Stories of Grangetown men who fought and survived

Bravery award for Sapper Herbert Morley

The society has been shown photos and documents (above) relating to 71296 Spr Herbert Morley of the Royal Engineers. He survived the war and had been presented with a certificate, signed by war minister Winston Churchill, to mark bravery on 7th April 1918 when he was mentioned in dispatches for "gallant and distinguished services in the field."

Herbert Morley, lived at 38 Wedmore Road, where he was a telegraph wireman. Born in 1885, he married †wife Emily in 1902 and they had 11 children, five predeceased him.

He was a Sapper in the Royal Engineers, acting 2nd Corporal. Looking at the certificate it looks as if he was in the AW (Artisan Works) cabling section, where his skills as a telegraph worker would have been useful.

Herbert's parents had both died before he joined up in WW1. His father Herbert - a widower who remarried - was apparently born in Texas and also worked in the telegraph business. The family lived in Devon Place and Court Road.

Herbert's is son Henry died aged 27 on 2 June 1940 at Dunkirk, while serving with the North Lancashire Regiment. Herbert himself died in 1942.

'I saw her all ablaze and sinking and I don't want to see such a sight again'

The three Lock brothers from Grangetown all served in and survived World War One. Two served in the Army, while the youngest brother Alec joined the Royal Navy, where he was a stoker. He wrote a vivid account of the ship chasing German ships in the Battle of the Falklands in the south Atlantic in late 1914.

Alec Lock was on board the Cornwall during a fierce chase in the South Atlantic

Alec (or Alick) Lock was 18, a post boy and the son of a Devon-born bricklayer Tom and Gertrude Lock. He was brought up as one of 10 children at 62 Court Road but at the time of the war, the family were living in Saltmead Road (now Stafford Road). His two brothers Arthur and Tom were serving in the Army Service Corps. Alec was on board HMS Cornwall - which has a connection with the Cornwall pub near the family home.

Alec was serving as a Royal Navy stoker and gave a colourful account of his light cruiser's actions after the enemy was spotted as the Cornwall was docked at Port Stanley in the Falkland islands on the morning of December 8th 1914. This is his letter back home to his parents which was reprinted in the Echo in January 1915.

"By the time you get this, I suspect you will have heard we've been in action with the Germans and sunk four of the five ships we engaged. We are waiting to sink the remaining one before returning for England for leave.

"We had put into the Falkland Islands for coal and 21 if the 24 boilers were 'out', everything being ready for cooling, when a terrible row was heard from (HMS) Canopus and the look-out on Sapper Hill.

'Shake her up'

"With all speed we lit up and were away in less than an hour. The chase lasted from 8.30 until 4.10 when we fired the Nurnberg and crippled her. We then left her to the (HMS) Kent, who sank her, and at full speed engaged with the (SMS) Leipzig. We sank her after 10 hours chase and battle and only 18 of her hands were saved. Not one of our men were injured - our only casualty being the death of our canary, which was blown to pieces cage and all.

"I would like you to see the way we respond to the call of action which is often sounded off for exercise. We were on the fo'castle [upper deck], up the funnels, clinging to the ropes, in order to watch the chase, as they had a good 40 miles start on us. It was a picture to see the stokers on deck waiting to go down and relieve the others and saying 'Roll on half past 12 and let's get down to shake her up.'

"I saw her all ablaze and sinking and I don't want to see such a sight again. When we returned we were all shattered and not from sinking as the stoke holds were flooded. We are being patched up now before going into the dry dock."

HMS Cornwall was a light cruiser built in 1902

"We will beat the other ship [Dresden] if we find her. She has only four-inch guns and we have six-inch. It's terribly cold here after coming from the Tropics but we are living well - beef and mutton every meal, as it's only two and a half pennies per pound out here."

Of 286 on board the Leipzig, only seven officers and 13 crew were rescued, the Cornwall picking up Ďfour survivors. The Dresden remained elusive until March 1915 when she was found sheltering by the HMS Kent and Glasgow and was scuttled. Alec survived the war, it's believed he married afterwards and died in 1951. Read more about the battle of the Falklands here

Alec married after the war and died in 1951. Brothers Tom and Arthur also served - and survived - the war. Descendant Jan Taylor - a member of the society - provided this family photo - along with a photo of Tom (above, far left) while on service in France. The family - their father was also called Arthur was a bricklayer - moved to Court Road after living in nearby Devon Street. They are understood to have later moved to Amherst Street and then onto Cathays.

Arthur Jr (b 1887) was married with three young children when he joined up as a sapper with the Royal Engineers, 97th field company, in 1915. A bricklayer like his father, he also signed up for the territorials in 1920 when he was living in Clare Road. Tom (b 1896) was a warehouseman living in Splott when he joined up in 1916 and was posted to France with the Labour Corps (26th Company) in March 1917. He had married Minnie in June 1916 and their son Thomas was born a few months later.

Pte George Rolls, of Rutland Street described himself as the "luckiest man in the Army" after his escape at Armentieres.


He was one of six men out of 28 in his unit who survived. His story was one of some fortune. The sight had been hit off his rifle; then he took a dead comrade's weapon but that was also broken. Then when using a third, he was struck.

"The bullet took an extraordinary course," reported the South Wales Echo in 1914. "After grazing his left arm it had gone across his chest without doing any damage and pierced his right arm."

"I am the luckiest man in the Army," George, 29,(pictured right) told his wife in a letter.

Edmund Bowen was a marine engineer in the merchant fleet before the War and also with the Royal Naval Reserve. He survived a U-boat attack on his ship, HMS Hermes, in October 1914 by using two empty petrol tins as buoyancy aids.

The 35-year-old lived in Stockland Street in Grangetown with his wife and two young daughters. He recalled the attack on October 31st, which had killed 22 crew of the ship in the straits of Dover. It had been carrying a cargo of sea planes from Dunkirk.

"After my watch was over I went to the mess and was just drinking a cup of coffee when the first torpedo struck the ship," he recalled a few days later. "The shock of the explosion was such as to throw the cup out of my hand."

He took the decision to move to the forward part of the ship, but two colleagues went aft and were badly injured.

"When I was on the deck I actually saw the second torpedo coming at a terrific pace. I gave the crowd around the warning to go as far forward as possible. We went, some of us, out of danger before the impact occurred. When it did happen, there was an awful sight. The stern of the vessel was right up in the air and there were thousands of pieces flying about."

Bowen describes the calmness of the captain, who was as collected "as if it was an every day occasion."

"How did I escape? Don't laugh but as a matter of fact I saw some empty petol tins lying on one side. I tied two together and kept them around my neck. Others did likewise and they held up a treat."

Bowen leapt clear with his improvised floats and spent 10 minutes in the water before clambering aboard the Leonides, which had come to their rescue. "Several men who couldn't swim used empty petrol tins and were saved apart from one poor fellow who was picked up by died 10 minutes afterwards."

Bowen was welcomed aboard by a lieutenant who invited him to take some clothes and his boots from his cabin, as he'd left all his possessions behind apart from the clothes he stood in.

Bowen is believed to have remained a retired member of the naval reserve until his death in 1948.

A life saved by German compassion - but turned to poverty back home

There is a moving story told by the Grangetown-born MP Paul Flynn, whose father's life was saved by a German who found him injured and he was carried for three miles to a field hospital.

Mr Flynn, who was named after the man who saved his father, only found out the full story of his war a few years ago. Here is an extract from his blog about Machine Gunner James Flynn, of the 25th Machine Gunn Corps. He was born in June 1898 and brought up in Saltmead Road and later 4 Devon Street. He suffered long after the end of the war and died in 1939, aged just 41.

"He had added a few months to his 15 years to become a soldier. He was made a machine gunner. Both sides in the First World War regarded machine gunners as pariahs because of the number of lives that they took. The canard was that neither the Germans nor British would spare a machine gunner. He would be killed, not taken prisoner. The family knew that during the war he had been shot in the leg, that he was marooned in no manís land and could not escape from his machine gun placement. He heard a German-speaking group approaching, took his rosary beads and said his Hail Marys with his eyes shut. He waited forthe bullet. It never came. The officer leading the Germans was a Catholic. They carried him three miles on their backs to a field hospital. He would have bled to death in the foxhole. My father believed that the rosary beads saved his life. The officer ensured that he was well treated at a hospital where he had surgery for his wound. He was from Cologne. His name was Paul.

"My fatherís injuries cast a shadow over the rest of his life. Never again could he do a 'manís job'. But any occupation not calling for physical strength he judged demeaning. Work was infrequent and unsatisfying, including heartbreaking spells trying to sell the Golden Knowledge encyclopaedia. It was impossible during the 1930s to persuade enough people to invest in the full 12 volumes. Mother remembered with bitterness watching the daily humiliation of a man who could not make a living wage for his family. A set of the encyclopaedia found its way to our home, and it was a rare treasure-trove of information for my three siblings and me, full of gorgeous coloured photographs and wonderful pictures of bisected toads and fish. In the mid 1930s my father suffered another blow. The tiny family income had been supplemented by a pension for his war wound. The government needed to cut spending. His war pension was reassessed and cut. The justisification was that his health problems were considered not to be Ďattributedí to his war wounds, but to have been Ďaggravatedí by them. He went to war as a healthy fifteen-year-old and he was shot. Aggravated? The family slumped from poverty to dirt poverty. The injustice of this decision was grievous. It happened in the week of Armistice Day. With tears in their eyes, the great and the good stood in eternal tribute to our war heroes, many of whom passed up unnoticed, unemployed, wounded, cheated and robbed of hope. My fatherís brother Miah shared his First World War years in the trenches [A sapper in the Royal Engineers, postal section]. He recalled how he and his comrades-in-arms lived in a shed on the edge of no manís land. ĎEvery night there was heavy shelling. We were terriffed. All we had in abundance was cigarettes and booze. So we drank too much and chain smoked,í he told us. Miah left the army broken and shell-shocked. My father died of lung cancer in 1940."

Mr Flynn found out from Red Cross record that his father had been shot and captured on 10 April 1918 - a lot later than the family had believed. That was the day the Germans broke through the front line in Flanders at Ploegsteert Wood. Thousands of British and Australian soldiers were killed. Machine Gunner Flynn spent time in a prisoner of war camp near Frankfurt, and at others in northern Germany.

"But for a stroke of good fortune and the intervention of a compassionate German ocer, my fatherís name would also have been carved in stone in Ploegsteert and my family and I would not have existed. The shame of his suffering in war, the legacy of his wounds and his premature death are a spur of anger that drives my parliamentary work now"

There is more about the Flynns in Grangetown in The Unusual Suspect (Biteback, £19.99).

The pilot's son who became a flying ace and won gallantry medals

Captain Peter Carpenter was the son of a ship's pilot from Grangetown, but it was skills as a pilot of a very different kind which brought him recognition in World War One.

Carpenter was born in 1891, one of nine children to Peter and Jane Carpenter of 35 Clive Street. He went to Grangetown National School and was known as a good rugby player before leaving school and getting job as a clerk for the Spillers and Baker flour mill company. He had joined the Public Schools Battalion in 1914 and went to France but a rugby-playing accident saw him break his leg and he was later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, with his first flight in 1917. He survived a crash due to engine failure while training and flew in a Sopwith Camel with 45 Squadron in the September for action in France and later Italy.

Carpenter transferred to 66 Squadron as a flight leader. By August 1918, he had won the Military Cross for bringing down six enemy aircraft in three months. "The offensive tactics pursued by this daring and skilful officer have produced most successful results," read the citation.

He went on to win the DSO for more hits, showing a "magnificent example" and was one of a flight which saw a colleague win a Victoria Cross.

Carpenter had 24 "claims" including 15 aircraft destroyed. Her finished the war having flown on 190 combat patrols and nine bombing raids. Of these, he led 139 patrols and his total war flying time came to 422 hours 30 minutes. Read more on the 66 Squadron website

After the war, Carpenter went into business in the shipping industry - including an office in Cardiff - but this fell victim to the big crash in the 1920s. He went to work for an insurance firm in London, where he died in 1971.

Six brothers who served their country

The brothers in uniform at their father's funeral in 1915 - back row left to right Ted, Sidney, Frank, John, Tom; front row left to right, Bill, Charles, mother Jane, Ellen, Dolly.

This family photograph shows six Grangetown brothers in uniform. Sadly the Boalch siblings were back home at 38 Knole Street for the funeral of father Frank in 1915.

It wasn't the last family funeral, although all six survived the course of the war. The family story is that one died of shellshock and another was gassed and died of his injuries. These were too late to be counted as dying on active service or to be included on the memorial but they paint a picture of the effects of war.

The six included boy Sidney, a docks labourer who served with the South Wales Borderers. His Army records showed he'd suffered from malaria during the war in Salonika. The family story is that he had been gassed. He died aged 38 in 1927 leaving three children. But his younger brother Tom had already died aged just 24 in 1922 from the effects of shellshock. He fought at Mametz Wood. Brothers Frank (Royal Field Artillery, a barman by trade), Edward (a brakeman) and John (labourer) also served in the Army, while Charles was a stoker in the Royal Navy from before the war and served more than 20 years. Their niece Joan says sadly their young sister Dolly died of TB aged 12. Mother Jane was quite a character and lived to the age of 86. She grew her own vegetables, kept chickens and made her own herb beer - which was a popular local brew which she sold from the door!

Back to Grangetown at War