Welsh Experience of World War One

Dr Lester Mason

Research in the field of Great War studies at UWTSD focuses on ‘war memory’.  Dr Lester Mason has a specific interest in the various aspects of Great War commemoration in Wales, concentrating particularly in the west.During 2014 he is taking part in an AHRC and BBC project to explore the major impact that the War had on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Britons, including the people of Wales. This will explore the ways in which the 'Home Front' the war changed the lives of civilians in Wales at so many levels - from new opportunities for women in the workplace, to attitudes to family life and provision of welfare, to social mores and attitudes to sex and morality, to the impact of death and loss in war on an unprecedented scale.

Dr Mason's research has also looked at the business of Great War memorialisation, and the decision-making process around the development of memorial projects in communities as diverse as Llanelli and Ammanford, the towns of south Pembrokeshire, the villages of rural Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire. He has also conducted research on  memorials in both church and chapel establishments from all parts of west Wales. This spotlight on society in Wales during 1914-18 and afterwards has focused on local politics, the influence of religious leaders, the landed, business, professional artists and artisans, and organised labour, as well as the impact the views and actions of ordinary people, veterans, and bereaved families had on the commemoration process.

The stories behind the building of so many memorials, both monuments and utilitarian examples, are rich and varied, and go far beyond the material or spatial presence of these sites. Each memorial project  holds stories and testimonies that get to the heart of how people at all levels of society coped during 1914-18, and reacted to the loss of family members, friends, or neighbours. As these projects unfolded, tensions emerged over how best to remember the fallen, who or what was to be remembered, and where - the commemoration process was anything but neutral. Different groups and interests including local politicians, veterans groups, bereaved families, organised labour, argued over the most appropriate way to commemorate the fallen. In some places, such as Ammanford, the commemoration process was played out while the coal-mining communities of the Amman valley found themselves in the midst of bitter and protracted industrial action; a ‘heady’ mix, and one that gives an insight into the nature of these industrial communities, at the level of the individual, as well as at a familial level, and beyond the home to wider associations, be they political, religious, or social.

Dr Mason has been chosen by the BBC as an expert researcher who will support the broadcaster’s ‘World War One at Home’ project in Wales.
 
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is funding researchers to work with production teams across the UK to source, select and showcase stories related to the First World War. They will advise on the War’s impact on the home nations and highlight links with broader national and international events and themes.
 
Dr Lester Mason has been selected to support the project in Wales, along with Swansea University academics Dr Gethin Matthews and Dr Gerard Oram. In what the BBC are describing as a ‘unique broadcasting event’, 1,400 stories will feature on BBC regional TV and radio throughout 2014 and 2015 as a part of the broadcaster’s wider coverage commemorating the centenary of the start of the Great War.   Through a series of stories that emerge from the war, with attention given to location as well as time, the lives of ordinary Welshmen and women during these salient years will be examined. It is hoped that by sharing these stories with the people of Wales a greater understanding of the conflict and its impact will emerge. It is hoped that these events will bring this significant period in our history to life, with an immediacy that everyone in Wales can relate to, but can also share and cherish.
 
Over the past decade Mason has talked at a number of public engagements about the Great War and its impact at a local level. These have included various historical societies, for example the Pembrokeshire Cymmrodorion society. Forthcoming engagements include the Carmarthen Antiquarian Society, and the Llandysul Historic Society. He is also in discussion with a number of local authorities in west Wales about involvement in the centenary commemorations from 2014.  Within the Lampeter campus, (although open to the public), he also give talks to the Institute of Archaeology, History and Anthropology.
 
 

AHRC's BBC ‘World War One at Home’ project

Publications
 
'The story behind the Pembrokeshire County Great War Memorial at Haverfordwest', The Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society, No 22 (2013), pp.51-60.
‘Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?’ – Commemorating the Great War in Ammanford, 1920-1937, Llafur – Journal of Welsh People’s History, Volume 11, No 1, (December 2012), pp.49-62.
 
'Communities in mourning - commemoration in West Wales following the great war' (unpublished PhD thesis, Lampeter, 2009)
‘The Boys’ – The Story of the young men of Maenclochog who fell in the Great War’, in Past and Present in Bro Maenclochog:  Essays from the Preseli Hills, ed. Hefin Wyn. (Clychau Clochog, 2006).
 
Conferences and Seminar Papers
 
2013. Addressing the Great War: War Memorial unveiling speeches in West Wales, 1919-1925. University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Research Seminar series, 27th March 2013.
 
2011. The Anatomy of a War Memorial: The story of Lampeter’s khaki-clad soldier. The Culture of Things. University of Trinity St David, 25th May 2011.
 
2010. Reading a War Memorial: William Goscombe John and the Lampeter soldier. University of Trinity St David, Institute of Archaeology, History and Anthropology