A Letter from Germany

The following article appeared in The Merthyr Pioneer 103 years ago today, on 26 September 1914 – just after the outbreak of the First World War….

As reported in our issue of August 29, Miss Margaret Gilleland, daughter of Mr and Mrs Gilleland of Brecon Road, is one of the British subjects who were unable to leave Germany before the outbreak of the war. As was explained in that issue of the Pioneer, Miss Gilleland took up the post of governess with a German family residing at Posen in April last, from which place, however, the family have since gone to Borkun, probably in view of the advance of the Russian Army towards Posen.

Mr and Mrs Gilleland have naturally been somewhat concerned about the safety of their daughter, from whom they had received no communication since August 1 until the following letter arrived from a lady residing at The Hague, Holland, in which was enclosed the few lines written to her parents by Miss Gilleland in German (all letters posted in Germany at present must be in the German language), and translated by the lady who kindly forwarded the note to the family in Merthyr. By the courtesy of the family we are able to publish the letters as received, and Miss Gilleland’s friends in the district will be delighted to know that she is in good health and ‘very happy.’ The letter is as follows:

“The Hague
15th Sept 1914

Dear Sir and Madam, – You will probably be surprised to receive a letter from a total stranger. Fraulein Tietz, from Zulchan (Germany), asked me if I could write to you for your daughter, as you would be longing to know how she is getting on. On the overleaf you will find a translation of her German letter to you, for, of course, she cannot but write in German. So if you would kindly write your daughter in English, and then sent the letter to me, I will translate it, and forward it to her.

I have tried to translate it as well as I could, but please to forgive me if the language is not quite correct. Hoping you will soon send me a reply for your daughter. – I am, with kind regards, Yours sincerely,

                   L Huijgen de Raat”

Miss Gilleland’s note to her parents (as translated) is as follows:

“My Dear Parents, – I will write to you just a short letter to tell you that I am quite well and very happy. I also want to state that when in newspapers it is put that we foreigners are badly treated, this is absolutely untrue.

Please let me know how you are, and where George is. Much love, from yours lovingly,                                

Margaret Gilleland”

Below is a photograph of Margaret Gilleland that appeared in the Merthyr Guardian on 5 September 1914.

Merthyr Pioneer – 5 September 1914

A Year in Patagonia – part 2

Continuing the fascinating account from our previous post…..

My father went out hunting sometimes with my cousin and one day killed a puma. Its skin was made into a mat which we girls had in our bedroom. I had four cousins out there living miles away – Mylyrfyn, Reene, Llewellyn, and Callan. Their father was killed by the Indians.  Mrs and Miss Rowlands were other friends of ours from Abercanaid – they lived a long way from us, and father would take us sometimes in a buggy, a farmer had lent it to him, to visit them. I used to stay with them for a holiday sometimes. Miss Rowlands had a sweetheart, a Spaniard named Antonio Miggins – he was much darker than our people I often wondered why. One night when we were sitting round the fire I asked him why he was so dark, the answer was that he always drank strong tea. They all laughed, they were very nice people I did enjoy my visits to them.

One day my father did not go to work as there were many things needing to be done around the home, and he wanted to do some fishing. Being away all the week he could not do much, so he took my sisters and myself with him we gathered a lot of sticks and lit a fire as we were so far away. Father knew mother was very timid so we hurried home. Although we were so many miles away we could see quite plain as the country was so flat, but before we reached our house we saw an Indian ride away. He only wanted to know the way to Chubut, Mother could not understand him so said Lo ken savvy , meaning I don’t understand you, the, Indian made to dismount she got very frightened and went into the house for a gun and showed him she could use it he then rode away. Mother stood the ordeal very well but she was glad when we were all together again.

Every farmer in Patagonia had an enclosure attached to his farm called a corral where he had his cattle put at night to protect them from wild beasts, or when the Indians knew they were well stocked. They were very cruel and would come down from the Andes and steal their stock. there was no way to stop them as they came in large numbers unaware. Father made mother an oven to bake in, it was made in the shape of a beehive it was baked without lime. Mother was very disheartened at times, she would travel for miles to the mill then could get no flour, and butter too she could not buy although she had plenty of money.

Life was not very easy in many ways so when father came home at weekends, they would discuss ways out of the difficulty. They found out there was a sailing vessel leaving Chubut for Buenos Aires. They decided to book a passage on her. Mother sold all our household furniture and we went to the Chubut village for a while until the vessel was ready to sail. I went to school for the first time in Patagonia, the first thing they did was to take my shoes and stocking off to see if my feet were clean, but did not bother about my hair as they do in this country. I learned to count up to ten in Spanish, also to sing Oh click a dak a pana Novama. My father again had a buggy to take us to the vessel at the mouth of the River Plate, and I remember when we reached the ship there, a sailor helped us up a rope ladder as he put us on deck he counted una piccaninny dos piccaninny tres piccaninny, and for mother he said Senorita. It took us less time to get home- about five weeks. Father had to forfeit his £5 guarantee. We eventually reached Pontypool Road Station, where friends and my dear Grandfather who I thought I would never see again were meeting us. There was great rejoicing when we met. Well dear children the year is now up and I do hope I have not tired you so Good night and God bless you.

Martha Thomas (née Protheroe) in later years

Many thanks to Thomas Gwynder Davies for sharing this document with us.

A Year in Patagonia – part 1

This account, donated by Thomas Gwynder Davies, was written by his grandmother, Martha Thomas (née Protheroe) about the year she lived in Chubut, Patagonia. She was born in Abercanaid 1878. Her family were members of Sion Chapel, Abercanaid, and they emigrated to Patagonia in 1887, but returned to Abercanaid in 1888.

One year of my life written by an 8 to 9 year old
Martha Thomas (née Protheroe)
1887 to 1888
in Patagonia, South America

My father and mother often wished to travel. They talked much about it and when father was offered a government job in 1887, to build a railway from Chubut Valley to the Andes Mountain, they decided to accept it. The government wanted £5 from each settler as a guarantee that they would stay until the railway was finished. There was much preparation to be made and although I did not understand much of what it involved, I was very excited. Mother was presented with a Bible from the members of Sion Chapel Abercanaid, and I was presented with a large book on behalf of the scholars of Abercanaid mixed school by Mr Evans, schoolmaster.

I felt the parting very much especially from my dear Grandfather whom I loved very much. He lived next door and we had never been parted before. Well the morning for going away arrived at last. Father and Mother my two younger sisters and uncle and two aunts from Swansea came with us to Liverpool to see us off. We stayed there two days and went to many places of interest. We visited the museum and had our photos taken on the steps outside and when we boarded the ship for Patagonia we again had to part with loved ones and friends who had come to wish us well in our new home and surroundings and a safe journey. It took six weeks to go on our journey.

One morning mother looked very tired and sad and thanked God that we had slept through the night, as there had been a terrible storm in the night, and every passenger and crew had worked very hard, as the implements that the ship was taking as cargo in the bottom of the ship had got loose, and they had to put sand bags between the irons to steady the ship as it rolled so, at the mercy of the storm. At last we reached our Chubut. We were taken in little boats to the landing stage. We still had a long way to reach the village, so were taken in wagons drawn by oxen. We did not travel very fast in those days, and had to sleep in the open three nights, and the men had to light fires to keep the wild beasts away while we slept. By and by we reached the Chubut village where a large tent was put up with long tables and benches where we had tea of bread and treacle, and a beverage called Valka made out of a native tree which we sucked through a straw.

We soon settled when father had a 4 roomed homestead built of mud and straw. Evan Hopkins who came with us from Abercanaid was a carpenter and he made us a table and benches for our kitchen and we had mats made by the Indians of animals skins and dyed with vegetables that grew on the Andes. We had two dogs – ‘During’ a house dog, and pet called ‘Fancy’, two hens and cockerel. Father now  had two horses to take him to work as he worked a very long way from home and only came home at weekends. When he went back to work he rode the one horse until it became tired and picked up the other to ride the rest of the way, so he would have it to ride half the way home next weekend – the first horse having eventually returning to us by itself. My sisters and I would go for long rides as it was quite docile.

The weather was very extreme. When it rained it tore up the earth into holes, and they would soon fill with water, but in a few days it would be quite dry again. When it snowed it came down in great lumps not like our flakes. When there was a thunder storm the lighting was like a huge picture in t he clouds. As the grass grew, the wind and the sand caused it to burn and became yellow. There was little green grass to be seen anywhere, therefore there was no pasture for the cattle to eat and they were very thin. There was very little butter in the shop as the farmers could only make a little in the summer when the grass was at its best.

To be continued in the next post……


Book Launch

One of Merthyr’s foremost historians, Joe England, has written what promises to be a fascinating new book-

“Merthyr: The Crucible of Modern Wales”

The launch of the book will take place on Saturday 23 September at 10.30 at the Old Town Hall (Red House).

Joe England will be discussing the themes of the book with Dai Smith and the audience before signing copies.

Tea and coffee will be provided.

For more information visit –


Councillor Isaac Edwards, J.P.

Today we look at another important Merthyr resident – Isaac Edwards, business man, magistrate and mayor, who died 74 years ago today.

Isaac Edwards was born in Dowlais on 10 May 1872. Educated at the Dowlais Works School, at the age of thirteen he began working at the mill manager’s office at the Dowlais Ironworks.

At the age of 25, he left and opened an accountancy and auctioneering business in Dowlais. Within two years he was joined in the business by his elder brother and they began trading as Edwards Bros. As the business grew they purchased the practice of Mr Henry Lewis, auctioneer in Merthyr and opened a branch office in Market Square Chambers, Merthyr.

In 1910, he accepted an appointment as district valuer for the Caernarvonshire, Anglesey and West Denbighshire area in the Wales Division Board of the Inland Revenue. He remained in the position until 1916 when he returned to Merthyr and acquired the business of Messrs J M Berry & Son.

As a boy and young man, Isaac Jones was a member of Bethania Chapel, Dowlais where he continued to worship until he moved to North Wales. Upon his return to Merthyr he became a member of Zoar Chapel where he was elected as a deacon and became a Sunday School teacher. He was also elected President of the North Glamorgan Association of Independents; president of the Glamorgan County Association; chairman of the Independent Union Sustenation Fund, treasurer of Bangor College and in 1930 was elected president of the Welsh Congregation Union – only the fourth layman to be elected to the position since its formation.

He also made his mark outside the chapel. He was elected president of the Merthyr Chamber of Trade, as well as serving as secretary South Wales and Montmouthshire Federation and vice-president of the National Chamber of Trade. He was also appointed as a magistrate for the county in 1922. An Independent councillor since 1921, Isaac Edwards was elected as mayor in 1938.

Isaac Edwards died on Sunday 19 September 1943.