Anglesey at War

Anglesey at War

by Geraint Jones


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The First and Second World Wars had a profound effect on all parts of Great Britain, and the comparatively isolated and rural island of Anglesey was no exception. Men were recruited and conscripted into the armed forces in large numbers and some parts of Anglesey, such as the port town of Holyhead, sprang to life. Many Anglesey men found themselves in exotic locations all across the world, while others lost their lives on the killing fields of Western Europe during the First World War. Many soldiers wrote letters home describing their experiences: good, bad, and downright bizarre. Airships were deployed during the First World War and RAF airbases were established during the Second World War. The wars left a legacy that can still be seen on the island today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752464084
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 03/19/2012
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Geraint Jones is a former chemistry teacher, now retired, and has an interest in local history and photography. This is his third book, having previously written about Anglesey's churches, chapels, and railways.

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Anglesey at War

By Geraint Jones

The History Press

Copyright © 2012 Geraint Jones
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9023-6


The First World War – Setting the Scene

Today, we would probably consider life in Anglesey at the beginning of the twentieth century to have been extremely primitive. Much of the population lived in poverty; for the really poor, life was a constant daily struggle. As much as 20 per cent of the population of some rural areas were dependent on some form of financial assistance provided by the parish. In 1914, the secretary of the Welsh Housing Association stated that some homes in rural Anglesey were in a far worse state than the slums of Canton in China. Many of the island's houses were damp, badly ventilated, overcrowded and were completely lacking in any sanitary facilities. Anglesey was one of the worst places in Britain for tuberculosis and other infectious diseases that are associated with poverty and lack of sanitation. School medical examinations revealed the unhealthy state of the children of the island; poor physique and tooth decay were prevalent. Children suffering from tuberculosis were sent to the Penhesgyn Open Air Home (near Menai Bridge) which was established in 1908. The Cefni Hospital at Llangefni treated adults with tuberculosis from 1915.

Without doubt, one of the factors contributing to this unhealthy state of affairs was the lack of a clean water supply in many parts of the island. Anglesey's largest town, Holyhead, had water provided by the Holyhead Water Company since the 1860s. In 1905, Llyn Traffwll (2 miles south of Bodedern) became a water reservoir for Holyhead. The Menai Bridge area was provided with water from wells near the present site of Ysgol David Hughes. Llangefni took its water from three local wells and Beaumaris took its water from Llyn Pen-y-Parc (about a mile south-west of the town). Valley obtained its water from Llyn Maelog which also served Rhosneigr. Cemaes, Benllech and Amlwch took water from rivers or wells. The provision of water throughout most of the island was very primitive indeed.

With the exception of the A5 post road (built at the beginning of the nineteenth century), the island's roads were poor and many were little better than tracks. Anglesey's three railway lines offered a much better means of travel for those living within reach of a station, especially since motor cars were the preserve of the very rich and totally beyond the means of most of the island's people.

In 1914, only three towns in Anglesey had electricity – Holyhead (operated by the Urban District Council since 1906), Llangefni and Menai Bridge. The supply was produced locally. Electricity was therefore very new and comparatively few homes in these three areas were actually connected to the supply. Gas was available only in a few urban areas and was produced locally from coal at a gas works. Telephones were virtually unheard of; most ordinary people had never used one – this being the case, communication was by letter or telegram. Post offices could receive urgent messages by telegraph and deliver them locally.

The dominant industry was agriculture and in Anglesey large numbers of agricultural labourers were employed; the wages were low, typically between 15s and £1 per week. Farms were not highly mechanised and the main motive power was the horse, as it had been for centuries.

The tourist industry, on the other hand, was in its infancy at the beginning of the twentieth century and there was a trickle of holidaymakers frequenting such resorts as Benllech, Rhosneigr and Trearddur Bay. There is evidence that some wealthy people from the English conurbations owned holiday homes in coastal areas such as Trearddur Bay; holiday homes are not a modern phenomenon. Rhosneigr railway station was built in 1907 and the line to Benllech was completed in 1909. It was hoped that both schemes would draw in holidaymakers and produce additional revenue for the LNWR railway company.

Wars were a common occurrence throughout the centuries and Britain had been involved in many of them. The nineteenth century had witnessed many conflicts, such as the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War and the Boer Wars. These were battles fought in distant countries with no direct impact on the civilian population at home, other than the fact that British servicemen were fighting in them. Thousands of men died in these wars. For example, in the Crimean War (1853–6), some 2,750 men were killed in action but over 16,000 died of disease. Similarly, in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), 7,900 were killed in action and over 13,000 died of disease. However, these figures pale into insignificance compared to the world wars of the twentieth century.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the throne of the dual kingdom of Austria-Hungary) in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 by an Austrian subject of Serbian blood, Gavrilo Princip, is the usual reason given for the start of the First World War. Some historians regard this as an excuse for the war rather than its cause which included Austria-Hungary's ambitions in the Balkans. Furthermore, Germany had adopted an aggressive stance under Kaiser Wilhelm II and from 1898 had begun the process of enlarging its navy which could prove a threat to Britain, then the world's most powerful maritime nation. Britain had agreements with the two powers to the west and east of Germany, namely France and Russia. David Lloyd George, a minister in the Liberal Government of Henry Herbert Asquith was confident that common sense and goodwill would prevail and that any large-scale conflict could be avoided. After the assassination, however, Austria-Hungary decided to take action against Serbia which was suspected of involvement in the archduke's murder.

Within a few weeks, by reason of various treaties and agreements between countries, a full-scale war had developed throughout Europe and elsewhere and eventually involved most countries in the world to some degree. The United Kingdom (including the whole of Ireland which was at that time under British rule) and its overseas colonies, France, Russia, Serbia, Belgium, Italy and Japan (the 'Entente Powers') fought against the 'Central Powers' (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Turkey and Bulgaria).



The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) station was located on a 242-acre site at Mona, now used as an airfield. It employed airships and aeroplanes and was active from 26 September 1915 until 1919. It had a sub-station at Malahide Castle (on the coast of County Dublin) in Ireland, and was responsible for patrolling a very large area of sea extending from Anglesey to Morecambe Bay in the east and to Dublin in the west. A substantial camp was set up in the vicinity of the airship station to house the station's personnel.

Anglesey Volunteer Reserves

The Anglesey Volunteer Reserves were formed in 1917 and men were actively recruited throughout the island. The reserves were based at the Kingsbridge camp at Llanfaes and the organisation was made up of men who were unable to enlist in the Regular Army or who claimed had exemption from conscription. There were approximately 1,200 men in the AVR, under the command of Major Hugh Pritchard of Llangefni. They performed guard duties on the Menai Suspension Bridge and the Britannia Railway Bridge as a precaution against possible sabotage linked to unrest in Ireland. There were always ten men on duty on the bridges.

Anti-War Campaigning

The anti-war monthly Y Deyrnas (The Realm) was published in Bangor and ran between October 1916 and November 1919. It contained articles by various religious figures and socialists and drew attention to the plight of conscientious objectors who were imprisoned and harshly treated for their beliefs. Its circulation was never particularly high, and it is said that its sales in Anglesey were disappointing. In fact, comparatively few prominent people spoke against the war, and even fewer were prepared to listen.

Army Camps

The Kingsbridge camp, near Llanfaes, had been opened in 1902 as a tented summer camp for the militia. The Anglesey militia was originally formed in 1762 and one of their functions was to quell incidents of social unrest. The militia became known as the Royal Anglesey Royal Engineers in the 1870s, and at the Kingsbridge camp were taught a number of skills including bridge-building and carpentry. The unit saw service in the Boer War of 1899–1902. In 1911 the camp started the work of training reservists as army engineers. By 1914 the camp was enlarged with permanent buildings and hundreds of troops arrived to receive specialist training – soldiers who would then be sent to France. In 2008, the Daily Post reported that two local archaeologists had discovered the remains of what they believed to be practice trenches at the Kingsbridge site. During the First World War, soldiers in uniform were much in evidence at the ports of Holyhead and Amlwch and the men were often billeted, by compulsion if necessary, in many Anglesey homes. The large Station Hotel at Holyhead was taken over by military personnel as an administrative centre for a time.

The Defence of the Realm Act

This Act was passed by Parliament on 8 August 1914. It gave the government wide-ranging powers, such as the right to requisition land or buildings for the war effort or to create regulations for lighting, criminal offences, censorship and so on. Certain apparently innocent activities, such as lighting bonfires and flying kites were forbidden; even feeding bread to wild animals was prohibited for a time because it was classed as a waste of food. People who were in breach of these regulations could, in principle, be sentenced to death. In Anglesey, there were many minor breaches of these regulations throughout the war and the courts were kept busy.


The Stanley Sailors' Hospital was established on Salt Island, Holyhead, in November 1871. A remarkable woman called Jane Henrietta Adeane (a niece of W.O. Stanley of Penrhos) had been associated with the hospital since 1881; during the war the hospital was taken over by the military and she assumed the title 'commandant'. Hundreds of patients from all over the world passed through the hospital during the course of the conflict as well as a large number of staff. Many of the nurses came from the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) of the Red Cross.

Other buildings also took the role of 'hospitals' although in reality they were convalescent homes for the large number of wounded servicemen. The Assembly Rooms (Holborn Road), the Sailors' Home (Newry Beach), and Llys y Gwynt (Llanfawr Close) all located in Holyhead, assumed this role. Isallt Fawr, Ty'r Enfys and the Darien Hotel (all three at Trearddur Bay) also became wartime convalescent homes, as did the Lady Thomas Convalescent Home which was opened in Holyhead a few months after the war (and later became the Gors Maternity Hospital). Ty Wridin, Rhoscolyn (maintained by Sir M.M. Grayson MP) was also used for a while. Much of the work at these institutions was voluntary and social events were often arranged for patients in order to aid their recovery. Elsewhere in Anglesey, Plas Llanfair (Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll) and Plas Tre-Ysgawen (Capel Coch) were also used as temporary convalescent homes. From March 1918, there was also a Rest Camp at Holyhead which could cater for 1,000 people; no fewer than 73,000 men passed through this camp during the war, including Sinn Féin prisoners such as Éamon de Valera.


A considerable degree of censorship was imposed by the government and the press was limited in what it could print. Even so, letters written by soldiers from the trenches of the Western Front reached home and were often printed in local newspapers. A number of letters written by Anglesey servicemen would have been written in Welsh and these were also censored by the authorities.

Land Army and Agriculture

The U-boat menace caused shipping losses that made Britain more dependent on home-produced food during the First World War. Prices rose and agriculture enjoyed a period of prosperity during the war, of which the main beneficiaries were the farmers. Other working people, who struggled to scrape a living, were often resentful of the farmers' prosperity. In 1917 the Corn Production Act gave farmers guaranteed prices: good prices were obtained for milk, beef and grain crops. Anglesey's War Agricultural Committee was given a quota of 18,000 additional acres on the island, bringing the total arable area to 75,000 acres.

The Women's Land Army was formed in 1916 and by 1917, over a quarter of a million women worked as farm labourers or in the Women's Timber Corps.


About a hundred different recruitment posters were issued at the time of the First World War, the most famous of which was the Lord Kitchener poster (a national hero who became Secretary of State for War in 1914) with his moustachioed face and his pointing finger, exclaiming 'your country needs you'.

Prisoners of War

By the end of the First World War, the larger prisoner of war camps in the UK had smaller working camps or agricultural depots attached to them, and these covered quite large areas of the country. The large Frongoch camp in Merionethshire had subsidiary camps throughout Wales. In Anglesey, some German prisoners were housed in a camp near Llangaffo and many of them worked in the harvest and on drainage schemes on the Malltraeth Marshes. From 1917 extensive use began to be made of German prisoners of war for other work owing to the shortage of labour and food. Most worked in agriculture but many were also engaged in construction, road repairs, land reclamation and quarrying. Employers were charged for the use of prisoner labour at the usual local rates. The number of prisoners of war engaged in work throughout Britain is estimated to have been in the region of 100,000.


In the first part of the war, food remained reasonably plentiful. However, German U-boats sank large numbers of ships carrying imported food and by 1917 there were shortages, particularly bread. From early 1918 a number of basic food items were rationed, including sugar, butter, margarine, cheese and meat. The public were issued with ration coupons from July 1918 and would have to register with a shop of their choice.


About 300 Belgian refugees came to Anglesey and stayed in various places, including Menai Bridge and Amlwch. Their stay in Anglesey was comparatively short with many moving to England to seek work. During their stay, the Menai Bridge refugees helped locals to build a promenade from Carreg yr Halen, Menai Bridge, to the causeway at Church Island and it is still known to this day as the Belgian Promenade. It was badly damaged by storms in the early 1960s and was repaired in 1965, having been officially opened by Eduard Willems, the sole survivor of the original workforce.

Support and fundraising organisations

There were many organisations that made their contribution to the war effort in one form or another. Funds were collected for various charities such as the Red Cross, and War Relief Funds were established in several areas to alleviate hardship, particularly for families of servicemen. Flag days were a popular means of raising money. The government raised the vast sums needed to finance the war through the sale of War Loan Stock and various savings certificates. There was an insatiable demand for public money at a time when many of Anglesey's poor were struggling to make ends meet. Sewing and knitting groups, who made items such as socks and gloves for soldiers were busy in many villages, often being associated with a particular chapel or church. Among the more unusual organisations was one known as 'Eggs for the Wounded' in Beaumaris.


An organisation known as the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) came into being in 1909. Although not exclusively a women's organisation, many middle- and upper-class women, with time on their hands, performed voluntary duties, mainly in hospitals (such as those in Anglesey) as auxiliary nurses. When war broke out in 1914, there was a greatly increased demand for VAD nurses and by the end of the war tens of thousands were at work in hospitals throughout Britain and in Europe. Other women's organisations formed during the war were the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS, established in 1916), the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF, formed in April 1918), the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (formed in March 1917 to assist as clerks, cooks, drivers, telephonists, etc.) and the Women's Land Army (established in 1916). In addition, many women took over men's jobs in factories, delivered mail and even drove buses.


Excerpted from Anglesey at War by Geraint Jones. Copyright © 2012 Geraint Jones. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1. The First World War – Setting the Scene,
2. 1914,
3. 1915,
4. 1916,
5. 1917,
6. 1918,
7. The Aftermath,
8. Between the Wars,
9. The Second World War – Setting the Scene,
10. The Home Front 1939–45,
11. 1939,
12. 1940,
13. 1941,
14. 1942,
15. 1943,
16. 1944,
17. 1945,
18. The Aftermath,

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