Monday, 23 October 2017

Remembering the Great War at the Parish Hall

I nearly missed this one - I'm so glad I found out about it at the last minute!
The British Legion organised the afternoon event - 2pm at the Parish Hall. It was wet and blustery weather, but even so there were two men in First World War uniform, with their Lee Enfields over their shoulders, guarding the gate in proper military style. Their kit was excellent in every detail.
Inside, there were exhibits around the hall - at the back, a cavalry officer's kit, including cavalry sabre and saddle, with a smart second lieutenant. At the front, a gramophone, helmets, shells and other memorabilia - and two dresses of the period, a black mourning dress and a white lawn dress with a higher hemline. Further along, a doctor's instruments were laid out, next to a stretcher, and at the far wall there was a display about Lance Corporal Allan Leonard Lewis, who won the VC.

The talks were fascinating. First up was Chris Coode from the Great War Society, who started the proceedings off by playing a bit of Dolly Gray on the gramophone. He said he didn't call himself a re-enactor, because he didn't fight in battles - he felt it was disrespectful to the dead of the First World War. Instead, he did Living History - and he did it very well. He said that he often went into schools to talk about the Great War, and would do some research before he went. He tried to take the children to the local war memorial, where he could point out the names of the children's relatives to them - an important part of connecting children with their heritage and local history. The Great War Society also does film work, because they have such good kit - so they are seen as extras in the background.

He showed the different parts of his uniform, and described how much ammunition he would be carrying (about 150 rounds) as well as field dressings, a couple of Mills bombs (or grenades, if you're French), dry socks (very important in the trenches, where trench foot was a terrible problem), and a water bottle and iron rations. He was wearing a peaked cap, with the markings of the Welsh Regiment (including a red dragon on black on his arm), and showed the influence of the British Army in India as he was wearing puttees on his lower legs (Hindustani for bandages) and his uniform was khaki (Hindustani for dusty). At the beginning of the Great War, the French and Belgians were going into battle in bright red and blue uniforms, and their officers wore white gloves! Everything he wore was designed to be easy to use, and that went for the weapons too. He demonstrated how fast his rifle could be re-loaded from the rounds he was carrying in little pouches on his uniform, and how quickly he could work the bolt of the rifle to keep shooting. The Germans were using the Mauser rifle, where the bolt had to be moved in front of the soldier's face to put the round into the breech, which meant he had to take his eye off the target and slowed him down.

Later, he took off the cap and replaced it with the familiar tin hat. In 1916, this was the response to the numbers of soldiers who were dying of head injuries - and almost immediately, the number of head injuries went up dramatically. This was because the wounds were treatable, instead of killing the soldiers outright as they had before.
And the weapon which was causing all those injuries was the shell, filled with lead balls (shrapnel), which exploded in the air, showering the area with the shrapnel and also the casing, which broke into two parts. He passed some of these round the audience.
He also demonstrated the bayonet, originally devised so that an infantryman could attack someone on horseback. At the beginning of the War, the generals were expecting a fast moving war with cavalry charges and a lot of movement. They were not prepared for trench warfare.

After a short break (tea, coffee and excellent cakes provided by the Co-op), Roger Morgan took over. He started by describing his uniform as well - with a tie (tucked in so it didn't dangle on the patients) and jodhpurs with tall boots, because he was an officer and theoretically would be travelling around on a horse. He described what happened to a wounded soldier, and some of the medical techniques that were used on them - and some of the problems with the dosage of anaesthetics, a branch of medicine which was in its infancy. I was quite surprised to learn that X-ray machines were used at the Front, so soon after X-rays had been discovered.
There was the difficulty of getting a stretcher along a narrow trench with sharp corners, for instance (the German trenches were more sinuous), which led to webbing being designed with hand holds, so a strong stretcher bearer could carry a man out on his back, with the wounded man hanging on. They also carried wounded men in blankets, a technique developed during the Boer War.
He talked about the vast number of volunteers who went out to the Western Front, including women doctors who were turned down for duty by the British, but welcomed by the French and Belgians. There were nurses, some of whom came out on their own - like Elsie Knocker, who was forbidden to go by her father, but rode out there on her own motorbike, along with her friend Mairi Chisolm, and joined up with Hector Munro's Flying Ambulance service. She ended the War as a Baroness, as she married a Belgian Count who came to the hospital where she was working!

There was also a lady dressed as a FANY in the audience, who later got up and spoke about what they did. The FANYs were young women who could ride horses, because at the beginning of the War they were expecting a fast-moving, mobile war, and later became ambulance drivers (it stands for First Aid Nursing Yeomanry), set up hospitals, and ran canteens and soup kitchens.

And finally Dawn Lewis got up to speak. She is the great-niece of Lance Corporal Lewis, and was wearing his medals - the VC, and "Pip, Squeak and Wilfred" the campaign medals (nicknamed for popular children's characters). She had known for some time that memorials are being planned for the men who won VCs - a memorial slab close to where they had come from, so when she was contacted she was pleased that one would be installed in Hereford - but L/Cpl Lewis was the only VC recipient to come from Herefordshire during the Great War, so she wanted something more. She wanted a bronze statue. She's had a lot of support with this idea, and now they need to raise £60,000. The statue will be of L/Cpl Lewis in uniform, but without any weapons - there's a photo of him which will be the basis for this, and it will be put up somewhere in the Old Market Shopping Centre in Hereford. The sculptor who did the statue of Elgar leaning on his bicycle, Jemma Pearson, will do the work.
I read the citation later, to find out what he did to be awarded the VC - he attacked two German machine guns which were pinning down his battalion, and took the gun crews prisoner. Three days later, he was involved in another battle, and that time he was shot dead.
Online, the appeal for the statue has a JustGiving page at AL LEWIS VC MEMORIAL FUND and cheques can also be sent to 38 The Meadows, Hay-on-Wye, Hereford, HR3 5LF, made out to AL Lewish VC Memorial Fund.

It was a fascinating afternoon, and it generated a lot of interest among the audience - Mary Morgan, for instance, remembered that her grandfather had organised women locally to do knitting for the troops, and she still had a lot of memorabilia about that at home - just the sort of thing the Great War Society would be interested in.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

HARC - Archives are Fascinating

I went up to Cusop Village Hall on Friday evening for the talk on the Herefordshire Archives and Records Centre, and it was entirely fascinating.
Before we started, I was told that membership of the Group was free (having paid my £3 to get in). I wasn't going to bother - I was quite happy to pay for the talk, but then I discovered that there is a members' trip in the New Year to the Ashmolean Museum, with a talk and a look behind the scenes. This was too good a chance to miss - I've wanted to go to the Ashmolean for years - so I joined up on the spot and paid my deposit for the trip!

The Archives service used to be housed in an old barracks building in Hereford - it was old, it was big, and it was empty, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, it was also damp - just about the worst thing it could be for old records. Some of the mould was, apparently, rare Herefordshire apple mould, and a form of penicillin, but even so....
So, just before recession and cuts hit local authority services, HARC moved to a brand new, purpose built facility in Rotherwas, which may be unique in the world. It's built on the passivhouse principle, with so much insulation it's a constant temperature like a cave inside, which saves them something like £100,000 on heating and air conditioning bills a year.
Rhys Griffiths, the speaker, said that he was very pleased to be in Cusop, because it demonstrated the importance of boundaries. In Hay, there is also a history group, which is very Welsh based, whereas Cusop is firmly based within Herefordshire, even though they are very close together. As well as the county records, HARC also keeps the diocesan records, which extend into South Shropshire.
There are maps, of course - one interesting thing they're doing is to take the 6inch maps of the area and match them up with aerial photographs - some of the field boundaries have stayed the same for centuries. He showed one early map of Cusop Dingle with pictures of four little water mills spaced out along the stream.
He also showed examples of form filling from 1720, with a local vicar ticking boxes (as it were) to say, yes, the church did have a fair chalice for services, and the chancel was in good repair, and there were no dissenters in the parish. An even earlier Visitation for Cusop had the vicar of the 1390s describing the adulterous relationships between members of his parish, in some detail! (So-and-so has thrown his wife out of the house and installed his mistress!).
The records are also good for people who are interested in the history of the railways, with many records and maps. A lot of these come from the Quarter Sessions, which were a sort of proto-County Council, responsible for the upkeep of roads and so on as well as local crime. The Quarter Sessions accounts also cast a light on poorer people in the area who were involved in crime - the horse dealer convicted of stealing a chestnut mare, and sentenced to transportation, for instance, and on the same page, the sad story of a girl who had tried to commit suicide, who was sentenced to a short period of imprisonment for it.
There are also wills, showing what the average household contained over the centuries, as there are often inventories of contents.
Rhys Griffiths said that, in the past, archivists had been a bit sniffy about family history researchers, preferring academics with leather elbow patches in their tweed jackets, but now they welcome people who are researching their own families - one of whom was in the audience, and chipped in to provide extra detail a couple of times.
For instance, there was a map showing the sale of part of the Moccas estate - we had been following the fortunes of Llydyadyway Farm, under its many different spellings - and the chap from the audience pointed out the small plots along the main road, where big houses like York House were built, and the field behind, where Victoria Terrace was built the following year, as a speculation - the houses were then bought by landlords who let them out to poorer families.
He talked a bit about palaeography - the study of old handwriting - and how the Mormons have helped by transcribing records for their own purposes. A lot of information is now online, but it is still possible to visit the Centre in Rotherwas for research, and there are some records that can only be consulted in their original form.
And then there's the census, started in around 1810 mainly to count how many able bodied men there were in the country who could be called up for military service in the Napoleonic Wars - and as time went on the civil servants realised they could collect all sorts of other useful information at the same time, including how people moved from place to place - the rural population was not as static as people tend to think, especially after the coming of the railways.
So, with a bit of work, and help from the archivists and their team of volunteers, all sorts of information can be extracted from the most boring-sounding documentary evidence.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Dentist - NHS or Private

I got a letter from my dentist this morning. That's the one to the side of the little car park, opposite the chapel on Oxford Road, known as {my}dentist.
After careful consideration, he says, Dr Reshad Naghshbandi has decided to treat only private patients from February next year, apart from people under the age of 18 or in full time education.
There's a lot of information in the letter about the private dental plans available, from only £7.25 a month (I've been on a very tight budget, and even £7.25 a month was completely out of my reach in those days).
I have great sympathy for Dr Naghshbandi when he says that his NHS practice has meant more "meeting targets and ticking boxes" in recent years, and that he wants to concentrate his efforts on improving dental health and preventive dentistry - but I won't be going private, because I want the NHS to continue to exist, for everyone.
Fortunately, there will be provision for adult NHS patients after February, just with another dentist in the practice. When I started reading the letter I had a horrible sinking feeling that I'd have to trek all the way to Hereford for the emergency dentist in future, as I had to a couple of times before Dr Naghshbandi came to Hay 13 years ago.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Job at Bronllys Well Being Park

Here's an interesting opportunity for someone - Bronllys Well Being Park are looking for a Project Development Officer.

It's a full time post, initially for a year (but they have funding for three years), and the pay is £37,000 a year. The job entails managing projects within the Well Being Park - though there isn't a lot of detail in the advert about what this would involve, apart from enhancing the facilities that are already there.
The closing date for applications is 25th October, and they intend to hold interviews at the beginning of November.
More information, including the application form, can be found on the PAVO website at

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

h.Energy Festival

I had some things I wanted to do in Hereford on Saturday (well, okay - I wanted to get the DVD of Wonder Woman, mostly - which is awesome, by the way), and as the bus went over the bridge into town I saw a crowd in the courtyard outside De Koffie Pot.
So I did all my errands, and then headed down there - there's a cut through that starts by the Cathedral and goes down past the Bishop's Palace, ending up at the courtyard - where I found the h.Energy Sustainability Festival in progress.
There were several electric cars parked there, and a French van (I'm not sure what that was doing there).
There were workshops for sewing, felting, and scrap metal upcycling.
Further along, at the KLEEN energy bikes stall, you could pedal a bike to power kitchen machinery, and fry an egg. Another stall, the Marches Energy Agency, had help to reduce home energy costs. Super Nourished had gorgeous looking chocolate, and Growing Local had gorgeous looking local vegetables, grown by children at Tillington educational garden.
The Woodee was there, with their hand crafted fire pits and accessories, and the Nappy Service, with information on re-usable nappies, continence and menstrual wear. New Leaf Design was selling handmade herbal bodycare products.

The Size of Herefordshire is a project which is trying to protect rainforest in the Amazon by sponsoring an area of Herefordshire on an interactive map. Money from the project goes to the Forest Peoples Programme, which assists indigenous groups in securing legal title to their land, which helps to safeguard against loggers, miners and other groups which want to exploit the resources on tribal land, and Cool Earth, which helps communities at the edge of deforestation to develop local livelihoods for themselves. The two tribes they are helping are the Wampi and the Awajun, in Peru.

Next to them was the Hereford Community Land Trust, which is focussed on affordable housing, designed by the community which will be using it, in a sustainable manner. They aim to build low-cost, high-quality homes for sale or rent to local people, including workspaces, green spaces and allotments in the community design. At the moment they are working with Hereford City Council, which has received £503,000 to develop community-led housing, and the Trust has applied for £10,000 start up funding.

I treated myself to a coffee and chocolate fudge cake from De Koffie Pot, and it was warm enough to sit outside with a view of the river.

Other events were going on over the weekend, across Herefordshire, including a puppet show of The Selfish Giant, music and folk tales from Sproatly Smith and others, talks on solar power and climate science, a 5km fun run at Queenswood, with Art in the Park made by students from Hereford College of Arts, and guided walks for sketching and looking at different tree species. There were also films at the Courtyard in Hereford.

h.Energy is organised by New Leaf Sustainable Development in partnership with the Herefordshire Green Network.

Monday, 16 October 2017

House Fire in Castle Street

On Saturday afternoon, there was a house fire in Castle Street. The house had been up for sale, and the new family had only recently moved in. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but there's been a lot of damage inside the house.
Pughs/Londis are acting as a collection point for donations for the family, of money or goods they will need - the report on the Pughs Facebook page says that the family have lost everything. Someone is putting them up for now, but they are looking for a place to rent over the winter, and until they know whether it will be furnished or unfurnished they don't know what they will need. When Pughs have a list of things that the family need, they will let everyone know - some things have been offered already, including furniture, and at the moment they are only accepting monetary donations.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Botany and Other Stories

A couple of days ago Fran├žoise, the lovely French lady who lives in Hay, invited me to see her new art studio in Bear Street. It used to be some sort of workshop, and possibly a store for salt. She's got the ground floor set out for art, and has plans for the upstairs as soon as the leak at the back is fixed.
She's a very talented lady - she showed me her botanic illustrations - she did a three year course for a diploma, and it seems to have been a very competitive course. She also showed me a sketch book she made during the course - she did some of the work at the botanic gardens in Lyons, where the staff allowed her to draw plants that were not normally available to the public. It looks like a wonderful place, with Victorian glass houses like Kew Gardens.
And now she wants to share her skills with children. There have already been children of her friends coming to the studio to paint, and she's been out to schools in the area - she showed me the picture of a pomegranate she painted, with spots of juice around it from the real pomegranate she took in to the kindergarten to show the children. She got them to dip their fingers into the juice and dab onto the paper, and then taste the juice. Another, older group, painted leaves, and then she made them into a forest as a collage afterwards.
Her idea is to make a calendar with the children, and several shops around Hay have already agreed to stock it. She's calling the project "Botany and other Stories".
A further idea from a young friend who has just done an art course was to make the calendar as postcards, with the days of the month set out at the bottom, so the picture could be sent as a postcard after the calendar is finished with. She thought this was an excellent idea - and then found that it had been done before, in France - she showed me some of the postcards, which she was going to show to the printer later.
It's a wonderful idea, to encourage children to look closely at nature, and make art. Fran├žoise isn't doing this to make any money - she's spending money on the project, and she seems to be enjoying herself as much as the children are.
And she was listening to one little girl talking to herself as she painted, saying "Be kind to the berries," as she painted red berries on a branch - which may end up as a caption on one of the paintings in the calendar.