‘Conwy and the Great War’ is a Menter Iaith Conwy project largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which has been researching the various ways in which the rural area of Conwy county was affected by the First World War. These vary from the stories of individuals to the bigger picture; exploring the effect on the Welsh language and the parishes’ social dynamics, as well as attempting to provide an insight as to what kinds of communities they were in terms of culture and outlook a century ago. The aim of the project is to combine existing research with extensive new research to create a travelling exhibition, a book, a drama production — and this website. The hope is that these outputs will be valuable and comprehensive resources, recording these forgotten elements of our local history and presenting them to the public: not something that had previously existed in this area.

One of the aims is to portray the men as people from their communities rather than an inpersonal list of initials and military numbers — from a Welsh perspective rather than a British military one.

The task of trying to trace the histories of the men (and women) who took part in the war — with an emphasis on the ones who lost their lives — has been an enormous and (literally) endless task, and the challenge to evaluate and present the information in regards to the mark that the Great War left on rural Conwy harder still. One of the difficulties was that there were so many men of the same name, without any further information as to even their identity. Another was deciding which parish some soldiers were ‘from’; for example if ‘John Jones’ was born in Llansannan, raised in Gwytherin, worked for years in Llangernyw before getting married and settling in Llanrwst some years before the war, in which parish/section do we place him?! One solution was to prioritise the place where they were raised (if the information to hand allowed), or, otherwise where they were born. Often, however, the only clue in terms of location was the address they were living at when they enlisted.

By utilising the excellent web resources available, contributions from a number of national organisations and projects as well as tens upon tens of local people I’ve developed a sizeable collection of information (almost too much to know what to do with!).

As a result of several appeals for information via social media and the local press — along with a series of hugeley interesting public meetings/presentations throughout rural Conwy — I came across the majority of the material that can be seen in the project’s outputs. I have also been working alongside local secondary schools (Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy and Ysgol y Creuddyn) during the opening research stages as well as the drama production. A huge list of all the people who have been an immeasurable help to me an the project can be seen in the ‘Contributors’ section of the website. There, also, is a full list of all the websites and literature that have been priceless sources of both background and direct information.

It’s important for me to explain a few things regarding the structure of the project and the website:

Originally (two years ago) the aim was to research and evaluate the effect throughout the entire county of Conwy; however it soon became apparent that it would be impossible for me to do the project justice by spreading the net so widely. The numbers of war dead in the coastal towns (especially Llandudno and Colwyn Bay) were huge — probably worthy of separate projects of their own. Because I was working towards a deadline I took the difficult decision to restrict the research to the rural area of the county (i.e. the inland parishes). This enabled me to delve in much more detail rather than merely scratching the surface.

For the purpose of geographical clarity, the information about the war dead have been arranged according to today’s rural parishes, instead of within parish boundaries of a century ago.

The starting point in the majority of cases were the names on the tens of different war memorials around the area. However, I discovered that these could not be relied upon, solely, as the basis for the research. Several of the memorials contain the names of soldiers from outside their community, with some men being named on many different memorials, and some not named at all on any. That said, many men named on rural Conwy’s memorials who hail from further afield have been included.

I have tried to give every soldier from every area fair and equal attention, but — inevitably — the information varies greatly from man to man and from parish to parish, with the identity of a number of the men still unknown to me at present.

Every effort has also been made to ensure that the information is correct (and that I haven’t missed anyone out), but if you notice any mistakes please don’t hesitate to inform me.

Some of the ‘stand-out’ stories feature in the mobile exhibition, an overview of every single war dead (plus other aspects) can be found in the book, and virtually every piece of information and material for every man (and woman) and every other connected story will be included — over time — to the website.

Although the book has been printed, the research has not finished. If you have any information about any individual or any subject related to the story of rural Conwy and the Great War, you are more than welcome to get in touch; the material can then be added to the website.

This website was not part of the initial HLF grant, therefore more funding was needed to ensure that www.conwyrhyfelmawr.org was realised; thank you very much to Cronfa Bro Garmon, Crafnant Trust and Ysbyty Ifan Community Council for their generous and invaluable contributions.

– Eryl Prys Jones