Swansea in the Great War

Swansea in the Great War
by Bernard Lewis
published by Pen & Sword Military, October 2014
ISBN 978 1 783 032945
cover price – £12.99
Paperback, 216pp plus bibliography and index. Illustrated.
reviewed by Chris Baker

The name of Bernard Lewis will be known to many people with an interest in South Wales in the period of the First World War, for he also is the author of “Swansea Pals” – and excellent account of a locally-raised battalion of Kitchener’s Army published in 2005.

2014 has seen a veritable flood of books on the local experience of the Great War, with many cities, towns and villages being covered. To some extent the stories are inevitably similar, but they always have a specific flavour depending on the local industry, the pre-war presence of military facilities and the economic ebbs and flows during the war. “Swansea in the Great War” ranks among the best of these publications. It is also illuminating in showing us how fruitful the local newspapers can be as a source of snippets of information.

Swansea was, and to some extent it remains, an industrial town with a busy commercial port. Lewis carefully chronicles how war affected the industries and sea traffic. We read of the effect of men being recruited and others, including many women, taking their places to keep the industries working; how casualties and refugees alike arrived from Europe and were cared for by the people of the area; and of the issues of food supply, the effect of the Defence of the Realm Act, and much more.

Just under half of the book looks at Swansea people at the fighting fronts on land, sea and in the air. Two Swansea men were awarded the Victoria Cross during the war, to great acclaim at home; many men saw service with the 38th (Welsh) Division and shared its searing experience at Mametz Wood in July 1916; but local men and women also saw service in many others ways as detailed in this fine work. It is a not just a very good work of history, it is a tribute to Swansea and its people – and a good, absorbing and well-illustrated read. Top class.