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Llanbadarn Fawr Deanery Eisteddfod Chair 1914

We are delighted to present a guest blog by Richard E. Huws.

When you visit Canolfan Alun R. Edwards, in the former Town Hall, Aberystwyth, you will probably notice an eisteddfod chair on the first floor gallery close to the entrance to the offices of Ceredigion Archives. The chair is on loan from Ceredigion Museum.

This elegant object is the work of Hugh Davies, Dolgellau, and was awarded as the most prestigious prize at the fourth annual Llanbadarn Deanery Eisteddfod held at the Coliseum Theatre, Aberystwyth, on 18 February 1914. The chair was offered for a poem in praise of ‘Ieuan Brydydd Hir’, the eighteenth century cleric, poet and scholar, born at Lledrod. Six bards competed for the chair, and the winner was announced as ‘Disgybl Tudno’, by the adjudicator David Lewis (1870-1948; ‘ap Ceredigion’). But ‘Disgybl Tudno’ was nowhere to be seen when his name was called, and one of the Eisteddfod officials was instead chaired in his absence!

However, the identity of the very worthy winner was given in a newspaper report in the Carmarthen Journal during the following week as a young student at University College, Aberystwyth named T. Oswald Williams from Cwrtnewydd, Ceredigion. Thomas Oswald Williams (1888-1965; ‘ap Gwarnant’) was to become a major figure in the religious and cultural life of Ceredigion as minister of Brondeifi Unitarian Chapel, Lampeter for nearly 50 years. He served Lampeter as its county councillor from 1951 until 1964, and completed four terms as mayor of the town. He was also instrumental in establishing Hafan Deg, the town’s residential care home.

Thanks to Carrie Canham (Ceredigion Museum) and Helen Palmer (Ceredigion Archives) for their assistance.

Richard E. Huws

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Xmas Pie

Ref. MUS/60/3. Click to enlarge.

This programme captures so much about Aberystwyth history. In WW2 the town was a major base for initial training for the RAF. This performance brought the military and the town together in the iconic King’s Hall to raise money for the (pre NHS) Cardiganshire General Hospital.

The tone of the concert was resolutely upbeat: “Xmas Pie” was performed just after Christmas 1942 and is described as “a dish suitable for young and old mixed to an entirely new recipe and seasoned with a real Christmas flavour for the kiddies”.

Part 1 of the performance consisted of a short comic (?) play called The Family Party, and included many young aircraftmen in the cast list. Of particular interest in the role of “Uncle Joe” was Joseph Ceci. Ceci worked for the British Museum, and was a particular expert in portrait painting. Described as a man of “exuberant and generous personality”, he accompanied those parts of the collections that were evacuated to Aberystwyth for the duration of the war, and clearly entered into the life of the town with gusto.

The second part of the evening’s performance comprised a children’s ballet A Dream of Christmas. The young cast had roles as fairies, sailors and urchins with adults playing the Snowman, the Policeman, the Grown-ups and – of course – Father Christmas (played by Squadron-Leader R.H. Truman). The finale of the evening was a religious piece called The First Christmas involving the choir of St Michael’s Church and Sister Maberley in the role of the Madonna.

The cast list. Click to enlarge.
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The Channel Squadron at Aberystwyth

We are delighted to present a guest blog by Dr Brian H Davies.

This photograph (ref. GP/1/69) shows a fleet of warships anchored in Cardigan Bay and is one of a collection of photographs of Aberystwyth, mostly promenade views, taken in the 1890s. Other evidence informs us that it must have been taken in 1896, between the 20 and the 23 June, and there are reasons to believe that the view was captured at about noon on Saturday 20 June.

Warships in Cardigan Bay (GP/1/69)

On Friday 26 June 1896 the Prince of Wales was due to be installed as Chancellor of the new federal University of Wales at a ceremony in Aberystwyth, and it was anticipated that at least two Royal Navy warships would be in attendance in the bay for the royal occasion. They were to be detached from the Channel Squadron as it made its way back from Belfast to its base in Portland, Dorset, after a two-month cruise of northern waters. The Squadron had left Portland on 5 May, had visited Glasgow, Oban, Stornoway (Western Isles), Kirkwall (Orkney) and Belfast, and was due back at Portland on 26th June. The ships detached for the Aberystwyth visit would also call at Cardiff and Swansea on their later return to Portland.

Both the Aberystwyth Observer (AO, 25 June 1896) and Cambrian News (CN, 26 June 1896) carried detailed accounts of the events in Aberystwyth, and expressed surprise that it was not just two vessels, but the entire Channel Squadron that appeared in Cardigan Bay on Saturday 20 June, with the exception of some smaller vessels left at Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) for coaling. The AO reported that

On Saturday morning, about half past eleven, in a slight mist, several ships came into sight … with the aid of glasses nine were counted. … They were preceded by the smallest of their number, which seemed to be taking soundings. They came steadily on until people almost feared that they would run on the Castle rocks, but at a signal the anchors of all the vessels went down simultaneously, with a splash. In the meantime, smoke was seen to the north … and then a three-masted steamer came into sight, and in half-an-hour she had anchored with the other vessels.

The ten warships which anchored off the Castle rocks were actually the pride of the Royal Navy; they were all new ships, none more than seven years old. There were two Majestic Class battleships, the Majestic and the Magnificent, both 16,000 tons and each with a crew of 672. The Majestic was the flagship of Vice-Admiral Lord Walter Kerr who commanded the fleet. The four Royal Sovereign Class battleships, each 14,000 tons with a crew of 670, were the Royal Sovereign, the Empress of India, the Repulse and the Resolution. The three cruisers, the Blake, the Hermione and the Bellona (1st, 2nd and 3rd Class cruisers, respectively) were smaller vessels, from 2,000 to 9,000 tons and manned by crews of 170 to 570. The only three-masted vessel was the Bellona, and the photograph shows its arrival later than the rest of the Squadron, at about noon. The Halcyon was a small 1,000-ton torpedo gunboat with a crew of 120 which acted as the tender for the Squadron, fulfilling tasks such as taking depth soundings. There was thus a considerable tonnage of warships anchored off Aberystwyth, and the CN commented that a warship had not ‘been seen in the bay since the days of the Spanish Armada, when a galleon was wrecked on the Causeway’.

On anchoring in the bay, the ships quickly dressed their flags and fired their enormous guns as a salute for the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne on 20 June 1837. Onshore, the Town Council, which was the harbour authority, hurriedly searched for a royal ensign which by the end of the day flew on the Castle tower. In the afternoon, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Town Clerk braved a choppy sea to visit the Majestic to pay the town’s respects to the Vice-Admiral. The CN commented that ‘Boarding a man-of-war did not seem as easy to fulfil as their every-day duties’ and according to the AO, ‘they all got a good wetting’. Once the Majestic’s officers understood that it was the Mayor’s party alongside, they were piped aboard with due formality.

Vice-Admiral Lord Walter Kerr regretted that operational matters prevented the officers of the Squadron from accepting the Mayor and Corporation’s invitation to a banquet they were hoping to arrange for the evening of Monday, 22 June. Such operational matters did not prevent groups from the more than 5,000 officers and ratings coming ashore on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, nor did they dampen the hospitality of the Royal Navy in welcoming visits to the ships and tours of their facilities by hundreds of townspeople over the three days. Many of the seamen enjoyed trips inland, Devil’s Bridge being a particular attraction. The Rear-Admiral attended mass at the local Catholic Church on Sunday morning, while on Monday officers of the Repulse and the Royal Sovereign played a cricket match on the College ground, and a band from one of the ships played during the afternoon.

At nightfall on Monday, the whole district was treated to a spectacular display by the Squadron’s searchlights. The CN recorded that ‘So powerful were the rays of the lights that not only the illuminated clouds but the brilliant beams that pierced them could be distinctly seen from Newquay and far away on the countryside. When the lights were turned inland, Plimlymon and the other higher peaks of the range were revealed with marvellous clearness amidst the surrounding gloom’.

Many locals hoped that the whole Squadron would remain for the royal visit on Friday, 26 June, but naval orders required eight of the vessels to leave Aberystwyth at 10 a.m. on Tuesday for return to their Portland base. ‘In consequence the vessels, after starting in two lines, formed into single file, the little Halcyon, the tender of the Squadron, leading (AO)’. The ships ‘steamed grandly away, leaving the Hermione and the Bellona to grace the proceedings on Friday and fire the royal salute (CN)’.

On Friday morning the royal party arrived in Aberystwyth by train from Machynlleth, where they had stayed overnight at Plas Machynlleth, the home of the Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry. The Prince and Princess of Wales, with Princesses Maud and Victoria, travelled from the station in the royal carriage, escorted by mounted cavalry, to the installation pavilion which had been erected in Town Hall Square, at the junction of Portland Street and Queen’s Road. The CN tells us that the colourful scene in the packed pavilion ‘was further heightened by the novel appearance of the officers of the cruisers Hermione and Bellona. … These appeared in naval uniform, resplendent in gold lace. They were accorded a prominent position on the dais’. As the royal party took their seats, ‘the Choir sang ‘The Druids’ Chorus’ which was accentuated by the booming at intervals of the heavy guns on the Hermione and Bellona, firing a royal salute (CN)’. The Prince of Wales was duly installed as Chancellor of the University of Wales and he conferred several honorary degrees, one (DMus) on Alexandra, Princess of Wales, and another (LLD) on Mr W.E. Gladstone, who had served four terms as Prime Minister between 1868 and 1894.

The royal party, the university officials and other guests then went in procession to the College where a company of marines from the Hermione and Bellona formed the guard of honour. ‘The luncheon was laid out in the beautiful and spacious Pier Pavilion, opened that day by the Princess of Wales (CN)’ and afterwards the party processed to the northern end of Victoria Terrace where the newly-built women’s hall of residence was formally opened by Her Royal Highness and named Alexandra Hall.

The royal party later returned to Machynlleth by train for another night at Plas Machynlleth. The next day they returned to London, making a short visit to Cardiff on the Saturday afternoon.  In the meantime, the Royal Navy cruisers left Cardigan Bay for Penarth, where they anchored for the duration of the royal visit to Cardiff. They left Penarth early on Sunday morning, anchoring briefly off the Mumbles so that Swansea could witness their gun salute to mark the anniversary of the Queen’s coronation (28 June 1838). Once this was accomplished, the Hermione and Bellona left Welsh waters to make their way around Land’s End and rejoin the Channel Squadron at its Portland base.

Brian H Davies

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The Abermule disaster: a tragic death in a railway family.

The Abermule disaster was one of Wales’ worst accidents on the railways. It occurred on 26th January 1921 when staff at Abermule station mixed up the ‘tablet’ or token which was passed to the engine crew to show they had safe passage on a single-line section of track. In consequence the 10.25 express train from Aberystwyth collided head-on with a slow train which had left Whitchurch at 10.05 am about 2 ½ miles from Newtown and 1 ½ miles from Abermule.

Both trains were travelling at about 30mph and the impact of 60mph wrecked both engines. The express train consisted of seven carriages. The first two were thrown off the rails, but many passengers escaped serious injury.

Scene of the disaster. Montgomeryshire Express,1 February 1921.

The last three carriages remained on the rails; although one was badly damaged, the final two were almost untouched. The worst damage was to the third and fourth coaches, the force of the impact telescoping them together. The fourth coach, a GWR 8-wheel composite coach, was that destined for Paddington and it was there that most of the fatalities occurred.

The driver and fireman of the stopping train were killed, whilst the driver and fireman of the express threw themselves from the cab at the last moment and although injured, both survived. One of the directors of the Cambrian Railway, Lord Herbert Vane-Tempest also died, as did his valet James Henderson.

Amongst the seventeen fatalities was the passenger guard of the express, 69 year old Edward Shone of Aberystwyth.

A small collection at Ceredigion Archives may have been made by one of the family or a close friend. It consists of cuttings from contemporaneous papers and periodicals, and one more modern article, about the disaster and about Edward Shone in particular.

The narrative of the disaster and subsequent rescue make harrowing reading even 99 years on, for newspapers were not as reticent as they are now in giving details which modern sensibilities would consider unnecessarily distressing and intrusive.

The body of Edward Shone was the first to be removed from the wreckage, identifiable by his ‘uniform and bright buttons’ whilst ‘a sorrowful exclamation’ by the rescue party signalled that they had recognised him. As a passenger guard he had been seated in ‘a little box’ (we might describe it as a cubby hole) in the Paddington coach, probably situated between the first and third class sections of that coach.

Inquest report, Daily Mirror, 3 February 1921

Later, at the inquest, Henry Shone, 3 St George’s Terace,  Llanbadarn identified the body of his father who lived at 4 Stanley Road, Aberystwyth. Edward Shone had lived there for nearly twenty years, moving from Llanidloes in the early years of the century, when the Cambrian and Mid Wales Railway Companies merged.  He and his wife Annie had three daughters and six sons. All of the sons had followed Mr Shone onto the railways, as he in turn had followed his father who had been one of the first guards to serve the Mid-Wales Line.

Henry Shone was a signalman at Aberystwyth, and said he last saw his father as the 10.25 express passed out of Aberystwyth when Edward “in his usual way waved his hand as passing the signal box.”

Edward and Annie and their growing family had lived at Cwmdu, on the edge of Llanidloes  “and in the minds of many townspeople linger happy recollections of the earlier associations of those bygone days. He was 69 years of age but looked far less, his rubicund, good humoured face scarce betraying his almost three score and ten years”. The local paper noted “he has paid many visits to his old familiar scenes at Llanidloes and always spoke of his love for the town which had cherished him for many years.” On coming to Aberystwyth he had named his new home in Stanley Road ‘Idloes House’  

In Llanidloes Mr Shone had been a staunch supporter of the Established (i.e. the Anglican) Church and on transferring to Aberystwyth he joined the congregation of Holy Trinity, where he became an active church member.

The parish magazine for Llanbadarn Fawr, St. Michael and All Angels and Holy Trinity for February 1921 gave their own tribute to Mr Shone.  

Mr Shone was a staunch Churchman and had been for many years a regular worshipper and sidesman at Holy Trinity and also a member of the Parochial Church Council. We can never express adequately our heartfelt sorrow for the irreparable loss which the widow and her family have sustained. It will be a comfort for them to know that the best witness to the high regard and affection with which Mr Shone was held, not only by his comrades, but by all that had had the pleasure of knowing him is the fact that his funeral on Sunday, 30th ult. was one of the largest ever seen in the town. He died in tragic circumstances, but like the soldier on the battlefield, he dies whilst doing his duty. May God uphold and comfort all the family in their sad bereavement.

We must remember that for many readers, the death of the soldier on the battlefield was all too recent a memory in 1921. The funeral was sufficiently impressive to be reported in national newspapers including the Daily Mirror, with three photographs of the procession.

In 1921 Sunday rail services out of Aberystwyth were very limited, with just a morning and evening mail train and it was for this reason that the funeral took place on Sunday, so that fellow railwaymen could attend their comrade’s funeral. A special train conveyed them down the line to Aberystwyth. 

In reporting the funeral the Cambrian News noted that, like his father,

Report of Edward Shone’s funeral, Cambrian News

Mr Shone himself had acted [as a guard] for over forty years, being the first in charge of a train running between Cardiff and Aberystwyth. He came to live at Aberystwyth about twenty years ago, during which time he was guard on the express from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury in the winter months and to London in the summer months. The great respect in which he was held was made manifest last Sunday afternoon when his remains were laid to rest in the cemetery. Hundreds of townspeople attended the funeral. The Cambrian Railway Company was represented by Mr Herbert, one of the directors : Mr James Rees from the Head Office Oswestry; and MR T.K. Vaughan Stationmaster, representing the Superintendent of the line. A special train brought in a large number of railwaymen from different parts of the system….a touching service was held at Holy Trinity Church…from the church to the cemetery the body was borne on the shoulders of railway employees. The chief mourners were Mrs A. Shone, widow, Messrs. William, Edward, Thomas, James, Albert, Harry and Stanley Shone, sons. Misses Polly, Lottie and Sally Shone (daughters). The wreaths…numbered 32 [including from] the Taff Vale Railway, Cardiff, Midland Railway Employees, Swansea Valley, Coast Section of the Cambrian Railway, Aberystwyth Clerical Railway Staff, N.U.R Aberystwyth Branch, Co-operative Society Aberystwyth, & the Church Wardens Holy Trinity

A final insight into Edward Shone’s life is given in his obituary in The Wheatsheaf of February 1921, the newsletter of the Aberystwyth and District Co-operative Society :

Mr Shone who has met his death under the most distressing circumstances in the Cambrian railway disaster on January 26th 1921 between Newtown and Abermule, deprives the Society of one of its oldest and most faithful members.

Mr Shone has been on the Management Committee ever since its foundation in 1915, a member who was always willing and anxious to do whatever he could for the benefit of the Society. Though of a rather quiet disposition he has always had the respect of his colleagues, every one of whom appreciates the worth of his services during the difficult times which the Society has gone through and that he has not been spared to see what appears to be a brighter period in the annals of the Society is very much regretted. That the members themselves had confidence in Mr Shone was proved at the last quarterly meeting when he was re-elected for another term of service.

Mr Shone was 69 years of age and had been in the employ of the Cambrian railways for 50 years. He hailed from Llanidloes some 20 years ago and during the time he has been passenger guard has gained a host of friends by his geniality and many kindnesses to travellers on the Cambrian. Along with his interest and activity in Co-operative circles Mr Shone has been a vigorous trade unionist and has held the position of treasurer to the local branch of the N.U.R for nearly 20 years. Deceased has left a widow, three daughters and six sons (all of these railwaymen).

In studying family and local history it is often difficult or impossible to discover anything of the character of individuals, except when they occupied a place in society where they were the object of public scrutiny, or where they left correspondence or other material which give insights into character. It is also unusual to be able to find much about the different aspects of people’s lives. In this instance, although in such a sad context, the sources available give us a rounded picture of a kind and principled man, who spent his life in different forms of public service, and died tragically in performing a duty he clearly also felt to be a pleasure.

Helen Palmer

The images below show reports of the disaster in the Montgomeryshire Express of 1 February 1921, presented in order in which they appeared on the page (click to enlarge)

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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.

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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

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