The Troedyrhiw Gleemen – part 1

by Carl Llewellyn

While the First World War was reaching its latter stages, a group of young men with a passion for singing approached a local musician, Mr Herbert Llewellyn of Troedyrhiw, to coach them in the rudiments of voice training. Each young male chorister paid Mr Herbert Llewellyn fourpence each per rehearsal for the privilege. Of course not all the Troedyrhiw Male Choir were Troedyrhiw born and bred – there were also a few from the Town and Heolgerrig.

Once the choir had been formed, circumstances had arisen that called for help in raising funds for charitable purposes, including the Prisoners of War Fund, and this was whole-heartily given. The male voice party began with only a few young choristers whose voices and musical talent were of the highest calibre.

Most of the choristers were unmarried and close friends. They were employed in the local collieries, and due to this and their youth they were too young to be conscripted into the armed forces.  The common bond between them was that they were young, musically talented, they had a deep desire to enhance their God given gift for singing.

In 1919 some of the choristers went on holiday to Swansea and trooped into the old Woolworths Store for tea. In a relaxed and happy mood they burst into unofficial song and, far from being thrown out they were invited back the following day to give another musical rendering for more free tea.

In 1920 the male voice choir, or gleemen, arranged a two week’s holiday combined with a choir tour to Portsmouth. The Gleemen consisted of 25 choristers of which only 19 were available to be part of the tour.

The photograph below of the Gleemen in Portsmouth was taken 97 years ago today.

The Troedyrhiw Gleemen on their trip to Portsmouth, 10 August 1920

BACK: left to right: David James, Yew Street: Emrys Jones, Merthyr: Emrys Jones barber: Ossie Bufton

SECOND ROW: left to right: Trefor Davies: William Richards: Sam Edwards, Church Street; Rees Richards: W Griffiths, Heolgerrig; Tommy Jones, Aberfan: Enoch John: Aeron Davies: Sydney Griffiths.

SEATED left to right: Billy Williams, Dyffryn, W. George; W Jones (Bett); Brinley Griffiths, accompanist, later conductor of the Merthyr Philharmonic Choir, Herbert Llewellyn, conductor; Mr Davies, Chief Constable of Portsmouth: Gwilym Edwards: David Williams: Ben Lewis, now in Scranton U.S.A.

The ensign they are displaying was given to the party by the officers of the battleship H.M.S. Barham, after they had given another concert on board the ship at Portsmouth. The flag was flown by H.M.S. Barham at the battle of Jutland. Mr Enoch John believes that the flag was given to Cyfarthfa Museum.

A report of the tour to Porstmouth will be featured in the next post.


Belgian Refugees

It is sometimes forgotten that during the First World War, an influx of Belgian refugees arrived in Britain to escape the fighting in their country. Quite a number of them came to Merthyr, and transcribed below is an article describing the arrival of the first of these refugees in 1914.

Merthyr Pioneer – 17 October 1914

A very enthusiastic meeting of local citizens was held at the Town Hall on Monday night, when the final preparations for the welcome and maintenance of the Belgian refugees was made.

Addressing the meeting Coun. H M Lloyd (Mayor) referred to the terrible distress prevailing in Belgium owing to the German invasion, and pointed out the hardships which were being suffered by a whole nation out of employment. Inasmuch as Belgium has acted as a buffer State, we were indebted to them, and were called upon to help them bear their share of suffering and sorrow.

Alderman J M Berry J.P. was appointed treasurer of the committee, and Mr T W Morris, secretary.

A tremendous crowd of people thronged the High Street and the Merthyr Station Approach on Wednesday evening, and the 32 Belgian refugees received a hearty if somewhat embarrassing Welsh welcome. They were met at the station by Coun. H M Lloyd and Mrs Lloyd (Mayor and Mayoress), Major and Mrs Frank James, Capt. G B Williams, Councillors F A Phillips (Deputy Mayor), Mrs M A Edmunds, and Ald. J M Berry, Mrs Wills, Mr T T Jenkins and others.

Some difficulty was experienced in getting the visitors into the two decorated cars which had been lent by the Merthyr Traction Co. to convey them to the YMCA Buildings. Several of the refugees were obviously affected by the cordial welcome which greeted their arrival, and many of the waiting citizens were moved to tears when an elderly Antwerp lady who had received injuries was assisted to the car by Councillors Phillips and James whilst the appearance of Ald. J M Berry with a Belgian youngster on his shoulder was the signal for loud cheers. Outside the YMCA Buildings the Cyfarthfa Municipal Band greeted the refugees with the National Anthems of the Allies. After a splendid meal had been enjoyed, a musical programme in which one of the visitors took part, was provided.

In officially welcoming the refugees, the Mayor said that every class in the community was anxious to do what it could to alleviate their sufferings and misfortunes.

Interviewed by the Pioneer representative on Thursday, the Mayor said that funds for the maintenance of the refugees were still coming in. As the committee desired to maintain them for at least six months, he hoped that local citizens would continue to contribute all they could afford towards the cost of their maintenance. The cost of maintaining them would probably be something between £15 and £20 per week. 19 more refugees were expected to arrive almost immediately, and as the distress was great and increasing, Merthyr might be called upon to maintain something like 100. “I am thinking of arranging for an illuminated carnival, perhaps the last day in October (Saturday the 31st), and I trust that all cyclist and motor cyclists, and those who have fancy costumes, will hold themselves in readiness for the occasion” added the Mayor.

Late on Thursday evening a further party of Belgian refugees, numbering nine, arrived at Merthyr, and were conveyed in cabs to the YMCA Buildings. The party consisted of seven women and two men. This brings the total to be maintained to 41.

Arrangements for the comfort of the visitors have been greatly enhanced by the spontaneous offers of assistance given by many local citizens. The management of all the local entertainment halls have offered free admission; the Traction Co. offer free rides, and Mr Arthur Davies, hairdresser, of Glebeland Street, has offered to attend to the toilet of the male members of the party.

Mrs Suzanne Doolan, local historian and former reporter on the Merthyr Express, is researching the Belgian Refugees in Merthyr, so if anyone has any information about them , please get in touch and I will pass it on.

Espionage in Merthyr Tydfil

As we are currently commemorating the centenary of the First World War, I thought I’d share a very interesting story that I came across in the Merthyr Express from 1914 – it is transcribed below.

SPY PERIL AT MERTHYR – Merthyr Express, 24 October 1914

A great sensation was caused in Merthyr on Tuesday when it became known that an alleged German spy would be taken before the magistrates and charged under the Official Secrets Acts, 1911, with attempting to convey to the enemy important plans etc. Consequently the police court was crowded. The defendant, who gave the name Carl Fick, a German, is a finely built man of middle age. He has for several months followed the occupation of a steeplejack. He used to travel about in a motor car. Fick was not only charged on Tuesday with attempting to convey plans to the enemy, but with attempting to persuade another to commit a similar offence. Only formal evidence was given, and the defendant, who didn’t have a word to say, was formally remanded in custody for a week.

Chief Constable Wilson said the defendant was of German nationality and was registered as an alien in August last. Since that time he had been kept under strict observation by the police. Certain information came to his (Mr Wilson’s) knowledge in September that the accused had approached a certain gentleman in the town with a view to getting his assistance in communicating to the German Ambassador certain plans indicating important landmarks for the purpose of dropping bombs. He (Mr Wilson) took particular precautions, and placed Detective-Sergt. Dove and Detective O’Neill in a place of observation, where they were able to hear and see the defendant. They listened to certain conversation to the effect that the townsman he had named should go to America, he (defendant) would pay the fare, and hand to the German Ambassador certain plans. The plans, the defendant said, were of a most destructive character, if carried out, and would practically annihilate the British Army. Defendant had prepared certain plans and notes, the latter written in German, which had been translated. One letter, written on October 16th, which the defendant intended for the German Ambassador in America read as follows:-

If these plans should be of any use to the German Government, please make any payments to myself only. I am unable to come to give any help myself.

That, said the Chief Constable, was written on the printed billhead of the defendant, who has for four or five months carried on the business of steeplejack, He asked that the defendant be remanded in custody in order that he might communicate with the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Detective-Sergt. Dove was then called and questioned by the Chief Constable. “Do you remember visiting certain premises at Merthyr on the 15th September? – I do. Did you see the defendant? – I did. Did you hear him making certain statements? – I did. Did he ask a certain person to go to America to see the German Ambassador? – Yes. With what object? – For the purpose of handing plans over which he said would destroy the whole of the enemies of Germany.”

The Chief Constable: “Upon that evidence I ask for remand for a week. – Granted.”

If anyone has any interesting Merthyr-related stories about the First World War, please send them to me and I will post them on this blog.