Over 100 years after the First World War ended the carnage it wreaked on a North Wales town – and on one street in particular – has been commemorated in a new book.
For Your Tomorrow We Gave Our Today commemorates the sacrifice of over 150 young men from Denbigh who fell in the Great War, among them at least 35 from Henllan Street.
The book, which has been sponsored by local law firm Swayne Johnson, has been a labour of love for members of the Denbigh Community Archive Volunteers who researched and traced the stories behind the names of those who never came back.
Narrow, winding Henllan Street, the poorest part of the town, took the heaviest casualties and according to local historian Clwyd Wynne many of those may have signed up to escape lives of grinding poverty.
He said: “It lost more men than any other street in the town and had one of the highest rates of casualties in Wales.
“It was notorious. It had a real reputation for crime, poaching, drunkenness and poverty but it had a chapel or church at either end and many of them were poaching because it was the only way to put food on the table.
“But Denbigh had been an army town for a long time and when the call came to join up the men of Henllan Street were the first to go.”
And the first to die. William Conway Williams was five foot five inches tall, worked at Boaz Jones’s candle factory in Denbigh and lived in a two-room house at 94, Henllan Street, with his wife and three sons.
He joined up in Wrexham on September 24, 1914, arrived in France on November 1 and died of his wounds a prisoner of war after being shot in the abdomen on November 28 at Tournes, in Northern France.
The idea for the book came from the work the Community Archive volunteers put in for the centenary of the end of the war in 2018 when they produced a commemorative publication for local schools.
But they found so many errors and omissions in the records that they decided to update their earlier work, discovering that many of the official records of the First World War had been destroyed in the London Blitz of the Second World War.
Many soldiers appeared on different lists of the fallen in churches, chapels and village memorials – one on at least ten – while there is at least one case of mistaken identity, the Wallace Roberts on the town memorial actually survived while a different Wallace Roberts was killed.
“There were also two soldiers each called David Jones and two Robert Thomas Jones but only one of each appears on the memorial.”
Lynette Viney Passig, a director at sponsors Swayne Johnson, said: “This book is an important archive of the history and heritage of Denbigh where our firm was founded 175 years ago.
“In fact we will have represented the families of many of those listed here and staff of Swayne Johnson will have served alongside them, including the son of one of our founders, Colonel Roderic Swayne, who won the Military Cross in Flanders in1917.
“That’s why the book and the sacrifice it commemorates means a great deal to us as a firm which continues to play its part in the community of Denbigh.”
Roderic Swayne served on the front line along with Denbigh men like Robert Royles, a chimney sweep, father of six and an enthusiastic member of the Henllan Street Mission who enlisted aged 42 after the upper age limit was raised to 40.
Just weeks before he died he wrote about conditions in the trenches: “I had courage but now I have none. If you were here for half an hour I would ask if you had courage.
“You have no conception of what it is like when these terrible shells are shrieking. You must stand by with the expectation of being hit. On the right and left your best friends fall and cry for help but you can render no help.”
There was no help for him when a shell fell on the frail shelter containing him and three comrades, all killed instantly.
Other more unusual deaths included Major Owen Mostyn Conran, of Brondyffryn Hall, of the Royal Flying Corps, who learned to fly before the war and died when his plane crashed on a night bombing mission in 1917.
There is also the sad story of David Jones, 34, of 85, Henllan Street and a Sunday School teacher who never went further than Kinmel Camp after enlisting in the Royal Welch.
He and a companion, Robert Jones, were walking back to camp on an August evening when they were hit by a car with David Jones dying of his injuries at Bangor Military Hospital – he is buried in St Marcella’s Church, in Denbigh.
Clwyd, whose wife, Carol, also provided an illustration for the book’s back cover, added: “Most of the soldiers killed and many of those who enlisted were in the Royal Welch Fusiliers but there were others in different regiments and services, and they included 12 sets of brothers.
“We found many of the accounts of their funerals and reports in the Denbighshire Free Press and in other newspapers including the story of a women collecting for the Red Cross in High Street when the was informed that her husband had been killed.
“There was also a little girl christened France May because her father was killed in France in May.
“She was one of 95 children left without a father and a few of them were born without their father ever seeing them.
“It’s been a tremendous effort by all the volunteers and we hope it will help people appreciate the sacrifice made by so many Denbigh families
“We are also very grateful to the descendants of many of the soldiers who provided information, photos and memorabilia for us to include in the book and in addition to Swayne Johnson, to sponsors Denbigh Town Council, Mrs A Robarts, Grwp Cynefin and Henllan Bread for their support.”
For Your Tomorrow We Gave Our Today has been published by Fineline of Clwyd Street, Ruthin, and the 500 copies went on sale at Denbigh Christmas Market, priced £14.95.
The book is available from Denbigh Museum, currently in the old Frongoch School, on Mondays and Thursdays 2pm to 4pm or from any member of the Archive group. It can also be ordered via email at [email protected]