Belle Vue Hotel, Merthyr Tydfil: Jack Jones - Confessions of a Recruiting Sergeant
Soldiers who turned their backs on the War were liable to be shot or imprisoned. But there was one perfectly legal way to get out of going back to the Western Front: become a recruiting sergeant. Which is how the novelist Jack Jones managed to survive and certain members of his family did not.
In 1914 Jack Jones, a sixpence-per-day army reservist, was working as a miner at Llanerch pit, near Pontypool. With the outbreak of war he was called up to fight, and as a veteran of the Boer War 7647 Lance Corporal Jones was not unaware of the reality of warfare with modern weaponry. After thirteen weeks at the frontline (including the retreat from Mons) Jones became injured at Ypres, losing some fingers, and sustaining a head wound. A spell in hospital at Versailles was followed by a period of recuperation back home near Merthyr.
According to his own colourful account, Jack’s wife asked him tearfully whether he would have to go back to the front. ‘Not if I can bloody well help it!’ was his considered reply. Accompanying his proud father to recruiting rallies in Merthyr, Jack was called up on stage to speak about his experiences. After a fumbling, tentative start he discovered that he had a gift for oratory, and was often called upon to speak at recruitment rallies in the town, whether at the Drill Hall or other locations, such as outside the Belle Vue Hotel.
In his own words, Jack spoke ‘like a man inspired’ urging other men to go to the front, simply in order that he might avoid going back to the front himself. He claims to have sometimes shared the stage with Mrs Pankhurst and Mrs ‘Bulldog’ Drummond. There is no reason to doubt that this was the case, since contemporary newspaper reports confirm that both these suffragettes visited the area, lending their support for the recruitment drive. One account quotes Jones almost verbatim, and certainly confirms that he really did inspire some men from Merthyr to join up.
After Conscription became mandatory the nature of his work changed, and the Recruiting Officer was obliged to seek out those men who had refused to comply with the call-up. He was redeployed in other military work but, true to his word, he never did go back to active service. Nor was he very proud of the medals that were his due, especially after the death of a younger brother. In later years he decided that war was a stupid ‘negation of humanity’, and during the 1960s spoke candidly about this experience.
Location: Belle Vue Hotel, Merthyr Tydfil, CF48 4DT
Available since: Mon 14 Jul 2014
This clip is from
WW1 at Home: a growing collection of stories about life on the WW1 Home Front
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