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Troop losses in the South African War, led the Royal Welsh Fusiliers to raise several volunteer service companies (Volunteers pictured left). One of those who answered the call was the headmaster of Trevor School, Denbighshire, James Prichard Selby (aka Shelby). (James's birth name was 'Shelby' but he adopted the surname 'Selby', convinced by his own genealogical research that this had been the original family name.) The following account, built on newspaper reports, describes James's activities around the time of the Boer War (1899 - 1902). Some of the reports specifically mention James whilst others contribute information about his involvement.
Before the start of the war the Llangollen Advertiser Denbighshire Merionethshire and North Wales Journal [4 Aug. 1899] reported that the Volunteers of H Company, 1ST V.B.R.W. Fusiliers were off to Towyn for their annual encampment: "A fatigue party, under the command of Sergt. Selby, will proceed by special train on Saturday, the 5th inst., and parade at the Armoury in marching order at 9 45 a.m.". The same journal [15 Sep. 1899] reported the annual shooting competition of the Llangollen Volunteers in which James scored 62 (the winner scored 77) and, a week later, that in the competition for "Tradesmen's prizes", James was fifteenth out of forty-three and won "boots and duck" (the prizes included whiskey, wine, beer, vegetables, meat, coal, tobacco, etc. and were presumably supplied by local tradesmen).
Those Volunteers who then found themselves going to join the fighting forces in the Boer War were lauded within their community. James responded on behalf of the Volunteers and Imperial Yeomanry to the toast given at a "smoking concert" held in their honour by the Llangollen United Football Club.
The Volunteers travelled out to South Africa as third class passengers aboard S.S. Doune Castle (pictured right). A letter from some of James's colleagues on the voyage [Ibid, 30 March 1900] said how rough it was in the Bay of Biscay; "glad to say that the Llan boys stood it very well. ... We have lots of sports and several smoking concerts, also an Eisteddfod on the 1st March (St. David's Day). In the singing competitions Sergt. Selby is the "cock of the walk," he and another Sergt. won a duet. We expect to reach Capetown tomorrow (March 5th), but we do not know whether we disembark or not, but the general opinion is that we go straight on to and up to the front, but the men of the other Companies are disembarking at Capetown."
The ending of this letter indicates how little the Volunteers knew of what to expect. The following newspaper reports describe their movements and their experiences but not their role in the war, which was largely "to keep open the army's supply lines, where the cumbersome columns of ox wagons were preyed on by Boer detachments" (see the closing paragraphs).
James was mentioned in several other letters home from comrades, including one from a Colwyn Bay Volunteer Sergeant [The Weekly News and Visitors' Chronicle etc., 20 April 1900]:
Arrived at Madeira 7.30 p.m.. took on board a supply of coal, vegetables, and fresh water also a splendid gift of oranges and bananas, which was made to the troops by Sir Donald Currie. ... We left again at 5.30 a.m. on Saturday. Now we began to find a great difference in the weather, it being much warmer. It caused great excitement among the troops when they received the news at Madeira, that Kimberley had been relieved. On Sunday, February 18th, Church Parade was held in the morning and afternoon, the service in the morning being conducted, and the lessons read by Major Doyle, Shropshire Light Infantry; Capt. Perkins presided at the piano, and the choir was formed by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, under the conductorship of Sergeant Selby, of Llangollen, and as they had not previously had a practice, the singing of the different parts of the service was very good indeed. ... Musketry and physical drill are continued, and some men have been inoculated against typhoid and enteric fever. The process leaves them more or less feverish and helpless for 48 hours. Plenty of sharks have been seen and much sport has been had by firing at them with revolvers. Some of the officers are very good shots. Some flying fish have also been seen; they are of the size of a herring, and as they skim over the water they appear like swallows with silver wings. Life on board now is rather quiet and monotonous, the men being paraded only once a day for a very short time for physical exercises. Sunday has once more come round, and two services were held by the same officers, and by special request of the Commanding Officer, the Royal Welsh" choir again gave their services. On the 1st of March, the majority of the "Welsh" wore the National emblem, and much amusement was caused by them wearing an "onion," as the "geninen" was called by the other troops on board. Explanation had to be given as to the why and wherefore of the origin and "wearing of the leek." This explanation was ably and dramatically given by Sergeant Selby, in the "iaith fy mam," ["mother tongue"] whereupon he was promptly ordered to desist or be "chucked" overboard. ... On Friday night the Sergeants of the Royal Welsh gave an "at home" to a few friends. As the bunk is only built to hold eight, and as every one wanted to come, admission was by "invitation card," and the countersign had also to be given. This floored the whole lot invited, but we had compassion upon them and took them in. I may say that the password was "Pesychwch." [part of a well-known Welsh tongue-twister] An enjoyable evening was spent, and our guests retired at an early hour. I may say that the pronunciations of the countersign were very varied. ... Sergeant Selby has been the life and soul of the ship and sergeant's mess as regards mirth and song and the way he talks at the rest in "yr hen iaith" ["the old language"] is a caution.
Since the above was written, we have had a very varied experience. We were kept in the harbour at Capetown for two days. The sight from the ship was magnificent, the town nestling in a valley, and Table Mountain, towering behind. ... We had a grand reception on landing, and marched to Green Point Camp. It is most astonishing to see the immense quantity of troops stationed here and at Sea Pont, another camp about 3 miles distant. ... We got orders suddenly to move to Durban and in a few hours we were on board the Majestic, where I am now writing this, which I am going to give to the steward to send. ... We shall land at Durban in about two hours, and proceed straight to Pietermaritzberg. We are being served out with 3 day's rations, I suppose that is to last us till we get to Ladysmith. We cannot tell whether we shall be put in the fighting line or garrison Ladysmith. We saw thousands of Boer prisoners embarking under strict guard to go to Simonstown. They are a sorry and dirty looking lot. We saw the guns brought into our camp that were captured at Paardeberg; there was great rejoicing in Capetown when they arrived."
James's version of events was clearly aimed at being shared with pupils of his former school [Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser etc., 5 May 1900]:
LETTER FROM SERGEANT SELBY OF THE VOLUNTEERS.
The following letter was received on Monday by Mr G. S. Jones, headmaster, Penygelli Board Schools, from Sergeant Selby, Special Service Company, R.W.F., and headmaster of Trevor National School.
Modder's Spruit, Ladysmith, Natal, 26,3,1900.
DEAR MR JONES.- A thought has just come into my head that perhaps you would like to receive a few lines from the seat of war, and from one you know well. I am not certain, but I think 1 am the only one of your old boys who is fighting for his "Queen and country." There are I know others out here, but whether they are doing as I am, I cannot say. I am very sorry I was unable to come and pay you a visit to school before I left. I should dearly have liked to come, if it were only to have received your handshake, and your words of cheer and God speed. However, it cannot be helped now, but D.V., 1 hope to return home and then I shall pay you a visit. You can see where I am, and you can tell the boys that I am as high as Snowdon above the sea, but in a totally different climate. I am writing this while on out-post duty with my section. We are about two miles from the camp, which we left at 5.30 this morning - not your time though - and we shall he here until six to-morrow morning. This evening we shall be reinforced by the remainder of the company, and then we shall "Keep watch and ward." You can tell the boys that it is winter here, and yet hotter in the day time than our hottest day in summer. The nights, though, are very cold and chilly, and remind one of the bleek nights of March at home. Our company is attached to the "Union Brigade," the finest brigade in the whole British Army, and it is said that when peace is declared we shall have the honour of marching through London. The place where I am now is only about seven miles from Elandslangte, where the drummer boy of the 5th Lancers shot the five Boers. We had a route march that far a week to-day, and I was shown the place. I am sure the lads in school would like to see the same place, for I am sure they have read of the brave deed, and the still braver little bugler.
I shall not weary you concerning the voyage except to say that the "Bay of Biscay oh!" was in its usual state, that we called at Madeira, and that our Volunteers had the honour of forming the choir for church each Sunday aboard the ship, and I had the still greater honour of being choirmaster and organist. It was the same on the Majestic from Cape Town to Durban, and I was told by the purser that never since the ship had been built had they had such a reverent and devotional Service. After the service I was complimented by Sir John and Lady Futley upon the singing of my choir. You can tell the boys that the "Majestic" is big enough to get lost in, that she is like a floating town, and there were nearly 2,000 troops aboard of her.
We got to Cape Town on the morning of the 5th of March. Table Bay was crowded with shipping and transports. Here I saw Table and Sugar Loaf Mountain, and for a wonder the former was not laid for tea; in other words, the table cloth was conspicuous by its absence, and so we had a fine view of it. While lying in the bay we could see a range of mountains, which I was told were the Nieuveld Mountains. By the way, you can tell the boys that a plain is here called the "veldt," pronounced "velt," a hill "kopje" (copy), a dried up water-course a "donga," and a stream "spruit." I forgot to say that coming out we saw schools of dolphins and porpoises, thousands of living-fish and nautili (Portuguese men-of-war), and hundreds of sharks. We caught one of the latter in Table Bay, and it measured 6ft. in length, and looked a very nasty fish. By the by, we are near a "spruit" or small river which runs into the Klip, which is a tributary of the Tugela. The other day, while some of our fellows were bathing, they killed a young crocodile about 4ft. 6in. in length; we also killed a snake about 5ft. long, while at the top of my tent we have an animal callied a chameleon. It changes colour very often, and has a very funny knack of catching flies by thrusting out its tongue. It can catch one a foot away by this means, and never misses its aim. I am sorry to say that it does not belong so me, or I should try to bring it home. Where I am now are lots of lizards and scorpions, and yesterday a centipede paid a visit to our tent. We soon despatched it though, and sent it to join its relations in the other world, if there is one for such reptiles. And now I'll turn back once more. We stayed at Cape Town three days, and encamped near to some Botanical Gardens, where some Boers were confined as prisoners. I saw several of them, and villainous enough some of them looked. I am sorry to say that some of our own countrymen were among them. As I said before, we left here for Durban by the "Majestic." We had great fun trying to land, for we had to jump on to a lighter, and then onto a tender. The sea was very rough and boisterous, and the lighter and tender were tossed here and tossed there; down, down they went, and then up, up, up. On the way to the quay a poor Kaffir boy was washed overboard and drowned. The sight made me feel quite sick and faint. We left the quay station, and after a mile or so stopped at the town station, where we were heartily received and cheered, some hundreds of people being on the platform. It was dark by now, but the moon was shining and so we steamed off, gratified by the reception we had received, and cheers ringing in our ears. In the darkness we could not see much of the country through which we were travelling, but it seems to be a delightlul one. and one worthy to be called "The Garden of South Africa." 0n the way up a terrible thunderstorm burst out. It did not rain, while the sight of the lightning was exceptionally beautiful, for it lit up the country for miles around. Sleep was out of the question for me but some of the other sergeants managed to get forty winks. At one station a lady from Rossett lived; her husband was the stationmaster. We had a few minutes chat with her. At daybreak we began to get on to the battlefield, for we arrived at the Mooi River. The next place we got to was Estcourt, where we stopped to have breakfast. I did not have any with the men, but made my way to a tent, where I had plenty of coffee, bread, steak, and onions The men of the tent also boiled me some excellent bacon to take with me. At Estcourt I had my last shave - in the railway carriage - and now I have a very fine beard.
On once more, and now we could see traces of the evils of war, for graves were plentiful. We soon came to Frere, and here again were seen more marks of warfare, for we passed the graves of sixteen Dublin Fusiliers, and also the wrecked armoured train [right] which went out from Estcourt, and in which was Mr Winston Churchill, who was captured by the Boers. On to Chieveley next, and here I saw the grave of Lord Roberts's son, who was killed while trying to save the ill-fated guns at Colenso. The latter place was the next we came to, and my mind reverted back to papers I had read. Words fail me to describe the position and entrenchments of the Boers, for they appeared impregnable, and would have been so to any others, save brave British soldiers and sailors. I went over a few of the hills, and simply wondered and wondered however our brave lads ever crossed and made the Boers retreat.
From here we crossed the Tugela by means of a temporary footbridge, and from now on to Ladysmith we saw signs innumerable of the Boers' flight and retreat. Dead horses, broken wagons, graves, &c., were the order of the day. Ladysmith was at last reached, and we stayed the night at the "Hotel de Railway" goods shed. Our beds were the floor of the shed and empty goods wagons. I and three others were fortunate enough to get one of the latter, and I never slept sounder in my life, for I had been travelling for twenty-four hours or more. Next day I explored Ladysmith, and found it practically deserted. We left there at five o'clock, and got into camp about 6.30, where we were welcomed by all classes of the "gallant 23rd" with open arms, and have been well treated ever since. We have had no fighting yet, but, when we do, you can tell the lads that I shall not disgrace the good old school of Penygelli, but endeavour rather to be a credit and an honour to it. With warmest regards to yourself, Mrs Jones, the family, and all old friends,
I am, yours very faithfully,
(Sergeant) JAS. P. SELBY,
Special Service Company R.W.F.,
6th Brigade, Field Forces, Natal.
A further letter from him described the same period, with a few additions:
"Capt. J. E. Griffiths, 1st V.B.R.W.F., has received a letter from Sergt. Selby, V.R.W.F., dated from Ladysmith, March 15th, from which we take the following extracts:- We are just off to join the regiment at Modder Spruit. It was only at Maderia and Capetown that we heard the glorious news, and very pleased we all are. It was dark when we started from Durban, and when it was light we found ourselves near the Mooi River. The next place we got to was Frere, afterwards Estcourt, and then Chieveley. There were lots of poor fellows' graves along the line, and I can assure you that my heart bled for the relatives. The next place was Colenso, and Oh what a sight and what a place. I could write sheets and sheets again about the positions held by the Boers. No army but a British army could have taken them, and had they been held by the British they would have defied the whole armies of the world. People at home have criticised and blamed General Buller, but if they came out and viewed the place they would soon alter their opinion. The only wonder to me is that more lives were not lost in the attempt. I can only liken it to Trevor Rocks and mountains, only the river Tugela runs at the very foot. Picture to yourselves these extended for about twenty miles and you will have some idea of the place. The bridge over the river is a complete wreck, but we are building a new bridge very quickly, and before long traffic will be resumed. On our way up here we passed the grave of Col. Thorrold [see last paragraphs], and I have just been told of the death of a very old friend of mine and one whom I expected to see. I am glad to say that all our lads are well and hearty." [Ibid., 13 April 1900]
It appears that James wrote regularly:
LETTERS FROM THE FRONT.
SERGEANT SELBY AND KRUGER'S WHISKERS.
Sergt. J. P. Selby,one of the Llangollen volunteers selected for service with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, has written several interesting letters to his sisters, Mrs. Jones, Trevor National Schools, and Mrs. J. Owen, Ruabon National Schools. He was among the force that relieved Ladysmith, and afterwards left Ladysmith, sailing from Durban to Table Bay on the "Hawarden." After a week's stay at Table Bay the Royal Welsh Fusiliers proceeded north, under General Barton with the Union Brigade. He states that the Royal Welsh Service Company, among which he acted as sergeant, were generally well excepting eleven, who were laid up. ... Sergt. Selby, who was formerly headmaster of Trevor National Schools, is well known in Llangollen and Cefn districts. ... [then, quoting a letter from James] We have had no fighting yet, and they say here that most likely we shall have none, but i we do, and I get a chance, I'll bring some of "Kruger's whiskers" to show you. There are nearly 6,000 soldiers where I am now, and they are known by the name of the "Union Brigade." ... [Llangollen Advertiser etc., 18 May 1900]
Other letters shed light on what life in South Africa was like for James and his fellow soldiers [The North Wales Times, 23 June 1900]:
LETTERS FROM THE WAR.
The following letters have just heen received from two brothers-Corporal R. Williams and Private Isaac Williams, of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, now out on active duty in South Africa:-
May 21st, 1900.
My Dear Wife,
... We have had some hard marching this last month, 19, 20, and sometimes 23 miles a day, on short rations, and no tents to sleep in. It is very hot in the day time, but very cold with heavy dew falling at night. Our Brigade had the honour of taking Christiana, the first town taken in the Transvaal. The Boers retired, and we took the place without opposition. Sergeant Selby, of our company, had the honour of representing us in the party that hoisted the British flag over the town. The Boers seem to be afraid to stand again, after the licking we gave them at Rooidam. There were 5,000 of them there, but they did not fire a shot. ...
Corporal R. Williams.
Taungs, 23rd May, 1900.
... I am very glad to tell you that Bob [presumably the writer of the previous letter] is alright, and going on grand. He was in a bit of a skirmish we had with the Boers in the beginning of May, in which we-well, saw them off, and have been following them up every day since, but they don't seem inclined to make another stand, and I think they are only hanging on until peace is proclaimed. 1 am very glad to tell you that all the Denbigh chaps with the Volunteers stood well under fire. We are now at a place called Taungs, about 40 miles from Fourteen Streams, at which place the Boers intended making a stand, but our Regiment, with the others of the Union Brigade, had crossed the Vaal River at Windsorton Road, and when they saw us coming up their right flank, they left, even without firing a shot. Our Howitzers on the other side of the river gave them a few lyddite shells to hurry them up a bit. We have taken, a great many prisoners since we have been on this side of the country, and they all tell us they wish the war was over. I was on guard over some of them last night, and they were telling me they were sick and tired of it. I was telling them that I wished it would last for another six months or so, that it was just what our fellows liked especially now that we are getting the best of it, but I don't mind telling you another tale, and that is, that l am filled up with it, and so are all the remainder of the Regiment. Our next stop of any note is Vryburg, which is about 40 miles from here, and we have to do it in two days, so you can see that it is not all lavender, and the food we are getting now is not up to the mark. It is a different country altogether to Natal. It is rough, and bushy, but we stand a better chance of getting around the Boers here. Where there are not many hills, they are properly lost. I am very glad to tell you that we hoisted a Union Jack in a Transvaal town called Christiana. There was great waving of white flags when we marched in front of it, and they gave up keys and everything without a murmur. I see by your letter that Jack Emmanuel is coming out. I think that it will be about all over by the time he gets here, as Lord Roberts is getting close to Pretoria now, and I expect,that he will shake them up tomorrow, it being the Queen's birthday.
Private Isaac Williams.
Apparently James had been assured that on his return he would be able to take up again his position as headmaster of Trevor School but reports suggested otherwise:
CEFN TONTINE SOCIETY.
A TRIBUTE TO SERGEANT SELBY.
The annual dinner took place on Saturday night, when 130 members and friends sat down to an excellent repast at the Pigeons Hotel. ... Turning to the case of the Volunteers, he [The Chairman] eulogised the local Volunteers, especially those who had valiantly served in South Africa. Without the Volunteers he thought Britain would have degenerated to a third-rate power. ... He was convinced the Volunteers had saved the position in South Africa by the manner in which they had responded to the call. Sergt. J. P. Selby, the headmaster of Trevor Schools, had sacrificed his position, and had gallantly volunteered. He had done remarkably well with the gallant 23rd, one of the finest regiments in the army. (Loud cheers.) He had fought in several engagements without receiving a scratch, and he now understood he had accepted the offer of a commission. ... [Llangollen Advertiser etc., 4th January 1901]
If there was any doubt about the inference of that remark, it was soon removed, as the news that James had lost his job spread further afield; it even prompted a cartoon in the Sunday Chronicle [Llangollen Advertiser etc., 15 March 1901]. There was a further report:
SERGEANT SELBY'S FUTURE.Captain Keene was concerned that the Volunteers were gradually discovering they would be returning to find they had no job and a journalist from The Chester Courant and Advertiser for North Wales (a rival newspaper to that which was orchestrating the campaign for 'justice' for the Volunteers) sought to investigate James's case. His report, which appeared on 6th March 1901, stated that "Colour-Sergt. James P. Selby was master of the National School which is under the control of managers, and not of a School Board as was erroneously assumed from Captain Keene's letter. Mr. Selby left with the Volunteers for South Africa about 13 months ago, and the managers, according to one person who said he had it on the authority of one of the managers, only promised to keep his berth open to him so long as it did not injure the school." However, none of the three managers interviewed by the reporter appear to have confirmed that statement. In further pooring scorn on the justification for the campaign, the reporter stated that he "encountered indifference" to the issue when he interviewed Trevor residents.
The Manchester Daily Dispatch is responsible for the following :- Thirteen months ago the first Service" company from the three Royal Welsh battalions of the North Wales Volunteers was formed and left for South Africa. One of the sergeants who had volunteered sacrificed his position as schoolmaster, and left on the understanding that his post would remain vacant pending his return from the war. He appears to have met with a rebuff, however, as evidenced by a letter received at Wrexham, a few days ago, from Captain Keene (Mold), who has command of the Service Company of the Royal Welsh in South Africa. The captain says -
"My Colour-Sergt., who was a schoolmaster, and who received permission from his Board to come out here (South Africa) with a promise that his place should be kept open for him, has received a notification that he has been dismissed owing to the impossibility (as he was told) of carrying on the school with temporary masters, as the grant was being lost for that reason. The result is that when he returns home he will have to spend some time in finding fresh work, to say nothing of the anxiety and disappointment he has been put to out here. It would be a disgrace to the British nation - and I feel sure that employers of labour in Wales would be the last to wish to see it - that men who have done so well and gone through what these have for their country should be allowed to beg for work."
Inquiries in the Wrexham district elicit the fact that the volunteer referred to is Colour-Sergt. Jas. P. Selby, of Rhosddu, Wrexham, who was headmaster at Trevor National Schools, Llangollen. He was sergeant of the Llangollen Volunteers, and well known in North Wales, being a nephew of Mr. T. Morgan Owen, formerly Chief Inspector of Schools for Wales. Selby was promoted at the front to Colour-Sergt. and Paymaster of the Royal Welsh Service Company, and has seen a vast amount of severe fighting under Generals Buller, Hunter and Barton.[Llangollen Advertiser etc., 1 March 1901]
Then news filtered through that the Volunteers were returning home: "The Volunteer Company of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers - including the contingent of men from Llangollen - sailed from Capetown, on the Formosa, on April 10th." [Llangollen Advertiser etc., 19 April 1901] Captain F M Keene, Lieutenant W H Jones, & eighty men of the Volunteer Company were aboard [London Times, 15 Apr 01]. Back in Llangollen, the local council was not prepared to organise an official welcome, as the Llangollen Advertiser etc., 3 May 1901 revealed (view):
THE RETURN OF THE VOLUNTEERS.The report included copies of the correspondence between Capt. Griffiths and the Council, followed by a letter he wrote to the newspaper:
HOW THEY ARE TO BE WELCOMED HOME.
URBAN COUNCIL APATHETIC.
As we stated a fortnight ago the five volunteers from South Africa who, for upwards of twelve months have been taking their share of the hard work and hard knocks in South Africa, are expected to arrive at Southampton on Tuesday next. From there they will entrain with the remainder of the company for Wrexham. Here they will go into barracks; and may not be disbanded for some days. Arrangements, however, have been made for entertaining the company to a dinner at Wrexham, on the night of their arrival, at which the commanding officer will be supported by the chief officers of the company. For the following evening Captain Griffiths, in command of the H. (Llangollen) Company, has made an application with a view to securing the attendance of the five local men at a dinner, to which they will be invited as his guests. This, in view of the hesitation of the Urban Council to move in the matter, he is now organizing. The services of the Glyndyfrdwy brass band have been secured, and they, together with the local bugle band, will meet the men on their arrival at the railway station and precede them to the Hand Hotel, where it is anticipated that a representative company will be assembled to greet them, many of the leading residents of the town and neighbourhood having come forward to supplement Captain Griffiths's efforts. After the dinner, and the post prandial speeches, the evening will be devoted to harmony, and no effort will be neglected to indicate that the loyal inhabitants of Llangollen thoroughly appreciate the gallant manner in which Col.-Sergt. Selby, Corporal W. H. Hughes, Lce-Corpl. George Hughes, Private Robert Jones and Private E. Green have, with others, served their King and Country on veldt and kopje in South Africa. Whilst the majority of the Urban Council appear to see difficulties in the way of organizing a celebration, which they fear pledges them, in some sort, to acquiescence in the policy that has brought about the war, a minority opposes the view which the greater number have so far taken of the matter, and would like to have seen the duty of maintaining the credit of their native town in this matter, which has devolved upon Capt. Griffiths and others, taken up by the official representatives of the ratepayers. .....
Bearing on the matter, Capt. J. E. Griffiths addresses the following letter to the Advertiser : -Finally, the report listed descriptions of some of the elaborate events organised by other councils to welcome their own returning troops.
Sir,-It seems only right that a fitting welcome should be extended to the members of the local Volunteer Company who are now on their way from South Africa. The above letters speak for themselves, and I leave the public to judge whether in view of the evident reluctance of the Council to make a move, I am justified in my decision to undertake the entire responsibility connected with the arrangements, full particulars of which appear in your columns of to-day. It is not, we are assured, the intention that the recollection, of their welcome home shall be a transient matter so far as the returning volunteers are concerned. A fund is to be raised, to which every householder will have a chance of subscribing, with a view to presenting each of the quintette with a substantial piece of plate - a silver goblet or salver bearing an appropriate inscription - and in this connection, may we suggest, there are other local men who have served, or are serving, at the front whose services should not be overlooked.
Other arrangements for their welcome include a supper at the" Grapes" Hotel to which, we understand, they will be entertained by the members of H" Company, on the Saturday evening following their arrival.
(Right: Soldiers of the Old Rhyl Volunteers, 1st RWF, returning from the Boer War)
The leaders of Llangollen Urban Council, the chairman, "whose political convictions, it is said, are those of the London Daily News*" and vice-chairman, "who had his windows broken on Mafeking night", were staunch opponents of the Boer War.[Evening Express, 6 May 1901].
[ * Quaker chocolate manufacturer George Cadbury had recently bought the Daily News. As a pacifist, he opposed the Boer War and the Daily News followed his line.]
A fortnight later this report 17 May 1901 in the same newspaper described the realisation of the planned events and the enthusiastic welcome extended to the local Volunteers, though James had to miss one of the events:
RETURN OF THE VOLUNTEERS.(One wonders if that HMI was James's uncle, Timothy Morgan Owen, who was a fervent supporter of the war in South Africa.)
DINNER AT THE GRAPES HOTEL.
About eighty members of the H" Company foregathered at the "Grapes" Hotel, Llangollen, on Saturday night,to entertain four of theircomrades who have just returned from the front in South Africa to a complimentary dinner. Capt. Griffiths occupied the chair Col.Sergt. Selby being the only home-comer who was unable to accept an invitation to attend. He sent a letter explaining that he was prevented from attending by having received a letter from one of His Majesty's Inspectors of Schools asking him to pay him a visit for a week; an invitation that may mean he is to be offered another school. That this may be the case is the sincere wish of the general public of the town and district. .... [Llangollen Advertiser etc., 24 May 1901.
The Volunteers were honoured in September:
VISIT OF THE 1ST V.B.R.W. FUSILIERS.
PRESENTATION OF, WAR AND LONG SERVICE MEDALS
On Saturday last, the 1st Volunteer Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers paid a visit to Denbigh for the first time in the history of the battalion, and was accorded a hearty welcome on the part of the authorities and inhabitants of the town. A special train left Wrexham early in the afternoon, and travelled via Ruabon, Llangollen, Corwen, and Ruthin. The various companies along the line of route were in this way taken up. The train which was drawn by two engines, arrived in Denbigh about four o'clock, and upon alighting, the men at once formed into marching order. Great interest was taken in their visit, and the streets of the town were lined with an immense crowd of people, who heartily cheered as the battalion marched past. The town had been gaily decorated with arches and flags of every description. ... The battalion was preceded on the march to Gwaenynog by the Ruabon band, assisted by the members of the Ruthin Volunteer band ... Upon arrival in Gwaenynog Park, which was kindly placed at its disposal, the battalion was put through a short drill, and subsequently inspected ... The total number of officers and men on parade was 630. ... Having remained in the Park for about an hour, the battalion returned to town, and immediately formed into sections on the square in High Street. ... The men, all of whom were dressed in kaki, were heartily cheered as they each appeared on the platform. Col. West then addressed the men and said ... "the service company from this battalion, during the time they were in South Africa, had maintained the well-known reputation for discipline, for endurance, for obedience to orders, and for loyalty and bravery, which so distinguishes the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers to which they were attached (loud applause). I think that the county of Denbigh is well satisfied and pleased with the auxiliary forces - yeomanry and volunteers - who went out at a moment's notice, at a time of the greatest stress in the history of this country, and at a time when England found itself unprepared as it were, in consequence of a declaration of war by the Boers, and an invasion of the colony of Natal (hear, hear). I am delighted to think that the Welsh Fusiliers knew what their duty was, that a great number of the Volunteers served their Queen, and that they conducted themselves as well as they should do (applause). I have very little further to say except this much, that I believe, if ever a time arises - a second time - that a great many of you will volunteer to go out again (hear, hear). ... I cannot help alluding for one moment to the subject uppermost in the minds of those present here now, and that is to say one word of sympathy, which I am certain that you all feel with the American nation in the dreadful loss [The assassination, on 6 September, of US president, William McKinley] which they have suffered, and news of which only reached us to-day." [The North Wales Times, 21 Sept. 1901]
"The recepients of war medals included Colour-Sergeant and Paymaster J. P. Selby (Llangollen Volunteers)" [Llangollen Advertiser, etc., 20 Sept. 1901].
This is the last report to mention James in connexion with the Llangollen Volunteers:
PRIZE SHOOTING AT LLANGOLLEN.Note that James was formally of Llangollen but is here of Wrexham.
The annual prize shooting, held under the auspices of the Llangollen H Company, Royal Welsh Fusilier Volunteers, was resumed on Saturday afternoon and evening, the results of which were officially declared on Monday. Results :-
... EFFICIENTS' COMPETITION (five shots at 200 and 500 yards).- 1, ₤1.10s,Corpl. J. Richards, 43; 2, ₤1,Pte D. W. Price, 38; 3, 15s, Sergt H. R. Jones, 36; 4, 10s,Pte D. Hughes, 32; 5, 5s, Col-Sergeant J. P. Selby (Wrexham), 29; 6, 5s, Private T. Rowlands, 25. [Llangollen Advertiser etc., 27 Sept. 1901].
None of the above indicates exactly what role James's battalion fulfilled in South Africa. The following explains that it contributed to the very important task of maintaining supplies for the fighting troops:
At Horse Shoe Hill [24 Feb 1900], the 1st Battalion [Royal Welch Fusiliers] was heavily engaged, losing Lieutenant Colonel CCH Thorold and twelve men killed and forty-six wounded. A breakthrough was achieved and the Battalion took its place in the triumphal march into LADYSMITH on 3rd March I900.
Soon afterwards the battalion returned to Durban and moved by sea to the Cape before moving up to Kimberley. although they had to leave behind 250 sick men. mostly cases of enteric fever and dysentery, both more devastating enemies than the Boers. The battalion's numbers however, were kept up thanks to regular drafts from Wrexham and the attachment of a complete company of Volunteers, the forerunners of the Territorial Army.
In all previous wars the regulars had been scornful of the help that might be obtained from amateurs who had not been subjected to the full and rigorous training required for regular soldiers. Lt took the disasters of 'Black Week' in which the news arrived of British defeats at Stormberg, Magersfontein and Colenso, to induce the War Office to sanction the attachment of a company of Volunteers - all first class shots and with two years efficiency in their parent units - to each regular battalion. Of those who joined the 1st Battalion. Lieutenant HVV Kyrke wrote that they were 'not very good at their drill but very keen'. Sufficient men also volunteered from the two Militia battalions to enable them both to serve on the lines of communication.
For the rest of the war the 1st Battalion's task was to attempt to keep open the army's supply lines, where the cumbersome columns of ox wagons were preyed on by Boer detachments, which had abandoned regular operations for guerrilla warfare for which their mobility and the extent of the country were highly suitable. It was a heartrending task for the infantry. tied to convoys of up to two hundred wagons strung out over eight miles of road, to try to fight off darting attacks by horsemen who could always escape if counter-attacked. To those who took part, it was the incessant marching that was best remembered. As the Official Historian wrote. 'Averaging nearly seventeen miles a day, over apparently endless prairies, in blazing sun and bitter cold. swept now by hot and choking dust storms, now by rushes of icy hail, fording rivers and floundering through sand, with scanty food and shelterless bivouacs. their toil un-enlightened by anything but hope. Marching is the true rigour of campaigning. Of fighting, the welcome relief [they] had too little to lighten the dullness of their task'.
There were occasional excitements such as the night when a patrol under Lieutenant de Burgh Edwards ambushed and almost captured Commandant (later Field-Marshal) Jan Christian Smuts. but for the most; part their long, slogging service was summed up by one of their generals, JM Babington, who told the Battalion: 'You have had a hard time, and have under all circumstances performed your duties in an exemplary and soldier-like manner. You have had a poor time as far as fighting goes, as your fighting has been confined of late to being attacked when on convoy duty. This is, I know, not to your liking. and you would far prefer to have had it the other way round and attacked the enemy What has struck me most. and everyone who has seen you has made the same remark to me, is the exemplary manner in which you perform all your duties After marching great distances. you have always carried out your outpost duties just as if you had been resting for a week or more. I have seen a good many regiments, but I know none to equal this regiment in its discipline and the way all duties are performed'. [That Astonishing Infantry by Michael Glover, London (1989)]