Some of Llanelli’s Young WWI Soldiers
Family memories by LCH member Lisa Voyle at the outset of this centenary year of the start of WWI.

After my paternal grandmother, Anita Jane Voyle nee James, died in 1982, my parents were faced with the task of clearing the family home; among the familiar pieces of china and cutlery stored in her pantry, they found a pretty, slightly battered octagonal tin tea-caddy, about 18" high, decorated with oriental figures. This tin was filled to bursting point with letters written by my grandmother's two elder brothers, Brynmor James and Idwal James, both employed by the Llanelli Steel Company, dating from the time they were on active service during WWI. The boys had tragically died within 4 months of each other, Bryn from TB aged 22, on the 16th March 1917, after two enlistments, and Id, just 20, had been killed along with three comrades just days after being sent to the Front at Ypres on the 4th July 1917.

There were literally hundreds of letters, mostly in envelopes and therefore dated from the optimistic times of their very first days of Army training; in Bryn's case from his September to October 1914 service alongside a number of his Llanelli pals, enlisted into B Company, 9th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers; he was discharged as unfit due to tubercular glands in his neck on the 8th October 1914. We have a great many more letters from his second enlistment in 1915 with the 3rd/1st Welsh Field Company, Royal Engineers, with whom he served in Egypt as a supply driver, before again being discharged as medically unfit in mid-July 1916, this time due to the worsening tuberculosis which was to kill him in the following March of 1917.

Amongst the other memorabilia, such as their medals, ID tags, a matchbox cover and the many postcards they'd sent to their parents and sister, we had a few unidentified photographs of some of their Llanelli comrades, including group photographs. Both sets of letters mention many other Llanelli boys, and it struck me that with help, we might be able to identify some of these photographs.

Bryn James names the following boys from his eight-week stint in Sept-Oct 1914 with B Company, 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, initially based in Wrexham, from a letter circa Sept 1914 from Parkhouse Camp, Tidworth, Salisbury Plain:

"We are 16 from Llanelly in one tent, B. Beynon, Sid Williams, E. Rowe, Billy Thomas, Billy Pembroke, Thomas Harries...."

Another letter: "me and E Rowe borrowed a jacket and hat and had our photograph pulled outside the tent"...

From his second enlistment, 1915-1916, with the 3rd/1st Field Company, Royal Engineers, Bryn names Llew Williams, Johnny Jones and Sam Hughes who were billeted with him in Caernarfon. He also talks about receiving letters and "fags" from Archie, who was Idwal's best friend, who signed one letter "from your brother's butty".

Younger brother Idwal James' service number showed he was attested in 1916 along with a small group of Llanelli men who were held in reserve, then mobilised to serve in 2nd Battalion, D Coy, South Wales Borderers in January 1917. They were sent for training to Sniggery Camp, Hightown, some 5 miles from Liverpool.

Idwal mentions Llew Bennett; Mr Scholer from Raby Street; Shon Williams, Jim Walters, Sid Reynolds and David Parry from Swansea Road. Shon Williams went on to serve in the same platoon as Idwal in France & Flanders and is mentioned in several letters, "Shon is with me all the time"; "Shon is a bomber, a dangerous job".

As far as I've discovered to date, Bryn & Id James were the only two of their pals named in the letters not to survive WWI. The death of two brothers in service in WWI is sadly not unique to our family, several other Llanelli families lost sets of sons; in all, almost a 1,000 Llanelli servicemen paid with their lives. The Pentip School WWI Memorial board alone shows that a further 44 of Bryn & Id's fellow pupils were lost; virtually every street in Llanelli lost several sons, brothers and fathers.

In this centenary year of the start of WWI it would be fitting if we could perhaps identify some of these soldiers in the photographs.