latest delicacies’


Diary, August 1944, recording further weight loss

Many prisoners died as a result of malnutrition, starvation or tropical diseases. The heavy workload also took its toll.  During his 3 ½  years as a prisoner of war Captain Read was mainly held at Changi POW camp in Singapore, and there is a photograph in his collection showing the prisoners on a ‘work party’ accompanied by Japanese guards.

Image 2 - POWs

Japanese propaganda photograph, three guards and nine prisoners, on a work party, possibly sent to clean up after the surrender in 1942 and in the Bukit Timah area of Singapore. Note slouch hats were worn by the British during this time, although one prisoner (crouching next to the Japanese guard on the right) could be an indigenous Australian.

These work parties were used initially to clear up after the surrender. Photographs of this type were created as propaganda by the Japanese in order to illustrate to the outside world how well they were treating their prisoners.

Families back in Britain were unaware of the fate of their loved ones held by the Japanese, many assuming the worst after years of no contact.

Image 6 - Read telegram2

Telegram sent by Captain R. G. Read to his wife Daisy, dated 31st January 1942 but not received until 10 August 1944. This may have been the first indication to Daisy that her husband was still alive and a prisoner of war.

Image 6A - addendum to telegram

Explanatory note attached to the delayed telegram

The first letter Captains Read’s wife Daisy received from her husband was sent from Singapore and dated 31st January 1942 but did not arrive until 10th August 1944. 

Image 9 Handmade POW cards

Handmade Christmas and birthday cards given to Lt R. G. Read mostly 1942-44. Paper was a rare commodity in these camp and the prisoners often traded with the guards in order to make items like these cards.

Discipline in the camps was harsh and attempts at escape were met with violence, some ending in firing squad or beheadings.  One incident was known as the ‘Selerang Barracks Incident’ which started on 30 August 1942 as a result of the Japanese recapturing four POWs who had attempted an escape.


Diary entry about the ‘Selerang Barracks Incident’

The Japanese required that the other 17,000 prisoners in the camp sign a pledge never to attempt to escape again. After they refused, the POWs were forced to crowd in the barrack square for nearly five days with little water and no sanitation. This failed to break the men; however, the prisoners’ commanding officer realised that the dire conditions would soon lead to more loss of life through disease, lack of water and starvation. He instructed the men to sign the pledge, which they all eventually did, though many did so using false names. The Japanese later took the four men who had attempted to escape to the nearby beach area and shot them by firing squad.

Incidents like this badly affected those who were fortunate enough to survive. Up to a third who returned home suffered what is now known as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). At that time mental health problems were often hushed up or brushed under the carpet, meaning many prisoners were left to deal with these issues on their own, and families often had to deal with the aftermath.

Image 7 Handmade POW Tobacco tin

Handmade tobacco tin, made in Changi POW Camp given to Lt. R. G. Read of the 118th Field Regiment , Royal Artillery. This aluminium tin was probably made in the camp from metal stolen by the prisoners from the Japanese.

Image 8 Handmade POW Tobacco tin

Tobacco tin, inscription on the inside lid

Captain Read suffered from beri-beri and dyspepsia during his time in Changi, being bed-bound for the last few months. Beriberi is a disease caused by a vitamin B-1 deficiency, also known as thiamine deficiency. Dyspepsia (indigestion) can be an early sign of intestinal or stomach cancer, of which he eventually died in September 1946.

Gaps in his diary entries and subsequent notes show he was sometimes delirious or too poorly to write. The Japanese never gave the POWs any medical treatment; the prisoners themselves organised their own ‘hospitals’ with many men enduring medical procedures without anaesthetic or even the most basic of equipment. Prisoners suffered the effects of poor diet, malnutrition and tropical diseases including malaria and devastating epidemics of cholera. The efforts of their medical comrades undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.

It was only when Captain Read was shipped to India in autumn 1945 that he started to recover and gain weight.

Image 12 Medical card

Field medical card for Captain R. G. Read. This card was issued whilst he recuperated in Madras, India in the autumn of 1945, after the surrender of the Japanese in August.

Many of the sickest prisoners could not be shipped home immediately and so were taken initially to hospitals in India or Australia ; some even went home via the USA and Canada. On his return to Southampton R. G. Read travelled aboard the SS ‘Llandovery Castle’.

Image 13 - on the way home - Telegram from Madras

Telegram sent by R. G. Read to his wife Daisy, from Madras whilst recuperating, 20th  September 1945

On his arrival home to Aberystwyth on 1st December of that year he was greeted off the train by the Mayor and town dignitaries. An article was published in the Cambrian News giving an account of his homecoming.

Later, he briefly joined the Amphibious Training Wing in Tywyn in 1946, but sadly never really recovered from his poor treatment as a POW and died at Chester Military Hospital in September 1946. He left behind his wife Daisy and two daughters, Eileen and Mary. He is commemorated on the Llanbadarn Fawr War Memorial.

Image 15 - Llanbadarm War Memorial

Llanbadarn War Memorial showing Richard George Read’s name

Simon Burgess

Posted in Guest blog, Second World War | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cardigan? Hasn’t changed a bit.

We are delighted to present a guest blog by William Howells, the former County Librarian and a native of Cardigan.

Cardigan town

Cartouche depicting Cardigan town on John Speed’s map of Cardiganshire.

A quick glance at John Speed’s 1610 map of Cardigan confirms that the basic layout of the High Street and principal side streets of the town have not changed in over four hundred years. However, consideration as to the usefulness of various buildings have ensured that changes have occurred over the decades.

The earlier photographs were taken by J. Turnor Mathias towards the end of the nineteenth century. An attempt has been made to repeat the process, to confirm their location and show what can be seen from the same viewpoint in 2020. I am grateful to Keith Ladd for his help with the photographs.

Click on the images to enlarge.

Viewpoint 1:

If you stood on the old town bridge looking north, for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century you would have seen (1A) a row of houses situated directly in front of the castle walls and stretching from the bridge right up to the current Castle entrance. This was called Bridge Parade. The man on the bicycle is outside the Liverpool Arms which was number 6 (buildings are numbered from left to right in this photo). The licence of the Liverpool Arms was held by Hannah Davies, 1891–6; Benjamin Lloyd 1896–98; and Sarah Williams 1901–23.

Today (1B) you are able to look at an unobstructed view of the Castle Walls.

Viewpoint 2:

Moving left, the next photograph shows Argyle House, number 3 Bridge Parade. (2A)

In 1838 this was the home of John James Jones and his family. John, the father was an ironmonger, and a deacon at the town’s Bethania Baptist Chapel and mayor (in 1870); his son, David Owen was born here in 1836 and followed in his father’s footsteps as an ironmonger and deacon. He died on the 8th of March 1924.

Interestingly, David Turnor Mathias and family lived at 4 Bridge Parade between 1877 and 1891.

John Turnor Mathias (the photographer) was born in 1859, and later moved to Quay St. He was listed as a commercial merchant’s clerk in 1881 and mercantile clerk in 1891. Here then, he was taking a picture of his birthplace. By 1911 John Salmon, bootmaker, worked here and then Jenkin Arthur Griffiths between 1914 and 1926.

Today, again (2B) it is the Castle Walls that are prominent.

Viewpoint 3:

In the middle of this photograph (3A) stands London House or Bridge House (taken c. 1935). Most of the houses surrounding the entrance to the bridge were demolished c. 1933, mainly to improve access for road traffic across the old town bridge. The houses to the left were still there (as empty shells) in the 1960s.

Although access to the old bridge is now much improved (3B), the heavy volume of traffic has meant that a second bridge has been built upriver and opened in 1990.

Viewpoint 4:

The houses of Bridge Parade once followed up to the top of the hill in front of the Castle walls. (4A). Their removal now means that a clearer view can now be seen of the historic warehouses on the other side of the Teifi (4B).

Viewpoint 5:

At the top of Grosvenor Hill looking towards the Castle entrance is Green St. (5B) The buildings on both sides still stand and now form part of the entrance to the recently renovated Castle. 1 Green Street was formerly the Half Moon Inn (1830s–c.1913); no. 2 was formerly the Castle Inn (c.1840s–90s). On the right-hand side is no. 3 (Tŷ Castell) occupied in the 1860s by Asa Johnes Evans, solicitor. In the 1960s it was the home of Pritchard, Griffiths & Co., accountants (5A).

Viewpoint 6:

From the Castle entrance look north towards the town clock (6B) you will notice that several of the buildings on the left hand side have been demolished, no. 1 a second-hand bookshop run by Mrs Frances Mason in the 1960s, no. 2 was Volk’s the bakery. On the right is now Brioude Gardens. (6A)

Viewpoint 7:

If you then walk a little way down Quay St and turn round to face the Castle, this is what you will see (7B). The shops which previously stood here have been demolished (7A).

Viewpoint 8:

Proceeding along High St, but before reaching the Black Lion, turn round to face the bridge once more and you will see the Shire Hall which dates from the eighteenth century. It then developed as a commercial centre where many shops housed here have been and gone over the decades. Between 1926 and 1947 it housed S. T. Jones’ garage. (8A). The buildings/shops on the right side, including the Three Mariners public house have been demolished. They now form part of the Brioude Gardens mentioned previously (8B).

Viewpoint 9:

If you then walk towards the Shire Hall but turn down left into St Mary’s St, carry on down to the bottom until you reach the road that heads towards the bridge, turn round and look back up St Mary’s St you will see this view. (9B)

In the earlier photograph (9A) (left hand side) can be seen the noticeboards outside the Tivy-side Offices at no. 39.  Where the figures are standing is the turning to the Strand. Opposite is the White Hart Inn no. 11 (1703–1932). The buildings on the right side were demolished during the late 1960s to widen the road for through traffic approaching the old bridge.

Viewpoint 10:

On the left is the Strand and a familiar scene of flooding during high tides on the nearby river Teifi (10A). The modern photograph, a little further along, shows further 1960s clearance to make way for traffic (10B)

Viewpoint 11:

Behind the Guildhall, head down College Street until you reach the car park behind the Guild Hall. The house on the right has been demolished to allow entrance to the present car park. (11A). The houses on the left still stand today (11B)

Viewpoint 12:

This view is taken from the far right of the car park looking back towards these houses. This is Greenfield Square. It shows the jumble surrounding the Mwldan stream (12A). The area has now been cleared and houses the car park behind the Guildhall (12B).

Viewpoint 13:

The house on the far left in the previous photo (12B) is shown between the rows of houses here (13A). This was Mill St; the mill was nearby. The houses on both sides have been demolished (13B)

Viewpoint 14:

Head back towards Theatr Mwldan, turn right up to the main street (Pendre) you will see this shop on the corner. (14B)

The earlier photo (14A) shows Will Pantcoch holding the horse’s head. The man with the white beard and hat was Thomas Griffiths, the shop owner (grocer). In 1871, he was a married man of 39 years old, with a wife Eliza, and 2, later 3 sons. Evan (Ianto) their youngest son, with moustache and cap, is in the doorway.

Opposite the shop once stood the Board school (where the current Health Centre stands), demolished in the early 1970s. The children enjoyed watching Thomas throwing a daily bucket of India corn for the pigeons. John Davies opened his shop in 1908. His son Alwyn was responsible for the shop in 1962 and the shop closed on 2 February 1985.

Viewpoint 15:

Further along, where the one way system begins leading along Feidrfair, on the right hand corner is this shop (15B). In the 1960s, Mapstone the Greengrocers stood here. The postbox is still there. (15A)

Viewpoint 16:

Carrying on northwards towards the Cenotaph, you will see a large 1960s building, housing the local Job Centre (16B). This used to be part of Lion Terrace (16A). The road leading away is Napier St.

Viewpoint 17:

If you walk on pass the town Cenotaph on your left you will reach the junction leading to Gwbert (17B). The empty field on the right (behind the hedging) was filled with the present day Catholic Church, officially opened in 1970 (17A).

Viewpoint 18:

If you turn round 90 degrees you are looking along Gwbert Road (18A). On the right hand side is the Bowling Club, opened in 1980 (18B).

William H. Howells

Posted in Cardigan, Guest blog, Our favourite documents, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

The walls came tumbling down: Cardiganshire and the 1865 Prison Act

We present another exclusive guest blog by Richard Ireland.

Richard W. Ireland is a legal historian who taught for many years at Aberystwyth University. He is the author of many articles and his books include ‘A Want of Order and Good Discipline’: Rules and Discretion in the Victorian Prison and ‘Land of White Gloves’?: A History of Crime and Punishment in Wales. He is a founding Committee Member of the Welsh Legal History Society and has made a number of appearances on television and radio.

I was asked to contribute another blog at a time when the COVID 19 virus had us all confined to our homes. Without access either to the Archives themselves or indeed to much of my own research material, I was a little daunted. It felt a little like being in solitary confinement (though I know enough about prisons to know that such a statement is unnecessarily hyperbolic). But my mind was turned to imprisonment and to the effect on the county of one Act of Parliament in particular.

The Prison Act of 1865 was a piece of legislation of major significance in the history of judicial punishment. The nineteenth century saw a revolution in the treatment of convicted criminals, the old public, corporal punishments giving way to the pre-eminence of the prison. The death penalty was in practice restricted from its previous extensive range to cases of murder only, the stocks, pillory and public whipping disappeared, the sentence of transportation was abolished in 1857. Now the sentence which was front and centre of the criminal justice system was to be one of imprisonment.

Prisons had been used against criminals from the middle ages, though not, theoretically at any rate, for the most serious of crimes, for which execution was the prescribed penalty. Prisons were kept in every county, locally administered, financed and staffed, a position which was extended to Wales after Henry VIII’s Union legislation. In addition to these County Gaols, the opening of a former royal palace, Bridewell, in 1556 formed the model for another tier of custodial establishments, which sometimes shared the name of the original building but were officially to become known as “Houses of Correction”. These confined and put to work the idle poor and petty criminals, poverty and criminality often being regarded as similar conditions. In 1609 the provision of a House of Correction became compulsory for every county. One was in due course constructed in Cardigan and another in Aberystwyth. The exact dates of the construction of these first quarters (I suspect the Cardigan one to be earlier) are unknown to me with my current limited stock of research resources, but only the naive would assume that the statute was immediately implemented anywhere in Cardiganshire. As we will see, the County was not above neglecting its legal obligations, particularly if they would cost money. The County Gaol, meanwhile, continued to operate in Cardigan. The Aberystwyth story is complicated by the fact that the House of Correction was repositioned at different times. In 1799, for example, it moved to a site on Great Darkgate Street (see map). The various locations are considered in that excellent history of the town, Born on a Perilous Rock by W.J. Lewis.

Aberystwyth_town_plan_4669578 (3)

The penal revolution of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw not only a greater use of imprisonment but also more intervention in their operations on the part of the central government. For serious offenders the state even opened its own institutions, the first being Millbank Penitentiary in 1816. More were to follow. But even the County Gaols were being touched by the desire for modernity and uniformity evidenced by the activities of central government. The Prison Inspectorate was formed in 1835 and local institutions, though still nominally independent, were under pressure to adhere to general standards and to operate more uniform regimes. Houses of Correction were becoming less distinct institutions from county prisons as time went on and the latter became more developed. Records of the Aberystwyth establishment are rare, but Dr Skarżyńska drew my attention to a few documents in the Roberts and Evans collection in the Archives, including an inventory of the material within the institution as reproduced here.

RE.PS.5.1 Aber House of Correction inventory r

Though brief and schematic as a document it provides interesting details of life in the institution. Alongside the religious literature and the handcuffs we find the record of the presence of seven spinning wheels. These would have been the objects of the compulsory labour of those who were confined. Spinning was so used in other such Welsh institutions, as at Forden and Montgomery. Although it bears no date the inventory possibly comes from 1845, as it is found in the same collection as another similar inventory relating to the Cardigan Gaol and House of Correction of that year. The failure within this latter document to differentiate between the two Cardigan institutions suggest that they were at that point combined within the same complex of buildings. This pattern was common in other towns where a County Gaol was maintained, as for example in neighbouring Carmarthen.

In 1865 the Prison Act sought to impose greater standards of uniformity on county institutions. Whereas previously persuasion had been tried, now there was recourse to compulsion. The Aberystwyth House of Correction had the dubious distinction of being one of the few establishments explicitly closed by the statute. The County Gaol was obliged, under pain of withdrawal of government financial support, to make certain changes by the act, which included a requirement for the provision of separate cells for prisoners, rather than the communal accommodation which had lingered in many gaols. The Inspector’s Reports on the institutions leading up to the 1865 Act would give an indication of the state of the buildings, but my own solitary confinement at present means that I have been unable to access them. Nonetheless, Cardiganshire’s authorities never went to the trouble or the expense of undertaking the work on the Gaol. They sat tight. An oversight of the 1865 Act was that it failed to make any provision for the fate of prisoners should an institution be closed. In 1877 the entire prison estate of England and Wales was brought under Home Office control. Carmarthenshire, which had dutifully rebuilt its own gaol after the 1865 Act, borrowing £15,000 to do so, found itself having to take in the prisoners from Cardiganshire, and also from Pembrokeshire. Only Cardigan’s House of Correction remained: its Gaol, once one of the very indicators of county status, was closed. It seems to me, and I am sure that it seemed to the authorities in Carmarthen, that they were themselves being penalised for their neighbours’ breaches of the law!

Richard W. Ireland

Posted in Cardiganshire, Crime and Punishment, Guest blog | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As the swallow flies; my Great Aunt Gwenol’s story

We are delighted to present a guest blog by Gretel McEwen, written in response to discovering her great aunt Gwenol’s photograph albums in our collections.

Behind the glass doors of Ceredigion Archives in Aberystwyth rest countless personal and family stories. They arrive in surprising ways and are meticulously catalogued and stored, awaiting their resurrection. My first ever visit to Aberystwyth, and I had come to see two forgotten pieces of my own family history, found by chance online – two photo albums put together with love by my Great Aunt Gwenol [ref. WP/5/8 and WP/5/9].


Newspaper cutting explaining the reason for Gwenol’s name.

She was born a Satow, a fascinating and exotic family. Her father – Fedor Andrew Satow – was a judge in the court of appeals in Cairo, living six months of the year in Cairo and six months in Dolfriog Hall, Snowdonia.


Celebrations on the occasion of Gwenol’s christening

His uncle, Ernest Satow, lived in Japan for many years and was head of the Japanese Embassy 1895 – 1900. He was famously accepted by his Japanese colleagues as an equal. Ernest took a common law Japanese wife of Samurai family, Takeda Kane – unable to officially marry as he was a British diplomat. Fedor, like his uncle, spent a few years working in the Japanese legation as young lawyer before taking up his Cairo appointment. He married my beautiful great-grandmother Adeline Akers-Douglas, daughter of the first viscount Chilston. A glamorous marriage and they had four daughters, the second of whom was my grandmother Joyce Adeline, born in Cairo.

As a child, visiting my grandmother, I absorbed the aesthetics of Japanese art. My Great Grandfather Fedor Satow, had been a collector of Japanese artefacts during his time at the legation in Tokyo, some of which my grandmother inherited. I bathed bronze tortoises in the birdbath, admired the bronze koi carp with the ivory and ebony eyes and adored the tiny ivory netsuke carvings sitting on top of the desk. Many years later, in a twist of fate, a turn of the Karmic wheel, my son decided to study Japanese, without being aware of our family connections, long archived in my childhood memories. He now practises as a bilingual lawyer, working between England and Tokyo, has married a Japanese woman and has two beautiful children – echoes of both his great-great-grandfather, Fedor Satow and his great-great-great-uncle, Ernest Satow.


Fedor Satow’s bookplate and Gwenol’s signature.

In the summer of 2019 I began to explore my Satow family and its connections to Japan, for a textile project. I became immersed in photos; some borrowed from my cousin, others found online, a few in my existing albums, and of course the discovered albums in Ceredigion Archive. I wrote to Ania Skarżyńska, one of the archivists, explaining my interest in them. Her reply was warm, welcoming and interested, with an open invitation to visit the archive. In September my husband and I found ourselves in Aberystwyth, blown by autumn winds, salted by sea spray and hosted by a guest house reminiscent of classic seaside holidays.

What a moment, standing outside those glass doors of the archive, almost nervous about meeting my family again but in this new place. Such a warm welcome, and Ania so generous with her time and knowledge. The two albums had been deposited in the archive amongst a collection of Webley Parry family papers – the in-laws of my Great Aunt Gwenol’s husband David Heneker. First news flash! Gwenol was David’s second wife. I had never known this.

The next revelation was to meet my great-grandfather – I had never seen a photo of him. Fedor had died at the age of forty nine of septicaemia, leaving my great-grandmother at the age of thirty three with four young daughters, the youngest being a baby born in the year he died.


The albums through which I had browsed as a child showed my grandmother and her sisters playing in the garden, riding ponies and sitting in a dog cart, but the photos must have been taken after their father died. So Gwenol’s albums brought up powerful emotions. For the first time I came face to face with a man I had known through stories, but not pictures. He is sitting on a step in the garden, holding baby Gwenol and is clearly a delighted father.


There is also a photo of himself as a baby. The photographer’s plate reads H. Hoffer, Riga. So the family rumours that the Satows shared some Russian ancestry were true! Fedor’s family had certainly lived in Riga, when he was a baby – part of Imperial Russia at the time. I loved a picture of my great grandmother as a young woman sitting the garden at Dolfriog, with baby Gwenol in the family cradle.


I remember this cradle in my grandmother’s house. A calling card belonging to my great grandmother shows two addresses – Kass-el-Doubara, Cairo and Dolfriog, Penrhyn-Deudraeth, N. Wales. A story in itself of travels between Wales and Cairo twice a year, with young children. No small undertaking!


Adeline Satow’s card

A very powerful experience to see the albums themselves. Childhood memories, half remembered stories told by people no longer here, all brought to life, made real. Ania suggested that I take photographs, promising to find time at some point to have the entire contents scanned and sent to me on discs. An extraordinary thoughtful kindness.


‘The Gwenol Book’, embossed cover of the album.

Those discs arrived recently and I was able to relive that wonderful morning in Ceredigion Archives meeting family through lost albums. I can now also share that experience with my own family so that they too understand their place in this family of exotic stories. Family stories and pictures give us a sense of belonging, of our place in history, of the roots of our identity. Thank you!

Posted in Guest blog, Our favourite documents | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

‘We trust our letters are reaching you’: The Experiences of a Prisoner of War from Aberystwyth in Japanese Labour Camps

We are delighted to present another guest blog by Dr. Lucy Smith.

Dr. Lucy Smith has degrees in English Literature and Archive Administration and her doctorate was on Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography. She is particularly interested in creative archives, and in the representation of Victorian art in literature. In her spare time, she loves painting, exploring historic places, and discovering new bookshops.

Although many of the headline collections found in local archives focus on wealthy families and famous residents of the county, it’s often the hundreds of small collections from ordinary people that provide the most touching and personal stories.

Returning to volunteer at Ceredigion Archives, I was given a fascinating small collection to work with – the papers of Ivor Tegwyn James (ref. ADX/1712), a young railway worker from Aberystwyth who enjoyed writing and photography and who became caught up in the terrifying history of Japanese Prisoner of War camps in the Second World War.

Faced with an unsorted box of Ivor’s official documents, personal letters and photographs, it was my job to reconstruct the history behind the collection and make sense of Ivor’s story. Using documents and letters from the collection, I found that Ivor Tegwyn James was born in 1918, the youngest son of Hugh Owen James, an ironmonger, and his wife Elizabeth. Ivor began working for the Great Western Railway at the age of 15 in 1934, and lived in nearby Greenfield Street with his family. The earliest items in the collection are photographs of Ivor’s late teenage years in the 1930s, where he is often to be found spending time with friends and swimming in the sea. These photographs are all heavily damaged because Ivor must have had them when he was captured by the Japanese and taken them from camp to camp. It’s difficult to imagine how much these mementos of carefree times must have meant to Ivor in the camps, which he later described as ‘a living hell’.

Ivor and friend on wall

ADX/1712/3/2: Damaged photograph of Ivor James (left) and a friend sitting on a wall c.1930s.

The military documents in the collection show that Ivor had joined up very early, before the War had even begun. He later explains this was because in 1939, all twenty and twenty-one year old men were preemptively called up for six months of military service. Ivor would have been 20 when he was called up. After six months of training in North Wales, Ivor was sent to Singapore in 1940 as a Lance Bombardier in the Royal Artillery. Being from Aberystwyth, he seems to have lost no time in going for a swim in Singapore.

Singapore beach

ADX/1712/3/20: Ivor James (bottom left) and friends whilst stationed in Singapore.

However, disaster struck when Japanese forces invaded Singapore in February 1942, forcing the British to surrender. Along with UK and Australian troops and British civilians, Ivor was taken prisoner by the Japanese, and was sent to Changi Prisoner of War camp on Singapore Island, a converted British military base and the same place that he had been previously stationed as a soldier. Amazingly for us, Ivor seems to have coped with these events by writing about them, and the collection contains a piece of rhymed prose about the Battle of Singapore, as well as Ivor’s Prisoner of War diary which runs between 1942 and 1943.

HM Transport Nevasa

ADX/1712/3/11: H.M. Transport “Nevasa”, the ship that took Ivor to Singapore. Jan 1940.

In this fascinating diary, written in very small writing on a few pieces of card, Ivor marked his daily life in the camps. He regularly marks the food rations he was given that must have been so important, often a meal consisted of a cup of rice and some pineapple. The prisoners were forced to carry out heavy work and he records being sent into Singapore on a ‘working party’ and staying in ‘the Chinese school’. He also records frequent bouts of illness, including that he ‘went into Roberts hospital with dysentery’. At other times, he attended the funerals of fellow Prisoners and acted as stretcher bearer. Even whilst he recorded the bleak reality of life in the camp, Ivor also clung on to reminders of home life. He regularly records the birthdays of his parents and siblings, and on 1 Mar 1943, he remembers St David’s Day, writing that he ‘met Roy Fisher at night in the Changi Palladium’, which was the POW prison theatre that ran inside the camp, where Ivor attended a production of a play called ‘The Dover Road’. He also notes in 1943, that some prisoners have been sent ‘up country’. After March 1943, the diary comes to an end.

Ivor's Diary

ADX/1712/4/5 Page from Ivor James’s Prisoner of War Diary, 1942-1943

Whilst these events were going on, on the other side of the world in Aberystwyth, Ivor’s parents were desperate to hear news of him. I found that the heart of the collection was a series of letters written weekly to Ivor by his parents via Prisoner of War post. After the fall of Singapore in 1942, his parents had been told that Ivor was ‘missing presumed dead’ but they seem to have begun writing to him weekly in 1943 in the vague hope that the letters would reach him. They make for heart-breaking reading, and give an insight into what it was like for families unable to do anything but wait for news. In a typical letter written on 9 March 1943, Ivor’s father writes ‘We are still without any news of you and we trust that our letters are reaching you […] and have placed our confidence in your safe keeping in the one that rules all’. Ivor’s parents often exhort him to ‘keep smiling’ and often invoke God’s protection of him. It’s extremely affecting to read these letters, especially when the parents include the news that Ivor’s elder brother Hubert, who they have previously written is very anxious about his welfare, has died in a road traffic accident whilst serving with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in Lincolnshire in May 1943. As the letters go on, information about Prisoners of War in the Far East begins filtering through, and Hugh James writes that ‘we are very nervy and excited as news came through last night that Roy Fisher from the GPO was a prisoner in Malaya’. This was the same man that Ivor met at the Changi Palladium on St David’s Day only two months previously. However, they continue to wait for news, writing in May 1943 that ‘the suspense of not having any news regarding you is a heavy burden […] we have no special news to tell and if we had we would not be allowed to put it down’.

Parents Letters

ADX/1712/2 (part): Letters sent by Ivor’s parents via Prisoner of War Post, 1943. Note that each one has been opened by a British ‘Examiner’

Meanwhile, presumably soon after the diary ends, Ivor James was sent away from Singapore to build the railway from Burma to Thailand known as the ‘Death Railway’, which thousands of Allied prisoners and civilian labourers died constructing. Ivor was moved from camp to camp, and received only one cup of rice a day. Ill with malnutrition, he was unable to work, even when beaten by the Japanese Prison guards, and only after the defence of a Captain Diver, he was able to trek through the jungle to a hospital camp. After some horrific experiences, he then met a man from Aberystwyth who worked in the hospital canteen and gave him extra rations. Even in the worst circumstances, it seems it has always been true that wherever you go in the world, you will meet people from Aberystwyth!

In September 1943, Ivor’s parents finally write that they have ‘Received your card. How happy we are after the good news’. This ‘card’ may be the message that Ivor refers to in the diary sent in February 1943, which was only allowed to be 24 words long. Japanese forces were very slow both in sending out Prisoner of War messages and in giving them their mail from home. Most of the letters from Aberystwyth were received by Ivor over a year after they were sent, the dates of which he meticulously recorded on the envelopes. It must have been hard reading about his brother’s death over a year after it happened. Ivor was transferred back to Changi POW camp after the building of the railway, where he must have received the letters in 1944.

The correspondence ends in a volley of telegrams sent by Ivor’s parents and friends on the news that he is returning home. After the war was over, and the camps had been liberated, Ivor was shipped by stretcher to a hospital in Bangalore, India. There he sent a letter to his parents who sent back a telegram to London saying ‘Happy to hear that you are alright anxiously waiting your arrival love – parents’. In his article for the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day, Ivor writes that when he arrived back in Aberystwyth in November 1945, a massive welcome party was waiting at Aberystwyth Station and his home street was decked in decorations.

However, it was not an easy return as the records show that Ivor had been partially disabled by his experiences and received a pension allowance for disablement until 1953. He tried to claim for possessions lost at the time of the surrender in Singapore, including a gold watch given to him by his parents and a photograph album bought in Singapore. He returned to working on the railway as a Guard at Aberystwyth Station which he did until he retired. He also remained a member of The Japanese Labour Camp Survivors’ Association of Great Britain all his life.

One of the most wonderful items in the collection is this photograph of Ivor and his wife Olwen on their wedding day in 1950. The photographs takes on so much meaning because of what has come before. Although it shows the physical effects of Ivor’s experiences as Prisoner of War, this undamaged post-War photograph also really captures the joy of the day and a new start.

Wedding day

ADX/1712/3/24 Ivor Tegwyn James and Olwen Roberts on their wedding day, summer 1950


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