The first of the Cardiff Pals to die

On 21st September 1915 L/Cpl Alf Johnson, 24, was the first reported casualty among the "Cardiff Pals" battalion. He had sent a message to his brother saying "don't worry, I shall return all right." He was serving with the Welsh Regiment 11th Battalion, who had only gone to war a few weeks before. By 20th September, they took over a section of the front line and Alf was the first to be killed the very next day.

Alf was educated at Grangetown Council School. He joined up in September 1914 - one of many who rushed to join up in the battalion, made up of friends, colleagues and neighbours. His colonel writing to his parents said he was killed "by a shell fired into our trench by the Germans." Alf was the son of Isaac and Selina Johnson, formerly of 56 Corporation Rd. His father was a greengrocer. His parents were later living at 27 Tylcha Wen Crescent, Tonyrefail, Glamorgan. Born in Cardiff, later living at 23 The Avenue, Tonyrefail, Alf worked as an engine man below ground in Coed Ely colliery before the war. The youngest of seven sons, his brothers Charlie (a gunner on HMS Cumberland) and Percy (RAMC at Dardenelles) also served.

Read more on the Cardiff Pals here.

Lighthouse vessel mine tragedy

This photograph of the THV Irene was taken in about 1890. Courtesy of Trinity House.

Hugh Leopold Phillips was a Welshman who was master of a lighthouse vessel, which was blown up by a mine in the Thames Estuary on November 9th 1915. Altogether 21 men on board the Irene, a steam-powered boat, died after she was sunk off the Essex coast. Several others were rescued by an apprentice on board, who helped them reach part of the boat still afloat.

The crew had been searching for the wreck on another vessel near Harwich when they hit the mine. It may have been laid by a German U-boat or was possibily a stray British mine. It was the worst tragedy inflicted on Trinity House - the lighthouse service - of World War One. The loss of 33 men on the THV Argus in 1940 was the single greatest loss of life for the service in wartime.

Phillips, 49, an experienced mariner, had married into a Grangetown family - Naomi Jane Davies in Cardiff in 1894. She was the daughter of a pilot (David Davies, of 26 Kent Street, b 1870) and later after she was widowed lived at 46 Taff Embankment. They had one daughter Marjorie (b 1904, in Cornwall). His great nephew Paul, writing for the Dyfed Family History Society journal describes a photograph of the couple. "Hugh looks every inch the mariner and his short double-breasted jacked with broad lapels and sporting a beard and a ferocious mousache, which makes him look older than his years. Naomi looks very young, despite the heavy Victorian dress she is wearing."

Phillips was born in Burton, Pembrokeshire, 7 March 1866, second of eight children born to Thomas Scott Phillips- a clerk in the lighthouse service. He was with the merchant navy for a period before following his father in working for the lighthouse service; it included a period working on a Trinity House vessel in Newport in south Wales by the mid 1890s. On the night of the 1891 Census he can be found boarding at the Langham temperance hotel in Tresillian Terrace in Cardiff with his brother Thomas, also a mariner. He was promoted to First Mate by 1890, a rank that took him to London to work on the lighthouse vessels there - including Irene. After his marriage, the family were living near Harwich in the years leading up to the war. Phillips got promoted to be a master mariner, and took charge of Irene in November 1915.

The steam yacht had been one of the vessels escorting Queen Victoria's coffin back to London, while it was also involved in royal occasions for Edward VII and George V. Its regular role was in servicing lighthouses and lightships, as well as looking after buoys and beacons in shipping lanes. In wartime, this became more treacherous, and it was at risk from enemy ships, U-boats and fatefully mines.

Phillips's body was recovered from the beach and he was buried in London. He is commemorated on the Merchant's Seamen memorial with the other crew members who died. His widow Naomi died in 1932, aged 61. You can read more about the lighthouse service during the war here.