Mid Wales

World War I secret documents found in Powys house clearance

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe 150 articles in support of the war were penned by agents of Military Intelligence 7b (MI7b) from 1916-18

Documents from a secret World War I propaganda unit have been published after they were saved from a skip during a house clearance in Powys.

The 150 articles in support of the war were penned by agents of Military Intelligence 7b (MI7b) from 1916-18.

The government ordered the destruction of MI7b's papers shortly after the war ended, but some were kept by Capt James Lloyd, who lived near Builth Wells.

He is said to have worked for MI7b with Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne.

Capt Lloyd's great nephew Jeremy Arter, from Callow, near Hereford, was clearing his aunt's home in Talybont-on-Usk, near Brecon, last August when he discovered the papers.

They were to be thrown on a skip, but were saved when Mr Arter spotted an MI7b stamp on some of the documents.

He has since read through many of them, each between 1,500 to 2,000 words long, and has written about them in a new e-book: MI7b - the discovery of a lost propaganda archive from the Great War.

Mr Arter said MI7b was established to sustain support for the war at a crucial time when the numbers of soldiers killed were rising and social unrest threatened to undermine the military effort.

The unit's stories were published by friendly newspaper proprietors and editors.

Capt Lloyd, a vicar's son from the Powys village of Aberedw, served in the Welch Regiment during the early years of WWI, but he was wounded leading an attack at Mametz during the first Battle of the Somme on 7 July 1916.

A year later he was recruited by MI7b for whom he wrote stories of individual heroism and contemporary accounts of daily life fighting in frontline trenches.

"Much of my aunt Mary's household belongings were due to go in a skip and in amongst family papers and photographs I noticed a booklet with the MI7b stamp and thought it would be of interest," said Mr Arter.

He said his great uncle Jim's documents turned out to be the sole surviving archive of MI7b.

"There are about 150 separate articles made up of pencil drafts, manuscripts, and typescripts, along with notebooks and photographs, almost a complete picture of his life and times and his work - so much material that I haven't yet read it all," Mr Arter added.

It is thought the documents survived because Capt Lloyd took his work home with him, and might have had ambitions to write a book about his secret wartime life.

But he never exploited the papers, becoming a school head teacher.

"Mary had given me other documents ages ago to look after and I had never had the time to study them," said Mr Arter.

"It wasn't until the two came together that I realised that what I had in front of me was a unique archive of historical documents. I was astonished when my research showed that they were meant to have been destroyed soon after the war."

Mr Arter said his great uncle's documents included previously unseen and unpublished contributions from writers such as Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne.

The writers in MI7b, also said to have included the Irish poet and novelist Patrick MacGill, produced 7,500 articles between 1916 and 1918.

Intelligence historian Andrew Cook said the unit worked closely with newspaper publishers, keeping an eye on the foreign press but also countering negative stories, writing material intended for leaflets dropped by hot air balloons.

"It was set up in 1916 when casualties were mounting and there were large numbers of dead. This was having a major impact," he said.

"As the war soldiered on into 1916 and 1917 there was unofficial industrial action that concerned the government.

"Lloyd George (the prime minister) and his government also knew that the Russian revolution started in a small way after food shortages and there were fears that could happen here."

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites