Author: South Wales Miners Library, Swansea University

Provider: South Wales Miners' Library

Rights: Copyrighted

Interview of Lake, Wil by Jones, Merfyn on 2nd April 1974.
The interview forms part of Swansea University’s South Wales Miners’ Library collection.

1 audio file (14 min. 30 sec.)

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Transcription

Jones, Merfyn: What I wanted to ask about was the first World War. When the war broke out, how did it affect you?

Lake, Wil: Oh I tell you it affected the Garngoch Number Three badly, because if I remember rightly there was about forty horses there and they took the majority of those horses away on one day. With the result that we couldn’t work, no horses, only about half a dozen horses left, and the horses was taken down to the Vetch Field and of course they were sorted out there and sent to various parts of the country. Then the horses would come, and I was hauling at that time, a night haulier. I was one of eight hauliers on the night shift, and the horses coming in two or three at a time from down Carmarthen. They used to breed them down there, and old Will Turner the ostler, Come here, here you are, which is the oldest hand here. Oh so and so is the oldest hand. Right, first pick. You would pick your horse out.

Jones, Merfyn: And so there was no work then in Garngoch? Were people laid off?

Lake, Wil: Oh they were laid off. Well happily the weather was fine and we used to spend our time up in the old clay pit, it has been filled in now with rubbish by the Corporation, by Cocketts Schools, St Peter’s Schools. That was open and we were swimming there, oh it was lovely, lovely weather.

Jones, Merfyn: Did many people go and join the army?

Lake, Wil: Oh yes, yes, they were going in one’s and two’s, yes, and a lot of them didn’t come back.

Jones, Merfyn: What happened to you? Did you stay?

Lake, Wil: I stayed until I had to go. Of course I was exempted …

Jones, Merfyn: Yes, colliers were …

Lake, Wil: and the other day I burnt the old card look, the exemption card. I cleared my old desk in the front room out.

Jones, Merfyn: You were exempted so you didn’t go until you had to go?

Lake, Wil: Until I had to go.

Jones, Merfyn: When was that?

Lake, Wil: 1917.

Jones, Merfyn: You were conscripted?

Lake, Wil: Yes and oh we were meeting in Cardiff, in the Barracks in Cardiff there, oh dear, all miners from various parts of South Wales you know, and then, dispersed then. I was dispersed to Brecon, and I remember, oh we were glad to get to Brecon, because the barracks there in Brecon was spick and span, and the food was clean but in Cardiff. Oh terrible, and I remember going up the stairs to be told now where we were to go, what unit we were to join. Dispersing Officer they called it, and I remember going up the stairs and the chap in front of me, from Dowlais he was, we had been now together in Cardiff for about eight or nine days. Hey Bill, he said, Look here, you already in the South Wales Borderers with the name and all {Will Lake} joined South Wales Borderers and the date. Oh and the South Wales Borderers it was for me too, and I used to play rugby. I played a little bit in Cardiff for the Welsh Regiment, and then when I got to Brecon, oh I had a terrible cold, and I went to see this officer and he said, Booked South Wales Borders, Sniggery Camp, Liverpool. And a sargeant, an officer came onto me on the parade ground, we were walking around you know, in the afternoon, looking for a canteen to open to buy a cup of tea and cigarettes, and he said, Do you play rugby. I said, Yes sir. What size boots do you wear. Sevens. Right, I’m leaving him to you sergeant, he said to this sergeant, and this chap was from Glyn-Neath and he had been playing with Northern Union. Jack Stewart his name was, and he rigged me up anyway and I played rugby for the South Wales Borderers against the first Mons that afternoon. Oh dear I had a terrible cold, and that evening after tea, anyway, I could see everything going round, and I don’t know who noticed it, but anyway I was carried to the barracks hospital and I was unconscious for days there, and they didn’t know what was wrong with me. I suppose I’d have been left to die if it wasn’t for the old retired doctor in Brecon, a Dr Thomas, he used to spend his time in the barracks hospital, chatting to the boys, and it was he who took care of me until I got right, and from there on off to Liverpool.

Jones, Merfyn: What had been the matter with you?

Lake, Wil: Well I don’t know what was wrong with me. I was never told.

Jones, Merfyn: And then you went up to Liverpool?

Lake, Wil: Liverpool then, to be trained as soldiers, and I was keen on P.T. and there a class, in my early teens. There was a class in St Peter’s Church in the school room, a physical culture class, and a chap from Mile End, Tommy Elliott, Tom Inch we used to call him, nickname, and he was the instructor and I was enjoying myself in this. Now when I got to Liverpool now, and we had P.T. in Liverpool, I knew it, see, practically before the word of command was out of the instructor’s mouth, I was ready and I was doing it, and it was spotted and I was called out, and the sergeant- major and this corporal, who was a drill instructor, Have you been in the army before? I said, No Sir. Well you know the drill? Not all, I said to him. What we have had up to now, yes I know it. And do you know why you do it? Oh yes, I could turn left and know the muscles to do this, what was affected. Well how do you know all this? And I told him that I had been in this physical culture class, oh two or three years, and I was very fond of athletics. Can you run? Yes. Jump? I could do five foot three, eventually I did five foot four up there, high jump. Run a hundred yards in about eleven seconds, and I was advised then to go in for P.T. instructor, and on parade then, my voice was going, something wrong with my throat, I was losing my voice, the voice was going just like that, and an American doctor came to the camp and I was sent up to a medical hut. Anyway, and this chap examined me and he told me, now, he would send me to Litherland, Liverpool, two or three days, and they did something to my throat and I’ve never had trouble since.

Jones, Merfyn: Did you stay as an instructor or ...?

Lake, Wil: I was advised, I was advised then because of this throat business to switch to Lewis gunnery, and {that’s it}

Jones, Merfyn: So you were a P.T. instructor, throughout the first World War?

Lake, Wil: Only a couple of weeks and was out then to France.

Jones, Merfyn: And were you an instructor in France or were you?

Lake, Wil: {unclear} for a couple of months, maybe two or three months {operational} and we were out on rest one day and we were mustered together, line up, and they called us the Sniggery Draft, there was about a hundred of us, that had come out from Sniggery on the same boat, they called us the Sniggery Draft. Fall in the Sniggery Draft, and we were told then that the Second Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, which was a famous regimental tradition going back, they had had a pasting and they wanted recruits, volunteers. Well you know if you are volunteering in the army, you step out straight away, because you know if you don’t step out you can be called out. And we went, the ninety three of us, went down to the Somme, and joined the Second Battalion Royal Welsh and at the same time the Fifteenth Royal Welsh was disbanded, they were the London Pals, they were Transport Battalion. They were being disbanded and they went in at the same time as us. They called them the Cockney squad, and I got mixed up with those, with those Cockneys, Eh wonderful pals, and I was the leader of, I found myself the leader of the Seventh Platoon, and a miner was the Captain, an ex-miner was the Captain, the Company Captain, Captain Butler, Jim Butler. Jim he was to everybody. And he was a miner you could see the marks on his face and {unclear} he thought Seventh Platoon could do miracles. If there was any dirty work to be done, Put the fighting Platoon in, Number Seven, and Swansea was the leader, I was the leader.

Jones, Merfyn: And you were on the Somme and what happened after that?

Lake, Wil: Oh I was there then until the end and back then, to the colliery again.

Jones, Merfyn: When you first, when you were conscripted how did you feel about it? Were you pleased about it or didn’t you want to go …

Lake, Wil: Oh it didn’t worry me one bit, no it didn’t worry me at all.

Jones, Merfyn: Were you married then?

Lake, Wil: No, no. No it didn’t worry me at all.

Jones, Merfyn: Was there any?

Lake, Wil: Because you see I was fond of sports and athletics and there was plenty of that to be had see, so I was all right.

Jones, Merfyn: Was there any anti-war feeling amongst the people at all, towards the end of the war?

Lake, Wil: Ah, no, not much, there was little pockets here and there you know.

Jones, Merfyn: How about at the colliery, was there any feeling in the colliery against the war?

Lake, Wil: Hardly any, hardly any, coming back then in 1919.

Jones, Merfyn: How about the I.L.P. and the Socialists, were they opposed to war?

Lake, Wil: They were fairly strong in Swansea mind. They used to meet in the Brown Shop. Browns Book shop. Dai Grenfell was one of those, then, and William John his brother, and the younger brother he went to prison as a conscientious objector.

Jones, Merfyn: But there wasn’t much anti-war feeling you wouldn’t say?

Lake, Wil: No, not much.