Archives for April 2012

Welsh May Day customs

Post categories:

BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 06:35 UK time, Monday, 30 April 2012

Wales has a wealth of May Day customs, superstitions and traditions that go back to the time of the Druids.

Known as Calan Mai or Calan Haf, the first day of May was an important time for celebration and festivities in Wales as it was considered to be the start of summer. Marking neither an equinox nor a solstice, May Day referred to the point in the year when herds would be turned out to pasture.

The lighting of fires were very much associated with the first of May. In Druidical days, fires for the Baltan, known also as Beltane, represented an opportunity for purification, to protect animals from disease. These fire-lighting ceremonies were carried out with a great deal of pomp and ceremony.

Mary Trevelyan, in her 1909 book Folk-lore And Folk-stories Of Wales, describes the preparations for the fire on May Eve in south Wales that took place right up until the mid 19th century:

"The fire was done in this way: Nine men would turn their pockets inside out, and see that every piece of money and all metals were off their persons. Then the men went into the nearest woods and collected sticks of nine different kinds of trees.

"These were carried to the spot where the fire had to be built. There a circle was cut in the sod and the sticks were set crosswise. All around the circle the people stood and watched the proceedings. One of the men would then take two bits of oak and rub them together until a flame was kindled."

According to Trevelyan, it was not unknown for a calf to be thrown on to a fire, proffered to stop prevent spreading within a particular herd. Sheep were also given to the summer fire in an attempt to halt was a disease was that prevalent within a particular flock.

May Eve was not just an opportunity for a healthy herd; it was a chance for divination, usually with the express intent of revealing who one's true love would be.

'Spirit nights', or ysprydnos, took place on May Eve. It was one of the three nights in the year when the world of the supernatural was closest to the the real world. These nights offered an opportunity for divination, usually with the express intent of revealing who one's true love would be.

Also on May Eve, villagers would gather hawthorn branches and flowers and use these to decorate the outside of their houses. It was believed to be unlucky to bring hawthorn blossoms into the house. In some parts of Wales mayflower (probably the cowslip) was collected. These customs celebrated the new growth and fertility of the season.

It is clear that May Day offered a chance for socialising and mirth. After hard, often isolating, winters this was a chance for socialising and celebrating.

In Anglesey and Caernarfonshire 'gware gwr gwyllt' - playing straw man - or 'crogi gwr gwellt' - hanging a straw man - were a common sight on May Eve.

A man who had lost his sweetheart to another man would make a figure out of straw and put it somewhere in the vicinity of where the girl lived. The straw man represented her new sweetheart and had a note pinned to it. However, such attention to a lady could foster jealousy, sometimes leading to fights.

Singing and dancing were an integral part of the celebrations with some of the songs sometimes being rather bawdy or sexual.

Below is a short clip from Cawl a Chan from 1977. This was a Welsh language popular music programme set in barn in Pembrokeshire. While the dancing is by no means bawdy it is a good example of dawnsio gwerin, Welsh folk dancing.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

The maypole was an important part of Welsh May Day tradition. It was called 'codi'r fedwen', 'raising the birch', in south Wales, and 'y gangen haf', the summer branch, in the north.

In the south, the maypole was made of birch. It was painted different colours and the leader of the dancing would wrap his ribbons around the pole, followed by the other dancers until eventually the pole was covered in ribbons. The maypole would then be raised and the dancing would begin.

In north Wales 'cangen haf' took place. Up to 20 young men would go May dancing. All of the men would be dressed in white and decorated with ribbons,except for two who were were called the Fool and Cadi.

The Cadi would carry the 'cangen haf' which was often decorated with silver watches, spoons, and vessels borrowed from the people in the village. Singing and dancing, they would visit each house in the village asking for money.

Disaster off Freshwater West

Post categories:

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 13:08 UK time, Friday, 27 April 2012

On Easter Sunday 1943 (25 April), gale force winds and wild seas were lashing at the coast. Close to land, among the giant breakers and rolling waves of the storm, at the west Wales beach of Freshwater West a tragedy of monumental proportions was beginning to unfold.

The sloop 'Rosemary'

The sloop 'Rosemary'. Six of her crew died while attempting a rescue of the men on LCG 16.

Two landing craft - Landing Craft Guns, or LCGs - were battered by the elements and, on the evening of what should have been a time of quiet contemplation, were sunk within sight of the shore. There were just three survivors.

Manned by Royal Navy personnel but carrying nearly 70 Royal Marines, the LCGs were unwieldy craft, ill designed to cope with such wild conditions. They had been built as LCTs (Landing Craft Tanks) but had been converted to LCGs ready for the planned invasion of Sicily in the Mediterranean.

Each of the two landing craft had been hurriedly fitted with 4.7 inch guns, weapons intended to attack Italian and German shore defences. More significantly, in order to quicken the conversion process, only part of the open deck of each craft - essential when carrying tanks, of no use whatsoever to a floating gun platform - had been covered in. It left almost half of the LCGs decks open to the elements. As Vernon Scott has written:

"A number of sailors and marines had jokingly suggested that if filled with water, this space would make an ideal swimming pool; others had expressed deep anxiety about the problems such a gap would cause in heavy seas."

Vernon Scott - An Experience Shared

LCG 15 and 16 had left Belfast, en route to Falmouth, a few days before. They had had no sea trials and it was intended to use the cruise to discover just how seaworthy the ships really were. The two craft docked briefly at Holyhead, and as they headed south across Cardigan Bay the weather began to deteriorate alarmingly.

Faced by mountainous seas and already shipping water into their open decks, the LCGs sought permission to enter Fishguard Harbour and then Milford Haven. For some inexplicable reason permission was refused and the landing craft had no option but to proceed on their way. By the time they arrived off Freshwater West they were in serious difficulty.

Angle lifeboat was undergoing repair and could not be launched but the crew, along with Angle Lifesaving Company and men from nearby Angle Aerodrome, rushed to the beach and cliff top at Freshwater West. They were helpless as the wind and waves were too strong for them to do anything but watch the tragedy unfold.

Within sight of the beach LCG 15 was overwhelmed and disappeared under the waves. Her companion vessel sank later in the night.

Marines and sailors were pitched into the cold, dark sea. Many of them were drowned; others were battered to death against the rocks on this part of the coast. Seventy-two young servicemen from the landing craft were killed in what was the worst maritime disaster, not involving enemy ships, of the whole war. Over 50 bodies were pulled from the sea but many were never recovered.

As if that wasn't enough, further tragedy was waiting in the wings that night. The old sloop HMS Rosemary was returning to Milford Haven after escorting a convoy to Scotland when she was ordered to the scene of the disaster. LCG 16 was spotted just off St Ann's Head at the entrance to the Haven and the men on board, clearly thinking that rescue was at hand, began to wave and leap about.

The weather was now so bad that it was impossible to get a line across to the stricken landing craft and, in desperation, the captain of HMS Rosemary asked for volunteers to launch and then man the ship's tiny whaler. That, it was felt, was the best chance of getting a line across and taking the LCG in tow.

Without thought of their own safety, six men immediately volunteered. The boat was launched and was soon lost to view in the crashing seas. Soon afterwards it was engulfed and swamped by a huge wave. All six crewmen drowned. Soon afterwards LCG 16 also sank.

It was later said that attempting to launch a small boat such as a whaler in seas like that was simply inviting disaster but, at the time, the primary aim of the Rosemary's captain and crew was to save the men on LCG 16. Emotions were running high and the sloop's crew could hear and see the panic of the men on the landing craft.

Quite why the LCGs had been refused permission to enter Fishguard and Milford Haven has never been fully explained. There was an inquiry but, with the war still raging, it was something of a cover up and no-one has ever been called to account for a decision that cost over 70 young lives.

Perhaps more inexplicable is the reasoning behind allowing the two landing craft to take to sea with their decks partially open to the elements. As all sailors who saw the conversions quickly realised, in anything like a heavy sea the LCGs would be little more than death traps. And yet they were allowed to sail across what has always been recognised as one of the most dangerous stretches of water around the British Isles.

In the wake of the disaster a memorial was erected high up on the dunes above Freshwater West beach. When compared to the value of human life it isn't much but it stands as a testimony to the tragedy that took place a few hundred yards off shore on Easter Sunday 1943.

Cat Whiteaway's tips for tracing missing relatives

Post categories:

Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 11:15 UK time, Friday, 27 April 2012

After my recent appearance on the BBC One's evening magazine programme The One Show I've been live on BBC Radio Wales' Jamie and Louise show this week helping to reunite a family.

Image of deeds

Keith Matthews from Workington had lost touch with his nieces in Wales after the death of his brother Terry in 2001. While moving house they had lost various important details, including the addresses of his brother's daughters.

Keith was able to tell me his brother's age and the name of his sister in law. I quickly checked the marriage indexes and found the entry, which meant I could also check the spelling of her name and maiden name. Then using the birth indexes I was able to confirm the full names of their daughters.

Luckily, each of the girls was also given a middle name and having this additional initial made it easier to determine which Matthews was the right one when checking the marriage indexes.

After that it was simply a matter of examining the current electoral registers and sending them a letter to ask if they wanted to be put in touch with their uncle and if they knew that he had moved house and was looking for to be reunited.

Within a few days three of the nieces had been in touch and were amazed to learn that Keith was looking for them, since as far as they knew they weren't lost! All that was left was to reunite them.

The producer asked Keith if he would ring the studio while I was live on air to explain what he wanted and why it was important to him to find his nieces.

Unbeknown to Keith, the producer had also set up one of his nieces to be on another line and so we were able to reunite him with his long lost family.

It still brings a lump to my throat now. Afterwards listeners were tweeting to ask us to stop making them cry in the car!

If you are looking for someone here are some tips on what to do next:

Full name

Make sure this is spelt correctly if possible, or write down all the different ways of spelling the various name combinations.

When searching on databases most will accept a wildcard or * in place of an unknown letter... so if you don't know whether Stephen could also be spelt Steven then try simply entering Ste*en. If the person you are looking for has a really unusual first name or surname then try just using that and leave the other details blank.


What year were they born? Do you know their birthday? Are they older or younger than you or the same age as your siblings? If you know their date of birth you can search the death indexes on without entering a surname. Then you could order the death certificate from to see who registered the death and write to them.


What was their last known address? What year was this?

As long as it wasn't during World War Two there will be old electoral registers you can access at the local archives or library, or you can ask a researcher to do this for you. This will give you the names of all the people of voting age living at that address. To find out where the archives and county record offices are located visit

If you have a last known address then why not visit or write, enclosing an SAE and a plea for the current occupier to forward it or pass it to the person who has lived in their street the longest or even to the estate agent.

For searches of current electoral registers or for those times when you don't know where they live then try using


Can you recall more personal details about their family? What about their siblings, parents and even cousins; all of whom might know where the missing person is. Tracing males is often easier since the surname does not change.

Locating the deaths of parents or grandparents can also help and often details can be found on online obituaries such as Often a distant member of the family will have posted a family tree on a site such as Genes Reunited. You will need names to be spelt correctly and ages known and the best place to do this is on (which is free if you pop into your local library) or via


If your request involves adoption then please make sure you have received the necessary counselling from social services or similar and then seek professional advice from a relevant specialised organisation like, or perhaps


If you think they have moved abroad then you can try international phone directories via or try emailing a local library asking for details of local newspapers or radio stations and then contact them with a brief plea. Make sure to send a photo if you have one but only give your email address and mobile number.

General advice

Keep trying. New databases keep being added and details being updated almost daily on the internet. Make certain that it is easy for them to find you too.

Please remember if you post a message on the internet or join an organisation then make sure they have your current email address so messages will get passed onto you. Keep entering their name into Google etc and don't give up.

The thrill of live television and reuniting old friends

Post categories:

Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 16:10 UK time, Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A short while ago I was on the BBC's The One Show. I can't quite believe that I can now write that sentence or even that I was there. It was all very exciting and in the end I wasn't nervous at all, which is quite surprising really since it was my first time doing live telly.

As I expected there was a lot of waiting around but lots to watch, and then finally about 30 minutes before the start of the programme there was a frantic flurry of activity. I was rushed into make-up and sat next to Louis Theroux who was chatting to Jessica Hynes, and soon I felt like I was ready for the red carpet. Instead I was heading for the red curtain in the corner of the room, where I got changed into my chosen outfit... chosen so as not to clash with the vivid lime green sofa!

Cat Whiteaway and Alex James

I'd already pre-recorded a film about a reunion and so all I had to do was talk about the research and how you can start looking for people who you've lost touch with.

A long time ago I'd been asked if I could find Doreen Hambridge who had been evacuated from London to Carmarthenshire during World War Two. The family she was sent to lived in Four Roads near Kidwelly and they had always wondered what kind of life little Doreen had led and whether she had fond memories of her time as an evacuee.

The family could remember that little Doreen was less than 10 years old when she arrived, just after Fred Harries and Elizabeth Doreen Bowen had married in 1942. Incredibly they also remember that it was a Sunday afternoon when the bus arrived at the village green. They went down to pick a child and chose little Doreen, exhausted from her overnight adventure but clinging to her brother Fred, who was taken in by the Harris's aunt at the post office in the village.

Searching the indexes of births on for girls called Doreen Hambridge born after 1930 resulted in just three results.

Births March 1930
Hambridge Doreen Haddon Hendon

Births March 1932
Hambridge Doreen Burrows Marylebone

Births September 1938
Hambridge Doreen L Munday Brentford

To try and establish which one was the correct one I knew that I had to search for a brother called Fred by cross referencing against the mother's maiden name.

There were no births entered for a brother called Fred for the Doreen born in 1930 with the mother's maiden name of Haddon, nor for the one born in 1932 with the mother's maiden name of Burrows.

But for the last entry in 1938 there was an entry for a Frederick W T Hambridge born in 1936 also in Brentford, crucially with the mother's maiden name of Munday.

Just to be certain of my facts I quickly searched and found the marriage of Doreen's parents Frederick W T Hambridge and Lilian E Munday in 1936 in Brentford. After that it was simply a matter of repeating the processes; searching for any marriages of a Doreen L Hambridge and then for any subsequent children.

Luckily Doreen had married David Jeff in 1955 and they had four children. So I had a nice unusual surname to work with and four extra chances at finding her.

In my second stroke of luck one of Doreen's daughters had posted her family tree on Genes Reunited and so I sent her a message and waited patiently for a reply. The eventual outcome was an emotional reunion between two women aged 91 and 74 who hadn't seen each other for nearly 70 years.

If I hadn't had such unusual names to work with or if fewer details were known then I could have contacted the Evacuees Reunion Association or asked in the local studies section of the nearest library or perhaps located a local history group or family history society to ask their advice. And if all that had failed I would have written a little article and sent it off to the local newspapers with a photo and a plea for help.

I can't promise an emotional reunion every time but you never know.

The Queen in Wales

Post categories:

James Roberts James Roberts | 11:44 UK time, Tuesday, 24 April 2012

This week the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will visit south Wales, as part of her diamond jubilee celebrations. On Thursday she will visit Llandaff Cathedral, previously the scene of a 1960 visit, before making her way to Margam Park and Merthyr. On Friday the royal party will visit Aberfan, Ebbw Vale and Glanusk Park near Crickhowell.

Llandaff Cathedral

Llandaff Cathedral. Photo: Foomandoonian

The Queen's visit to Llandaff Cathedral in 52 years ago saw the rededication of the building following its extensive reconstruction from air raid damage sustained in 1941.

Five years previous to the Queen's visit to Llandaff the royal family engaged in a three-day tour of Wales. The 1955 Royal tour took place amid huge crowds from 6-8 August, starting in Brecon before heading west to Pembrokeshire and then up the west Wales coast to Aberystwyth and concluding back in Pembroke.

Day one of the 1955 tour saw the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visit the Brecknock Agricultural Show near Brecon before she opened Swansea's new water source, the Usk reservoir near Llandovery.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Day two featured a visit to the tiny city of St Davids and a service at the historic cathedral. Following a meet and greet with the St David's lifeboat crew the royal couple headed back to their floating home, the Royal Yacht Britannia.

This clip shows Princess Anne and Prince Andrew making their way by rail from Buckingham Palace towards south Wales to join the party. There's also a bit of speedboat fun with the Duke of Cornwall, better known today as Charles, Prince of Wales, being whisked across the waves by his father, larking under the gaze of the Queen from the safety of the royal yacht.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

This year, the royal party will be spending two days in Wales as part of a fairly comprehensive tour of the British Isles. Back in 1955 the three-day tour made its way to Aberystwyth where the Queen visited the university and gave a speech at the National Library of Wales before rounding off their tour of Wales at the birth place of Henry Tudor, visiting Pembroke Castle.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

John Batchelor - 'The friend of Freedom'

Post categories:

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 10:37 UK time, Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Most visitors to Cardiff have seen his statue, isolated but resplendent in the Hayes. Quite often he sports a traffic cone or a waste paper bin on his head or arm - student humour seems to have changed very little over the years. But very few people know much about the man himself.

Statue of John Batchelor

Statue of John Batchelor © Copyright Peter Clayton licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

John Batchelor, "The Friend of Freedom" as the inscription on his statue declares, was one of the most notable citizens of Cardiff in the middle years of the 19th century. He was a shipbuilder, timber merchant, radical politician and a man with a genuine interest in helping the poorer classes of his adopted town.

Batchelor was born in Newport in 1820 and moved to Cardiff while he was still a young man. He went into business as a timber and slate merchant, his companies being based in the dock area of Cardiff. However, he also soon established timber yards in both Merthyr and Aberdare.

Living in Cardiff, it was perhaps inevitable that John Batchelor should develop his business interests to include nautical elements, and a move into ship building was perhaps always on the cards. He was also one of a group of men who founded and established the Mount Stuart Dry Dock.

Politically - and emotionally - Batchelor was adamantly opposed to the Bute family, the most important and influential clique in south Wales. There were many conflicts, particularly with the third Marquess of Bute, a man who virtually held Cardiff and its docks in the palm of his hand. Partly as a way of circumventing Bute control of the Welsh coal trade, Batchelor became involved in the creation of Penarth Docks, being appointed its director in 1856.

Quite apart from being a successful businessman, Batchelor had a clear social conscience and his concerns led him to the radical wing of the Liberal Party. Between 1850 and 1859 he was a Liberal councillor for Cardiff South and in 1853/54 he served as Cardiff Mayor. He was elected president of the Cardiff Liberal Association in 1869 and, as a devoted Congregationalist, he was responsible for the founding of a new chapel in Charles Street.

Batchelor's range of interests was immense. He campaigned, tirelessly, against abuses such as slavery and he was also the Chairman of the Cardiff School Board. Above all, he was concerned with municipal reform and was opposed to the vested interests of the Tories and of people like the Butes. He genuinely wanted to help people less fortunate than himself.

This stance, of course, brought him into regular conflict with the 'establishment', and he always sided with the underdog. There are those who say that the eventual collapse of Batchelor's business empire was down to various conspiracies by the Butes and their supporters. Whatever the reason he lost money, his companies went into serious financial decline and, in the 1870s, were eventually liquidated.

John Batchelor still had many friends and supporters, however. After the collapse of his businesses, friends held a collection and were able to present him with the grand sum of £5,000 - no small amount in those days. Batchelor continued to work as an agent until his death in 1863 but, as far as social reform and public acclaim were concerned, his glory days were gone.

And yet, not quite. It was decided that Batchelor had been such an influence in Cardiff that he warranted a statue. The sculptor James Milo Griffith was commissioned for £1,000, and the statue was duly placed in the Hayes. It was unveiled on 16 October 1886.

The positioning of the statue was highly significant. It was placed just outside the new Cardiff Free Library, the creation of such a resource having been something that Batchelor and all Liberals in the city had, for many years, been campaigning for.

But if John Batchelor had many friends, his radical stance had also earned him many enemies. There was much opposition to the idea of a statue to commemorate the man, a petition of 1,200 signatures being gathered together. And just a few months after it had been unveiled, the statue was daubed with black paint and tar.

In 1887, a local solicitor, Thomas Ensor, wrote a mock epitaph in the Western Mail, a piece that was so scurrilous that he was taken to court and tried for criminal libel. The case was thrown out, the judge declaring the dead had no rights and could, therefore, suffer no wrongs - in other words, you could not libel the dead. It set a precedent in British law that still stands.

John Batchelor was a man of principle, an honest man who stood up for justice and the rights of the ordinary citizen. Remember that the next time you walk along the Hayes and see his statue with its traffic cone or some other ornamentation perched on its head. Batchelor probably wouldn't have minded but you can't help thinking that the man deserves better.

Phil Carradice will be on the Roy Noble Show on Radio Wales from 2pm today, Tuesday 24 April, chatting about Welsh philanthropists.

The aviation race to cross the Irish Sea

Post categories:

BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 14:59 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

Sunday 22 April, marks the 100th anniversary of the first manned flight across the Irish Sea from Wales to Ireland.

In April 1912, three intrepid aviation pioneers - Vivien Hewitt, Denys Corbett Wilson and Damer Leslie Allen - each aimed to be the first man to fly across the Irish Sea in an aeroplane.

The race to cross the sea would eventually leave one man missing presumed dead, another successful in the endeavour, and the third man, who landed four days after the record had been completed, hailed as a triumphant hero.

The challenge had previously been attempted by actor-aviator Robert Loraine. On 11 September 1910 he had narrowly failed to cross the Irish Sea. Leaving from Holyhead, he was tantalisingly close to the Irish coast when his plane suffered engine trouble and he was forced to land in the sea and swim ashore.

Two years later, Hewitt, Corbett Wilson and Allen all chose to attempt the challenge using single seater Bleriot XI monoplanes.

The Bleriot XI was constructed with wood and fabric and had a compass but few other navigational aids. It had a maximum speed of around 65 miles per hour but was vulnerable in strong winds.

Two of the aviators, Denys Corbett Wilson and Damer Leslie Allen, who had both relatively recently attained their Aviator's Certificate, met at Hendon in north London and had become friends.

On Wednesday 17 April 1912, both men arrived early in the morning at Hendon to begin their journey. There were very strong winds that morning, which showed no signs of easing.

Eventually taking off, Allen reached Chester, but Corbett Wilson, having lost his compass in the strong winds, was forced to land at Hereford. He bought castor oil locally but it was the wrong grade and engine trouble meant to had to land again, this time at Colva. There he chose to wait for his mechanic to arrive.

Meanwhile, Damer Leslie Allen set off to Holyhead to attempt the record flight. The next day he left for Ireland but tragically was never seen again. He was later reported missing but his body was never found.

In the meantime, Corbett Wilson had decided to cross the Irish Sea from Fishguard. His original plan, to fly north to Chester and Holyhead, was abandoned.

Corbett Wilson chose to begin his journey from Harbour Village in Goodwick, Pembrokeshire. Weather conditions were reasonably good on the morning of Monday 22 April, and at 5.47am Corbett Wilson took off from Goodwick and headed west towards Ireland.

In spite of deteriorating weather conditions, he reached Crane in Enniscorthy in county Wexford in a flight time of 100 minutes.

He sent a telegram saying: "I have flown successfully St. George's Channel, starting from Fishguard at six o'clock and landing near Enniscorthy, Wexford County, in pouring rain and fog."

Newspaper reports suggested the that tragic race between Allen and Corbett Wilson was the result of a wager, but this was later denied.

In the meantime Captain Vivian Hewitt was too preparing to cross the Irish Sea. His attempt began in Rhyl, north Wales, on 26 April 1912.

Hewitt flew through a foggy Irish Sea before with few navigational aids and landed, some 75 minutes later, dramatically at Phoenix Park in Dublin. When he attempted to land, turbulence nearly flipped his plane upside down. He landed and was greeted as a hero by a jubilant crowd.

A modest man, Hewitt later wrote in his logbook: "Passage very rough and the wind strong and the machine took some handling".

Although Corbett Wilson had completed the first flight from Wales to Ireland a few days earlier, contemporary reports judged Hewitt's longer journey from north Wales to the Irish capital to be the more difficult and dangerous feat, and he was heralded accordingly.

The daring aviation attempts took place just a week or so after the sinking of the Titanic. The naval tragedy consumed the British press in April 2012 meaning that the achievements of Denys Corbett Wilson and Vivien Hewitt neither of the men were to achieve the level of fame that they truly merited.

The Mumbles lifeboat disaster of 1947

Post categories:

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 09:00 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

As far as sailors are concerned the land bordering the Bristol Channel, and in particular its northern extremity, has always been a dangerous and deadly stretch of coast.

This part of the estuary has seen hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shipwrecks over the years but none is more famous or more tragic than the post-war wreck of the Liberty ship Samtampa and the subsequent loss of the Mumbles lifeboat Edward Prince of Wales.

The double disaster took place on the night of 23 April 1947. The Samtampa was a 7219 ton Liberty ship, built and launched in the USA in December 1943, one of many vessels intended to plug the gap caused by the German U-boat campaign against British and Allied shipping.

She, like all of her class, was built in a hurry, her hull being welded together rather than riveted - something that may have contributed to the eventual breaking up of the stricken ship.

By 1947 the Samtampa was owned and operated by the Houlder Line. On 19 April she left Middlesborough, in ballast and therefore high out of the water, bound for Newport. Her captain, Neale Sherwell, was a New Zealander, an experienced and able seaman. In all, she had a crew of 39.

Severe gales

By the afternoon of 23 April, the Samtampa was in the channel off the Devon coast. With a severe south westerly gale blowing and being in ballast, she was light and soon unmanageable. Both anchors were out but the stricken vessel was being blown, slowly and inexorably, towards the Welsh coast.

Her captain had little option other than to radio for assistance. The nearest lifeboat station at Mumbles, to the west of Swansea, was alerted.

As darkness gathered, the Mumbles lifeboat Edward Prince of Wales, under the command of coxswain William Gammon, was launched in what was to prove a fatal and unsuccessful rescue attempt. Unable to locate the Samtampa, Gammon brought his tiny craft back to the slipway at Mumbles in order to find the exact location of the vessel. Then he and his crew set out, once more, into gigantic seas and a wind that had now assumed virtual hurricane proportions.

Shortly after 7pm the Samtampa was driven onto the rocks of Sker Point, close to Royal Porthcawl Golf Club. The tragedy was that watchers from the shore could see what was happening, could even hear the cries of the doomed men, but were powerless to help in any way.

The hull broke into three sections almost immediately. The bow section drifted several hundred yards out to sea and most of the crew huddled together on the central bridge section or at the stern. They were already beyond help.

The Porthcawl Lifesaving Company made three attempts to fire rockets out to the ship, with the hope of setting up a breechers boy. But, with the wreck lying about 500 yards beyond the waters edge and the wind - now between Force 10 and 11 - howling into their faces, the lines fell well short. Before long all three sections of the wreck were under water.

The Edward Prince of Wales was last seen by Coastguard watchers at 7.10 pm. She was not equipped with radio and attempts to communicate with her by signal lamp were hindered by mountainous seas and rain squalls. It was not until the following morning that her wrecked hull was found about 450 yards south east of the Samtampa.

The events surrounding the loss of the Edward Prince of Wales will never be fully known. The RNLI, after looking into the disaster, said that she had been capsized and driven ashore onto the rocks at high water, about 8pm on 23 April. She was never seen by the watchers on Sker Point so it is hard to confirm these findings.

Choked by oil

Many of the bodies - lifeboat men and sailors from the Samtampa - were found with their mouths, ears and nostrils clogged by fuel oil. In many cases they had died after being choked by this oil rather than by drowning.

There is a theory that William Gammon took his tiny vessel inside the stricken Liberty ship, between the Samtampa and the coast, where the water was calmer and the chances of taking men off were greater. Then, so runs the theory, the Samtampa was hit by a gigantic wave that threw her on top of the lifeboat and capsized her.

After this time it is hard to know - certainly there were few marks on the hull of the boat while everything above deck had been smashed away, consistent with her being driven ashore upside down.

In all, 39 of Samtampa's crew perished along with eight crewmen from the Edward Prince of Wales. It remains perhaps the worst maritime disaster to hit the south Wales coast. But such is the courage of the men and women of the RNLI that within 24 hours of the sinkings a new lifeboat crew had been formed and the service from Mumbles carried on as before.

Anyone for Sphairistiké?

Post categories:

BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 13:55 UK time, Wednesday, 18 April 2012

In the foyer of the Lawn Tennis Association there is a statue to Welshman Major Walter Clopton Wingfield with the simple statement: "Inventor of Lawn Tennis". It is a title that still provokes debate among sports historians.

Tennis ball

The invention of the game is credited to Major Wingfield

Today, Wednesday 18 April, is the 100th anniversary of the death Major Wingfield, who died in Belgravia, London in 1912.

Born at Rhysnant Hall, Montgomeryshire on 16 October 1833, he was the eldest son of Clopton Lewis Wingfield.

He had a successful military career before returning to his mid Wales estate where he was also a Justice of the Peace and a major in the yeomanry cavalry. He subsequently married Alice Cleveland, with whom he had three sons and a daughter.

During the latter half of the 19th century there was a growing demand to develop gentle outdoor activities and games for the middle-classes, and, with this in mind, the entrepreneurial Wingfield set about devising games that met this need.

He created Sphairistiké, taking the name from the Greek world 'sphairos' meaning ball.

However, his friends were none too keen on the game's original name. Arthur Balfour, who would later become prime minister, suggested "lawn tennis". Wingfield later added "or lawn tennis" to the title of his eight-page instruction booklet.

It is often said that Wingfield first demonstrated the game at a Christmas party held in 1873 at Nantclwyd, a Denbighshire country house, but this version of the game would be pretty near the final form.

In 1869 Wingfield had shown the game to his friend Lord Landsdowne, although it was not until 1874 that he actually applied for a patent for the the game that he devised.

Originally Wingfield's lawn tennis court was an hour-glass shape which may have been adopted for patent reasons as it set it apart from the more familiar rectangular courts.

Sets of equipment to play Sphairistiké were manufactured and the game became quite popular. Within the first year over 1,000 sets were sold at a price of five guineas.

However, other versions of lawn tennis were played before Wingfield began demonstrating his take on the game.

Another major, called Harry Gem, and his Spanish friend JB Perera, were developing the game that they had had named 'pelota', which they later changed to 'lawn rackets'. In 1872, they set up the Leamington Lawn Tennis Club, later publishing the Rules Of Tennis.

Wingfield may not have been the first to create a game called lawn tennis but it is generally felt that he was the man who first popularised the sport.

Researching Harold Lowe: Titanic hero

Post categories:

Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 14:15 UK time, Friday, 13 April 2012

Way back in 2002, when I started working on BBC Radio Wales' Look Up Your Genes family history series, we used to tour the country with our roadshow. One of our first venues was in Caernarvon and one of the first full family history stories that I had the pleasure of researching was that of local man Harold Lowe.

Known as Commander Harold G Lowe R.N.R at the time of his death in 1944, he was probably better known as 5th Mate HG Lowe, survivor of the Titanic. But to others he was simply "the one who went back".

Archives often contain unusual and poignant documents, but they are not the only source of information and this employment card along with a photograph of Harold Lowe was located on a CD titled Titanic - The True Story. Vital to my search was the fact that it also confirms his date of birth.

The third of seven children, Harold Godfrey Lowe was born on 21 November 1882 at his home Bryn Lupus, Llanrhos in Conway. Since this meant he was missing from the 1881 census it was necessary to purchase his birth certificate to confirm his parents' names. George Edward Lowe and Emma Harriett Quick had married in 1877 in her home town of Liverpool.

Harold's decision to go to sea was perhaps due to his geographical location rather that one based on family tradition, since his father was a jeweller and goldsmith, as were as his grandfather George Lowe and his great-grandfather Edward Lowe who originated from Chester.

By the time of the 1891 census the eight-year-old Harold and his family had moved to the Castle Hotel in Llanddanwg, Merionethshire, where his father's occupation is listed as "landscape and cattle painter" and his mother as the hotel manageress.

Just 12 months before that fateful night in April 1912, Harold can be found on the 1911 census listed as a boarder at 7 College View, Bootle at the age of 27, where his occupation is given as Master Mariner.

Working for the BBC means that I sometimes gain access to the most unusual places, and the time I spent with the original Titanic documents was the most treasured. Behind the scenes at the National Archives at Kew, in a small room with two nominated members of staff to act as security, we were very privileged to be able to turn the pages created by the White Star staff in the chaotic aftermath of the disaster.

I remember the vast lists of the names of the missing and the survivors scribbled in pencil, with many mistakes crossed through and roughly erased. This simple list projected a real sense of the urgent need to know who was alive and who had died.

By a cruel twist of coincidence, while Harold famously survived the sinking of the Titanic, two of his brothers tragically drowned in separate incidents. According to details published in his obituary in the North Wales Weekly News on 12 May 1944 it seems young Harold also had a lucky escape while out punting with his father. When their punt capsized at Barmouth he had to swim to shore in his boots.

Harold was linked to various other deeds of bravery during his naval service; one that stands out is of Harold jumping overboard to rescue a man while suffering from a poisoned arm himself. Naturally, this type of detail is much more valued than any amount of facts obtained from a death certificate or will.

Crucially, the obituary also provided the names of the chief mourners. These included his widow Ellen and details of his two children Florence and Harold, who was abroad serving in India but whose fiancée, Miss Marguerite Davies, attended on his behalf.

The obituary ends with the simple words "his coffin was draped with the Union Jack. On it were Commander Lowe's hat, medals and sword".

Read Titanic: Victims from Wales of 1912 liner tragedy on BBC Wales News.

View the rise and fall of the Titanic animated timeline on the BBC History website.

Cat Whiteaway joins Chris Evans and Alex Jones on The One Show tonight, Friday 13 April, 7pm, BBC One.

Read the rest of this entry

Titanic - the Welsh Connections

Post categories:

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 14:00 UK time, Friday, 13 April 2012

This weekend sees the 100th anniversary of one of the most tragic and dramatic of all sea disasters, the loss of the White Star liner RMS Titanic. The story, of course, is well known.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

On the night of 14/15 April 1912, the Titanic was on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic, ploughing steadily through an area of sea where ice flows had already been reported. Her captain - and the White Star Line - were desperate to claim the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the ocean and, partly as a consequence of this recklessness, the ship struck an iceberg and went quickly to the bottom of the ocean.

Over 1,500 lives were lost in the disaster; fewer than a thousand were saved from a ship that many had proclaimed unsinkable and which, in any case, had too few lifeboats to safely accommodate all of the passengers and crew. So much for the bald facts of the story.

There are numerous Welsh connections with the disaster. Perhaps the most important - and certainly the best known - comes in the person of the ship's Fifth Officer, Harold Godfrey Lowe. Born in November 1882, he was a native of Eglwys Rhos in Caernarfonshire. At the age of 14, Lowe ran away to sea, signing on as a ship's boy and gradually rising through the ranks of his chosen profession.

Lowe earned his First Mate's Certificate in 1908 and joined the White Star Line three years later. Despite his many years at sea, when he was appointed as Fifth Officer on the Titanic in 1912, her maiden voyage was to be his first trip across the Atlantic. Like the ship, Lowe was destined not to make it - at least not on board the Titanic.

When Titanic struck the iceberg Lowe was asleep in his quarters and was not called to duty until half an hour after the collision. After that he was quickly involved in helping women and children into the boats and in keeping order on deck - there are reports that he had to fire his revolver in order to prevent a group on panic stricken men boarding a lifeboat.

As the ship went down Lowe, seeing that there was nothing else to be done, took his allotted place in command of one of her lifeboats. Pulling away from the side of the stricken vessel, there was little alternative but to sit and watch as the last act of the disaster was played out.

By now the ocean was littered with debris and with half-full lifeboats. Harold Lowe gathered in and roped together another two or three boats and made sure they were out of the range of the suction as Titanic sank. He then decided to take his own boat back into the area of the sinking in order to search for survivors. Harold Lowe was the only Titanic officer to undertake this difficult and dangerous task.

He managed to pick up three men from the water, one of whom subsequently died of the cold. After several hours adrift in the Atlantic, Lowe and the men and women in his boat were picked up and rescued by the Carpathia.

The part of Harold Lowe in the 1997 film Titanic was played by young Welsh actor Ioan Gruffud - another, if rather more distant, Welsh connection to the disaster. Hailing from Llwydcoed near Aberdare, Gruffud trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and, with the success of the Titanic film, went on to other notable successes. These have included playing the part of Horatio Hornblower in the TV series of that name.

In Trinity Church in the small seaside town of Penarth there is evidence of a further Welsh connection to the Titanic. A small brass plaque on one of the pews at the front of the church states simply:

In memory of James Reed, aged 18 years, who was drowned in the RMS Titanic disaster, April 15th 1912. Erected by the members of his Sunday School class.

Little else is known about young James Reed but, clearly, he was journeying to the New World in search of a better life, leaving his fellow church members and the town of Penarth far behind.

Someone else who was planning a new start in the USA was the mother of Edwin Meak. She had left her son behind while she took steerage passage in the Titanic and then, hopefully, established herself in America. Tragically, like so many other steerage passengers, she was drowned in the disaster. Her son, Edwin, later attended the Nautical Training School in Penarth, the JA Gibbs Home, his fees being paid by the Titanic Relief Fund.

One little known Welsh connection comes in the person of ham radio operator Arthur (Artie) Moore. Born in Pontllanfraith, Artie had lost part of his leg in an accident and had been fitted with a wooden leg. He was an engineer and very keen on the new-fangled wireless technology, so much so that by 1912, when he was just 26-years-old, he had already erected aerials and built an early version of a radio station at his home in Gelligroes Mill near Blackwood.

Artie often listened to messages from ships around the Welsh coast and had even intercepted the Italian government's declaration of war against Libya in 1911. But nothing prepared him for the faint Morse message he received in the early hours of 15 April 1912:-

Require immediate assistance. Come at once. We have struck an iceberg. Sinking. We are putting off the women in the boats.

The message was from the Titanic, 3,000 miles away in the Atlantic, and was the western world's first news of the disaster. The message was followed by several others, the last one reading "Come quickly as possible old man, our engine room is filling up to the boilers." After that there was only silence. The Titanic had gone down.

Artie Moore quickly passed on his news to the local police but, as the press had often reported, the Titanic was unsinkable and so they did not believe him. In any case, 3,000 miles away, there was nothing they or Artie could have done.

The loss of the Titanic was a disaster on an unparalleled scale. The sinking has retained a strange and compelling fascination for people and there is no doubt that the centenary, this April, will be marked by many commemorative events. It is interesting to know that Wales has more than a few connections to the disaster.

BBC News has a whole section dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Searching for Private Griffiths

Post categories:

Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 15:45 UK time, Wednesday, 11 April 2012

One of the most rewarding quests I have undertaken over the last 10 years when I was working on Look Up Your Genes for BBC Radio Wales was the search for a photograph. Not just any old photograph, of course. Imagine never having seen an image of your father, never knowing whether you have his nose or whether there was ever a twinkle in his eye or a dimple on his chin.

And all his life, all that Ron Morgan could do was to imagine an image.

Among the chaos caused by World War Two, Ron Morgan was born in 1942 - before his biological parents had the chance to marry. This upset his maternal grandmother who was a captain in the Salvation Army and she felt it necessary to urge her unmarried daughter to give up the baby for adoption.

Baby Ron did not travel far though and was adopted by his maternal aunt and raised by her alongside the rest of her children in south Wales.

Adoption papers

Aware that he was treated differently but not knowing quite why, at the age of 19 Ron found an attaché case in a wardrobe which contained his official adoption papers. Although his original birth certificate contained no details of his father, the adoption papers encouraged the use of Ivor as a middle name and provided the minimum details of his putative father, "Private Ivor Griffiths of Swansea, deceased."

After some painful question and answer sessions with his adoptive parents Ron learned the basic facts behind his adoption.

Rank: Private
Service No: 3971373
Date of Death: 02/10/1944
Regiment/Service: Welch Regiment

1st Bn. Grave Reference I, B, 16.Cemetery: FORLI WAR CEMETERY
Additional Information: Son of James and Esther Griffiths, of Morriston, Glamorgan

His birth father was Ivor Griffiths, who died in 1944 in Italy while serving with the Welch Regiment. At the age of two, with no husband and an illegitimate child, his birth mother made the decision that Ron would be better raised by her sister.

Several years later Ron managed to persuade the MOD to release Ivor Griffiths' campaign medals to him. With his authority I applied for Ivor's full World War Two service record, which is available to the next of kin providing that there is proof of death.

After paying £30 and waiting patiently for many weeks, we learned that service records rarely hold photographs. The details on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website confirmed that Ivor Griffiths was aged 30 years at the time of his death. Born in 1914 this meant that he would not be living with his family on the 1911 census, but this did not matter as his parents' names were also provided by the CWGC.

War graves

Searching the 1911 census

Knowing his parents' names, it was simply a matter of matching him to his parents on the 1911 census and searching for any siblings; all of which is much easier after 1911 when the mother's maiden name was added to the birth and marriage indexes, making it simpler to cross reference details.

I arranged a trip to West Glamorgan Archives based in the civic centre in Swansea, as well as the central library. This meant that I could access electoral registers and school admission registers.

So the Griffithses' family tree evolved, revealing that Ivor was one of nine children; fortunately increasing Ron's chances of having cousins. The school registers even carefully noted that Ivor's sister Bertha was an eczema sufferer, whilst the electoral registers indicated that another sister Hannah preferred to use the name Nancy.

It's easy to get carried away when searching and I often find myself building a whole family tree while trying to resolve the original query.

Newspaper search

Newspaper cutting with Ivor's photo

Over lunch in the café overlooking Swansea bay it occurred to me that the main source of information during World War Two was newspapers and that I'd often seen photographs of young men and women in their uniforms printed in their local paper to announce their ultimate sacrifice.

Knowing that Ivor Griffiths died on 2 October 1944 I loaded up the microfilm for that month and year and whizzed through the Western Mail to the appropriate week. Only to find nothing. Not a mention.

Utterly deflated I started to rewind the film before realising that it was also a tradition to print a photograph of someone when they went missing.

And so, page after page, I slowly worked backwards, trawling each day carefully and eventually found Ron's father Ivor. The details in the text matched those names on the 1911 census and the name of the street also matched the entries in the electoral registers.

It's a faded old photograph, not quite in focus and not easy to reproduce in any quality, but none of this meant any the less to Ron.

I spoke to Ron this week to check he was happy for me to share his story and he told me that since we last met his daughter has taken on the challenge and just last week he met up with yet another paternal cousin who has more photos of his father and more memories to share.

The 1953 Pendine murders

Post categories:

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 09:55 UK time, Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The tiny Carmarthenshire village of Pendine is usually remembered for attempts on the world land speed record by people like Sir Malcolm Campbell and John Parry-Thomas back in the early 20th century. But in the autumn of 1953 the seaside village was in the news again, this time as the scene of a grisly and dramatic murder.

Pendine Sands (Photo by lewish619)

Pendine is usually remembered for attempts on the world land speed record

People in the village first suspected that something was wrong when they noticed the cows from Derlwyn Farm had been left unmilked in the fields. The farmer, John Harries, was a careful and diligent farmer, they said, who would never have left his cows unattended in such condition.

Further investigations quickly revealed that Harries and his wife Phoebe had not been seen since returning from a chapel thanksgiving service the previous night, on Friday 15 October.

When questioned, Ronald Lewis Harries, a distant relative of the missing couple - he referred to them as uncle and aunt even though the relationship was never that close - revealed that he had driven them to Carmarthen railway station on the morning of Saturday 16 October. They were off, he said, on holiday.

John and Phoebe Harries had not been on holiday for 20 years and people in the area would have known if the couple had planned anything like a break in London. When Ronald Harries became evasive in his answers to police questions, the investigating team - led by Superintendent Capstick of Scotland Yard - became confident that they had their man.

Harries' Land Rover had been seen several times since the disappearance, driving to and from Derlwyn Farm and, it was said, he had soon removed all the livestock and brought it to his parents' farm, Cadno, where he lived. He had also taken away some of the farm implements.

Further evidence of apparent wrongdoing came in the form of a 'doctored' cheque. This was signed by John Harries and was made payable to Ronald Harries. Originally for just £9, it had been altered to read £909. It was certainly fraud but there were no bodies and without them the police were powerless to arrest Harries for murder.

It is said that the police now planned a trap. They had cotton tapes laid across gateways and gaps in the hedges of Cadno Farm and then proceeded to make such a commotion that Harries was frightened into acting. By following the broken tapes as he blundered towards the location of the bodies, they were soon able to unearth the corpses of John and Phoebe Harries.

It is a great story but its accuracy remains unclear. Other reports talk about an intensive three week search of the area, by police and volunteers. That is certainly more likely but would have involved searching a huge area without any clear leads. It would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack.

What is clear is that on 16 November 1953 the bodies of the missing farmer and his wife were discovered in a shallow grave at Cadno Farm. They had been battered to death by repeated blows from a circular blunt instrument - in fact, a hammer just like the one owned by Ronald Harries - and the bodies buried in a field of kale.

Harries was arrested, despite protesting his innocence, and charged with just the one murder. That was the practice of the time, even though there were clearly two bodies and two killings.

Harries continued to claim he was innocent throughout his trial, which began on 16 March 1954. Such was the interest, right across west Wales, that a crowd of several hundred gathered outside Shire Hall in Carmarthen, some of them having been there since 3.30am. Many of the crowd came from the Pendine area. Crowd control was provided by barriers made of trestle tables and rope.

Ronald Harries sat, immobile, in the dock, his arms folded and barely a gleam of emotion on his face as the story was told by the prosecution. A guilty verdict was inevitable and he was sentenced to hang at Swansea Prison. As he left the court, Harries - handcuffed to a prison warder - managed to raise his hand to friends and acquaintances in the crowd.

Many previous executions in Swansea had been carried out in public, on the dunes outside the prison, but this one took place inside the prison on 28 April 1954. Ronald Harries was the last but one prisoner to be executed at Swansea; the final death sentence was carried out on one Vivian Teed four years later.

Harries had been blasé ever since his conviction but when the public executioners Albert Pierrpoint and Robert Stewart came to his cell on that final morning he is said to have collapsed and had to be assisted to the gallows.

His motive behind killing his distant relatives was never totally clear and he went to his death still protesting his innocence. In all probability the deed had been carried out with a view to financial gain but the murders had been poorly conceived and badly thought through.

Harries had, people felt, met a deserved end and soon the sleepy little Carmarthenshire village of Pendine had all but forgotten its brief moment of notoriety.

Wales' national museums celebrate record visitor numbers

Post categories:

BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 11:20 UK time, Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The seven national museums in Wales received 1.69 million visits in 2011-12, the most since free entry was introduced in April 2001.

The Welsh Government and Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales introduced the policy of free entry eight months earlier than in England. The move nearly doubled visitor figures to national museums in Wales.

Back in 2001-02, a 'free for all' campaign resulted in figures increasing 87% - from 764,599 to 1,430,428 - within just 12 months.

The momentum has continued and grown. By 1 April 2012, 16.5 million visits had been made over the 11 years of free entry.

One particular success story during 2011-12 has been the opening of the new National Museum of Art on the top floor of National Museum Cardiff in July 2011.

National Museum of Art

The French Impressionism and Post Impressionism gallery. Photo © Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

The developments has proved to be very popular with new audiences. There were 50,485 more visits (+13.7%) made to National Museum Cardiff during 2011-12 compared to 2010-11.

In addition, the National Wool Museum achieved over 30,000 visits for the first time. Since 2000-01, the museum located in the Teifi Valley has seen its visitor figures increase by 236%.

Speaking about the increases, David Anderson, director general of Amgueddfa Cymru, said:

"Our recent visitor figures have been excellent. Thanks to the vision and continued financial support of the Welsh Government, I'm delighted that Wales was the first country in the UK to remove a major barrier to museum attendance.

"In 2000-01 fewer than 250,000 of visits were made by people from ... less affluent groups. Over the years, the figure has increased to over 500,000 - one in every three visits."

Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, Huw Lewis, added:

"I congratulate Amgueddfa Cymru on such an impressive achievement. The free entry policy has of course proved popular with traditional museum visitors - but what really pleases me is the fact that it has also attracted completely new, harder to reach, audiences through addressing barriers to access such as poverty and social exclusion as well as encouraging tourists to visit Wales. "

Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales operates seven national museums across Wales.

Details of exhibitions and vistor events taking place at each of location can be found here:

Admission to Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales buildings is free.

Get ready to play The Games of Zeus

Post categories:

BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 16:00 UK time, Monday, 2 April 2012

This Easter weekend (Friday 6 - Monday 9 April 2012), the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon have planned their own Ancient Games to celebrate the opening of their new exhibition 'The Games of Zeus'.

Games of Zues exhibition

'The Games of Zues' opens on Friday 6 April

A number of athletic challenges, including an obstacle course in the Roman garden and an Easter egg hunt on Easter Sunday are planned.

Speaking about the forthcoming games, Dai Price, manager of the National Roman Legion Museum said:

"We thought 2012 was the perfect time to put on an exhibition about the Ancient Games here at the National Roman Legion Museum.

"The Ancient Games began many years ago but we're still celebrating them today as we can see from this year's sporting events. They're a fantastic opportunity for children to come and test their athleticism in our Easter weekend ancient games challenges."

The Ancient Games were started by King Iphastos of Elis after the Oracle at Delphi told him that by holding games in honour of Zeus the terrible plague that tormented his kingdom would disappear... which it did.

The Ancient Games took place in Olympia for 1,000 years, and when Rome conquered Greece the games continued until 394 AD. The first modern games took place in Athens in 1896 thanks to the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin who believed they would help promote peace.

As well as including artefacts used in the games such as a helmet and coins, the new exhibition The Games of Zeus features information on the Ancient Games and Rome's interest in them.

Visitors to the exhibition can also use 21st century technology to find out more about the artefacts on display using Bluetooth on a mobile phone.

Find out more about the games and other events taking place in museums across Wales this weekend on the Amgueddfa Cymru website.

Thirtieth anniversary of the start of the Falklands War

Post categories:

BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 07:40 UK time, Monday, 2 April 2012

The Falklands - Healing the Wounds is one of two documentaries on BBC Cymru Wales to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the start of the Falklands War on 2 April 1982.

They capture the personal and emotional impact of the conflict on the lives of Welsh soldiers who fought in the war.

Thirty years ago Argentine troops invaded the Falkland Islands, a remote UK colony in the South Atlantic. It was an action that led to a brief but bitter war.

Argentina had claimed sovereignty over the islands for many years, and the ruling military junta did not think that Britain would attempt to regain the islands that lay 8,000 miles away.

Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister at the time, considered the 1,800 Falklanders living on the faraway islands to be "of British tradition and stock", and ordered the sending of warships and hastily refitted merchant ships to the Falkland Islands.

A task force of of 28,000 British troops were deployed. It reached the Falklands in early May.

The war lasted 74 days, during which time 255 British servicemen lost their lives. 649 Argentinians also died, as well as three Falkland Islanders.

The Welsh Guards sustained heavy losses in the conflict, and it was one single incident heavily involved the Regiment that accounted for nearly one fifth of all British Army fatalities during the war.

On 8 June at Fitzroy, to the southwest of Port Stanley, an Argentinian jet bombed the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram. The troop ships were moored and carrying equipment and the Welsh Guards, who were ready to go ashore and join the land war.

The attack left 48 men dead, 32 of whom were Welsh Guards. Eleven other Army personnel and five crewmen from Sir Galahad herself also died.

The bombing of the two ships happened just six days before the Argentine surrender.

In Britain, people who had seen men from the Welsh Guards departing on the luxury cruise liner the QE2, which had been requisitioned for service to carry troops to the South Atlantic, now saw pictures of two stricken ships, and desperate attempts to rescue troops from the burning vessels by helicopter and by boat.

From the shore Brian Hanrahan, the BBC Falklands War correspondent, described the "constant crackle of ammunition and bigger explosions throughout Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram".

The bombing also left dozens of men horrifically burnt and maimed, included in the casualties was Welsh Guard, Simon Weston who suffered 46% burns. He was the subject of several documentaries and his struggle to overcome his injuries, including over 70 major operations or surgical procedures, is well documented.

He is now a well-known personality and commentator on the radio and television, as well as the patron of patron of a number of charities that support people living with disfigurement.

Simon Weston recalled the experiences that changed his life, including the attack on the Sir Galahad which left him fighting for life on BBC Radio Wales documentary broadcast yesterday. If you missed the programme you can listen again here on the BBC iPlayer.

The war has left a lasting impact on the lives of the soldiers who fought in the Falklands.

In this clip from Timewatch: Remember The Galahad (2007), Andy Jones, secretary of the South Atlantic Medal Association in Wales, was just a 19-year-old Welsh Guardsman when he fought in the Falklands. He explains his sense of indebtedness that he and others felt for their fallen comrades.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Falklands: Healing The Wounds can be seen on Tuesday 3 April at 10.35pm on BBC One Wales.

BBC News has a timeline of the key dates of the Falklands War. Click here to view the video timeline.

More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.