A Deep Vein of World War I Tales to Be Mined in Rhondda; as Britain Prepares to Remember the Great War of 1914-18, Rhondda AM Leighton Andrews Argues That This Is a Time for National Commemoration, Not Party Politics

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Byline: Leighton Andrews

AFEW weeks ago Michael Gove launched his attack on leftwing historians for distorting the memory of the First World War. I was a bit bemused.

After all, there I was, a left-wing politician, trained as a historian to postgraduate level, working on ways in which we might record the Rhondda's engagement in the war effort. I thought this was a time for national commemoration, not party politics. Perhaps I am becoming more naive as I get older.

In the Rhondda we are, of course, working on plans to commemorate the bravery of those who joined up in the Rhondda battalions - the Rhondda Pals - and fought in the major battles of the war, including at Mametz Wood.

We have a deep vein of Rhondda stories to be mined when it comes to the First World War. There is David Watts-Morgan, DSO CBE JP and later MP - not surprisingly, with those initials after his name, nicknamed Dai Alphabet.

As a miners' union leader, and as Labour county councillor for Porth and Cymmer, he played a major role in the recruitment of local miners to join up. A Welsh-speaker, he was sent across Wales to help recruitment, before going to the front and being mentioned in dispatches three times.

The South African General Smuts, a member of the Imperial War Cabinet, came to Tonypandy to build support for the war in 1917.

Of course, Rhondda coal was crucial to the war effort. Later in the war, the government acted to restrict army recruitment from mining areas, and brought the mines under government control. So the story of the non-combatants - working in the mines or, like my grandfather, who was a coal-trimmer, in the docks - is part of the commemoration as well.

Then we have those who opposed the war, such as Arthur Horner, later communist general secretary of the NUM, imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs after being caught at Holyhead on his way back from Ireland - whence he had escaped and joined the Citizens' Army - to visit his wife and newly-born daughter in Ynyshir in the Rhondda Fach.

Women didn't get the vote until 1918 - and only if they were over 30.

But the war changed things for women, too. Elizabeth Andrews, who became secretary of the Cooperative Womens' Guild in Ton Pentre in 1914, campaigned for women to get the vote, for nursery education, and for pithead baths, and raised concerns about infant mortality and the deaths of women in childbirth, which led to the Maternity and Child Welfare Act 1918. …