Posts Tagged ‘history’

Aberfan, Gaynor Madgwick & Greg Lewis

Via Y Lolfa

On the 21st of October 1966, the village of Aberfan in south Wales was shattered by one of the worst disasters in Welsh and British history.

Following days of bad weather, water from a spring had destabilized a huge coal slag tip – one of the black man-made mountains which surrounded the village. Thousands of tonnes of coal tip waste slid down a mountainside and devastated the mining village of Aberfan. The black mass crashed through the local school, where pupils were celebrating the last day of term.

One hundred and forty-four people were killed. One hundred and sixteen were schoolchildren. Gaynor Madgwick was there. She was eight years old and severely injured. Her brother and sister were in  classrooms either side of her. Both died.

Recalling the horrific event in a diary four years later, Gaynor wrote, ‘I heard a terrible, terrible sound, a rumbling sound. It was so loud. I just didn’t know what it was. It seemed like the school went numb, you could hear a pin drop. I was suddenly petrified and glued to the chair. It sounded like the end of the world had come.’

In Aberfan – A Story of Survival, Love and Community in One Of Britain’s Worst Disasters, Gaynor tells her own story and interviews people affected by that day – from the bereaved and the rescuers, to the police and royalty. She explores the nature of courage, grief and faith, to create both a moving personal story of one family’s pain and a definitive account of the events that shook the nation and the world.

‘For the past 50 years I have lived as a sort of prisoner or victim of my past. Now I am trying to break free.’ said Gaynor. ‘I started this book by looking again at the writings of my young self. I’ve tried to explore the determination, courage and resilience which got me through. Then, I set out on a journey, to find those same qualities in my community, to see how it had coped, survived and often thrived.’

The Earl of Snowdon – who was there hours after the disaster – described it as ‘one of the most moving experiences of my life.’

‘Gaynor Madgwick’s book, Aberfan, is a brave, heartbreaking and inspiring journey in which she re-visits the story of what happened to her and to the whole community of Aberfan on that dreadful day.’ he said. ‘It is a book that should be read by all of us in memory of those who died and those who survived.’

Broadcaster Vincent Kane said, ‘Gaynor Madgwick was pulled injured from one of the classrooms where her friends died. She was left behind to live out her life. This is her story, sad, sweet, sentimental, and authentic. I commend it to you.’

‘October 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of that awful day. For 50 years we have been trying to recover from the Aberfan disaster. It’s a long road, and we take it one day at a time.’ said Gaynor.

‘I’ve tried to tell this story in a way in which it has never been told before, beginning by reliving Aberfan through the eyes of a survivor.  As a survivor, now 58 years old, I have been haunted by the memories of the Aberfan disaster.

‘I wanted to create the fullest picture of the disaster and its aftermath while people were still around to tell their story.

‘For me, I can’t start the next chapter of my life if I keep rereading the last one; this book will help me move on. My hope is that it will help others move on too.’

Aberfan – A Story of Survival, Love and Community in One of Britain’s Worst Disasters by Gaynor Madgwick (£9.99, Y Lolfa) is available now.

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IMG_1047Update:

Canadian airman Bill Robertson’s return to the crash site in Hasselt made national news in Belgium.

See the full clip here: Bill Robertson

Bill Robertson and John Evans

Bill Robertson and John Evans

A Pembrokeshire airman, who was shot down over Belgium during World War 2, has enjoyed an emotional reunion with a former member of his crew.

Pilot John Evans, who was born in Goodwick, was visited by his former bomb aimer, Bill Robertson, who travelled from Canada for the meeting.

The two men are the last of the crew of a Halifax bomber which was set alight by a German night-fighter on the night of May 12/13, 1944.

They had been taking part on a raid on the railway marshalling yards at Hasselt.

The whole crew parachuted to safety. Both John and Bill were able to make contact with the local resistance.

“We were kept together for a while, then taken to separate safe houses and did not know anything about each other until after the war,” said John, who is now 95.

Many of the people who helped John and Bill were later arrested by the Gestapo. Both met up with those who survived after the war.

“The people who helped us took the most tremendous risks,” said Bill, 93. “For themselves and for their families.”

Both men were hidden until September 1944 when they were liberated by the advancing American forces.

On saying goodbye to John, Bill said: “This may be the last time we see each other. But, who knows, we didn’t think we would have this meeting.”

The men met in Calverton, near Nottingham, where John now lives near his daughter, Judy.

He still has a number of relatives in Pembrokeshire, including his brother-in-law Tom Morris, a retired police sergeant from Cardigan Road, Haverfordwest, and his niece Georgina Youngs, of Fishguard.

On his trip to Europe, Bill also met John’s brother, Doug, who lives in Surrey and was himself a bomber pilot during World War 2.

Bill then travelled to Hasselt where local historians have laid a memorial stone where the men’s Halifax bomber crashed.

* The book ‘Airman Missing’ which told John’s story is currently out of print but is planned for it to be released as an e-book later this year.

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A number of Welsh veterans of the Gallipoli campaign went on to write poems about their experiences.

Among the poems unearthed by historian Anne Pedley were ‘The Heroes of Suvla Bay’ by Sergeant WR Williams, of the 6th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and ‘The Boys of Suvla Bay’ by an unknown author.

Anne helped research the Radio Wales programme ‘Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli’. Together we contacted singer Helen Bradley, who had heard about the poems and wanted to record one.

She worked with Neil Dunsire, of TAPE Community Music and Film, of Old Colwyn, who worked with Helen to combine the lyrics of the poems and put them to music.

They made a fantastic job of it. Hear it on ‘Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli’ which is due to be broadcast on BBC Radio Wales at 12.30pm on Sunday, April 26, and repeated at 6.30pm on April 27 and 5.30am on April 28.

This is my grandfather in the centre. Photo taken in Alexandria in 1916 with two other survivors of Gallipoli. He was a sergeant - CopyOne hundred years ago this weekend (April 25, 1915) the Allies launched a land invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.

The plan was to capture Constantinople and take Germany’s ally Turkey out of the war.

The landing failed and the battle developed into a stalemate – the trench warfare of the Western Front in miniature.

Every year on April 25, Australia and New Zealand mark the sacrifice of their troops in the battle on what is known as Anzac Day.

But thousands of Welsh troops took part in the Gallipoli campaign too and their contribution has been largely forgotten – until now.

This weekend Radio Wales will broadcast ‘Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli’, a programme to commemorate the men who fought and died in the Dardanelles.

Among the men who served in the campaign was William John Jones, of the Penmaenmawr Company of the 6th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

The company was composed of men who worked at the quarry in the town of Penmaenmawr, near Llandudno.

William Jones’ grandson, Dennis Roberts, said: “When he was an early teenager he joined a fife and drum band which was part of the local [army] volunteers.

“He moved from the little cadet band to be an active soldier in the volunteers.

“War broke out and they wondered what was going to happen to them. As volunteers they didn’t have to go abroad – they had to be asked nicely. I am sure most in 1914 said they were happy to go – they daren’t say no.”

The Quarry Boys did not take part in the initial landings at Gallipoli, although many Welshmen did.

On the first day of the landings at Helles in the south, the 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers lost three officers and thirteen men. The battalion would remain at Helles until evacuated in January 1916. They would leave behind more than 500 dead.

After the April landings the invading force was held back at the coast. It dug in and held on to the small amount of territory gained.

By August 1915 a new strategy was needed. A fresh invasion with even more troops.

The 4th battalion of the South Wales Borderers, the 4th and 8th battalions of the Welsh Regiment and four battalions of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers prepared to play their part in the coming battle.

On the Greek island of Lemnos the Quarry Boys of Penmaenmawr were writing final letters home.

They moved onto boats in the early hours of August 9th, 1915. Ahead of them, their target: a rocky stretch of the Turkish coast called Suvla Bay.

Private Richard Jones, a friend of Williams Jones, later wrote in his diary: “I could hear something dropping in the middle of another regiment. I felt rather nervous. Another followed in a few seconds and she fell about 15 to 20 yards the other side of me.

“We all were laying down flat on the ground wondering where the next was going to drop.”

But it was on the following day, August 10th 1915, that the Quarry Boys fought their most terrible battle, charging ahead in full view of the Turkish guns.

Dennis Roberts, whose grandfather was a Quarry Boy1

Dennis Roberts said: “There was no cover, they had to cross a salt lake which in summer dried up. But the men were struggling to cross this lake, the mud was above their knees.”

Private Richard Jones wrote: “I could see one of the shells dropping in the middle of our boys and knocking about nine of them down.

“A little further on we came to a bush and we attended to some wounded here. Here I saw Sergeant Roberts, of Holyhead, he was shot through the leg. In about two minutes we had a few wounded behind this bush and I was thinking to myself that my last day had come.

“I saw Dick Williams wounded – a very bad wound, too. We put him to lay on one of the stretchers. The poor lad was shouting for his mother. There was poor hopes for him.”

By the end of the day it was clear the attack had not succeeded. But the Quarry Boys were ordered into battle again.

This time they had to make a bayonet charge up a hill.

They did what was asked of them – but the plan was a disaster and they lost their leader, Major Gus Wheeler, who in peacetime had been the quarry manager.

“I get angry,” Dennis Roberts said. “Those who led the lads down in Turkey – well, I don’t know what they were doing.”

Once again, after these initial attacks, the campaign developed into a stalemate.

In the dust and heat of the Turkish summer the soldiers were desperately short of water. In the early stages of the campaign all men could do was risk the local wells – but each of these was covered by a Turkish sniper.

Quarry Boy RJ Davies wrote in his diary: “There are dozens of Turkish snipers. They are painted green all over – the same colour as the trees. We shoot at every tree we see but we cannot get them. Some of them are women. Three or four dropped yesterday, one of them was a woman. They do a lot of damage to our chaps. There are a lot of dead lying close to every well.”

By January 1916, the campaign was over and the Allied soldiers had been evacuated. More than 1,300 men who served with Welsh regiments were dead.

Williams Jones served in Palestine but survived to return to work in the quarry at Penmaenmawr.

Sunday’s programme features a specially recorded ballad, using the poems of soldier WR Williams and an unknown comrade from Suvla Bay. It is sung by Conwy Museums Officer Helen Bradley and the music is composed by Neil Dunsire, of TAPE Community Music and Film, of Old Colwyn.

* ‘Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli’ is due to be broadcast on BBC Radio Wales at 12.30pm on Sunday, April 26, 2015, and repeated at 6.30pm on April 27 and 5.30am on April 28.

Upcoming radio programme for those interested in World War One and Gallipoli in particular:

Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli

To be broadcast on BBC Radio Wales  Sunday, April 26 at 12:30pm. Repeated on Monday, April 27 (6.30pm) and Tuesday April 28 (5:30pm)

More info here soon.

Irishman Tom Sharkey was the never-say-die fighter who bridged the gap between old and new.

Sharkey arrived in the United States in the 1890s as the fight game was changing. The prize-fighters and bare-knuckle brawlers were disappearing as the new “scientific” boxers emerged to fight under the Marquis of Queensberry rules.

After quickly making his name as a mean brawler, Sharkey went on to battle all the top boxers of his day: his hero John L Sullivan, Gentleman Jim Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons and the man who would become not only his greatest foe but his best friend, Jim Jeffries.

Their 25-round world title fight at Coney Island was one of the most gruelling and compelling encounters ever seen inside a ring.

And, despite the viciousness of their ring battles, they went on to enjoy a 50-year friendship which only ended when they died weeks apart.

The award-winning biography I Fought Them All prints the fact and the legend, and is chocked full of the rich characters who dominated the sport and politics of the period, from Wild West gunman Wyatt Earp to Tim “Dry Dollar” Sullivan of New York’s Tammany Hall.

It is the story of an Irish immigrant, a sporting celebrity who won and lost a fortune, and of a man described by the New York Times as a “ring immortal”.

Originally released as a limited edition hardback, I Fought Them All is now available as an e-book on Kindle US and Kindle UK.

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REVIEWS:

“Hugely entertaining and exquisitely researched, I Fought Them All shines a penetrating and long-overdue spotlight on one of the most fascinating figures in boxing history. Revelations about Sharkey’s private life are eye-popping, and the book is especially thorough in covering the Earp controversy. ‘Sailor’ Tom himself would growl his approval, and his massive chest would swell even larger. It’s a great contribution to ring history.”

Pete Ehrmann, boxing writer, contributor to The Ring

I Fought Them All is an excellent read. It’s well-researched and is good news for boxing fans everywhere. ‘Sailor’ Tom Sharkey was an aggressive, relentless and powerful heavyweight who ranks among the greatest who ever entered the ring. He was an earlier version of the splendid fighter, Rocky Marciano. Tom had the misfortune of fighting when boxing legends Jim Jeffries and Bob Fitzsimmons were at their best. Had he fought at any other time in history, he very likely would have been heavyweight champion of the world.”

Tracy Callis, boxing historian

”The book features an array of characters including Wild West gunman Wyatt Earp and boxing legends such as John L. Sullivan, Gentleman Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. At its heart is the astonishing 50-year rivalry and friendship between Sharkey and Jim Jeffries, which started after their 25-round world title fight at Coney Island and lasted until the two men died a few weeks apart in 1953.”

Boxing Ireland

“…it emits quality from the first opening crack of the hardcover until its final satisfying closing.”

Marty Mulcahey, Max Boxing

“…A fascinating story… Very well-researched piece of work with many anecdotal gems… I Fought Them All is a tale of one man who travelled from his homeland and ended up inAmericato swap blows with arguably the toughest pugilists to have ever fought in the ring. Along the way we are introduced to ‘injuns’, gun-slingers, shipwrecks, tragic love stories, gambling, acts of heroism and, of course, gruelling fights. I thoroughly recommend this book.”

Glenn Wilson