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Brinley Edmunds – Barry’s Boy Soldier

Elen Phillips, 26 February 2015

On this day in 1917, Brinley Rhys Edmunds, an 18 year old groom from Barry, joined the army – one teenager among the 272,924 Welshmen who served during the First World War.

At the time, Brinley was living with his parents – Evan Edmunds and his Norwegian wife, Christine Sofia – at 7 Dunraven Street, a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Barry Docks. On the 1911 census, his father’s occupation is listed as Railway Engine Driver. From the census, we also learn that he, along with two of his four siblings, was a Welsh speaker.  

Brinley’s Record of Service Paper – the form he completed at a Cardiff recruiting office on 26 February 1917 – shows that he was initially assigned to the 59th Training Reserve Battalion. As you can see, the recruiting officer mistakenly noted his name as Brindley, rather than Brinley – an error replicated in all subsequent military records. The Service Paper reveals an intriguing twist to Brinley’s story. It appears that he had enlisted once before, with the 18th Battalion The Welsh Regiment, but was discharged for being underage:

Have you ever served in any branch of His Majesty’s Forces, naval or military? If so, which?

Yes 18 Welch Discharged under age 16-11-15

By my calculations, Brinley was born in November 1898, therefore he would have been 17 years old, or thereabouts, when he was discharged from the 18th Battalion. He probably joined-up at the age of 16, but I have been unable to trace any online documents relating to his time as an underage teenage tommy.

Frustrations aside, we’re fortunate to have several objects in the collection which were donated to the Museum by Brinley’s family in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They are among the most powerful and poignant of all the First World War collections in our care. Although undated, the postcard shown here was almost certainly written by Brinley when he served with The Welsh Regiment. In July 1915, the 18th Battalion moved to Prees Heath training camp in Shropshire. This novelty postcard, addressed to Brinley’s parents, includes a set of pull-out images of the camp.

In addition to the postcard, we also have a beautiful pincushion made by Brinley as a gift for his mother. The centre features the insignia of The Welsh Regiment and the motto Gwell Angau na Chywilydd (Better Death than Dishonour). We don’t know where or why Brinley made this pincushion, but it’s possible that he was given the material and beads in kit format to alleviate boredom or to focus his mind.

We recently showed the pincushion and postcard to children whose parents are serving in the Armed Forces today. Both objects will be displayed in the redeveloped galleries here at St Fagans, alongside contemporary responses generated through partnership work with the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme. When asked to consider why Brinley may have made this pincushion for his mother, one young girl suggested it was his way of saying ‘I’m alive, don’t worry.’

Brinley Rhys Edmunds died on 5 September 1918 while serving with the Durham Light Infantry, a matter of weeks before the armistice and his twentieth birthday. He is buried at the Berlin South-Western Cemetery in Germany. With no grave to visit at home, his family preserved and displayed the pincushion under a glass dome. Like all families who lost a relative in the line of duty, Brinley’s parents received a bronze memorial plaque in recognition of his service, inscribed HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR BRINDLEY RYHS EDMUNDS – the error made by the Cardiff recruiting officer compounded by the misspelling of his middle name, Rhys.

Remember, you can now access the Museum's First World War collections online. We'd love to hear from you if you have further information about Brinley Edmunds, or any other person or family represented in the collections.

Record of Service Paper completed by Brinley Rhys Edmunds on 26 February 1917 © Crown Copyright Images The National Archives.

Postcard written by Brinley Edmunds at Prees Heath camp, Shropshire.

Pull-out images of Press Heath camp, Shropshire.

Handwritten message on back of postcard. Sent from Brinley Edmunds to his parents.

Pincushion made by Brinley Edmunds for his mother.

Next of kin memorial plaque sent to the parents of Brinley Rhys Edmunds. Inscribed HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR BRINDLEY [sic] RYHS [sic] EDMUNDS.

One of the most exciting objects the Museum has acquired for the industry collections this month is an Albert Medal. This Albert Medal, Land, Second Class (No. 32), was presented to William Morgan for his heroism during the Tynewydd Colliery inundation. William Morgan was a collier at Hafod Colliery, Porth. The disaster occurred on the 11 April 1877 and further information can be found in this article. Information on Albert Medals can be found in this article where you will note that Amgueddfa Cymru now holds seven of the Albert medals awarded for Tynewydd. A number of objects relating to the Tynewydd disaster can be seen in a display on coal mining disasters at Big Pit: National Mining Museum.

This month the museum purchased a collection of share certificates to add to the already important collection of Welsh interest certificates held by the Museum.

The debenture seen here is for P.S. Phillips Ltd. Philip Samuel Phillips owned five Monmouthshire tinplate works and built a steel works, making him a major figure in the late nineteenth century Welsh tinplate industry. He acquired Abertillery Tinplate Works prior to 1872, and was part owner of Blaina Tinplate Works. He acquired Pontymister Tinplate Works in 1880 and then Lion Tinplate Works at Nantyglo in 1882. He also acquired Waterloo Tinplate Works near Machen prior to 1893. In 1891 he opened Pontymister Steel Works to supply his, and other tinplate works. The company was wound up in 1897.

This debenture is for Hurst’s Mines Limited. This company was registered in 1896 to acquire the Glasdir Coper Mine in Merionethshire. The name of the company reflecting Henry Ernest Hurst, a mining engineer and principal creditor of a previous company. The company embarked on large scale development at Glasdir, employing 125 men by 1897. It was renamed Glasdir Copper Mines Ltd. in 1898. The low grade of ore and depressed prices forced the company into liquidation in 1903. It was reopened under a new company from 1907 until final closure in 1914.

The Railway Heritage Committee was established by statute. It has the function of designating records and objects which are historically significant to the history of railways, and should be permanently preserved. This plaque has been designated by the Committee and deposited with the Museum. It is a cast iron plate of Evans, O'Donnell & Co. Ltd., and was originally attached to Barry Town signal box. 

If you look back at some of my previous blogs you will see that over the last few months we have acquired an original Lesbians & Gaymen Support the Miners badge dating from 1985. Also a promotional t-shirt from the film ‘Pride’. This badge was produced in 2014 to commemorate the 30th anniversary.

This full hull ship model is of the S.S. CALDY. The original ship was built by Richardson, Duck & Co. Ltd. of Stockton-0n-Tees, for Farrar, Groves & Co. Ltd. in 1913.

This poster shows rail sections produced at Cwm Celyn, Blaina & Coalbrook Vale Iron Works 1860-1867, whilst in the ownership of Frederick Levick and his son-in-law Robert Simpson. Wrought iron rails were the single most important product of the Welsh iron industry in the mid nineteenth century with enormous tonnages being exported worldwide for the construction of railways.

Mark Etheridge
Curator: Industry & Transport
Follow us on Twitter - @IndustryACNMW

The Contents of Fragile?

Penelope Hines, 24 February 2015

Fragile? the major new ceramics exhibition in the west wing will contain a mix of pieces from our own collection, loans and site specific installations. Each ‘source’ (for want of a better word) of objects will bring different delights and challenges to the installation and display.

The loans we have coming from artists and other institutions have never been on display at National Museum Cardiff before. This gives us the opportunity to tell the story of objects and artists who visitors may be unfamiliar with or would not have the opportunity to discover otherwise. 

However it means we are presented with display requirements that may be different to that which we are used to and the intimate familiarity that we have with the appearance and presence of objects from our own collections is lacking.

None of this should, of course, detract from how excited we are to show these works and the fact that these challenges are ones taken on with alacrity.

The installations are thrilling due to their uniqueness and (in the case of the three in Fragile?) the extent to which visitors will be able to interact with them. However they present the element of the unknown.

Until they are completed the specific details of their appearance is unknown and though we can look to past audiences of galleries and museums who have displayed these artists work before we cannot know how visitors will engage with the installations.

When working with pieces already in the collection there is the bonus of the afore mentioned familiarity with the objects; their shape, size, handling requirements. But also a good understanding of how they work within different spaces or their “presence” as I called it earlier.

The inclusion of works from the collection is an opportunity to show pieces visitors may already be familiar with in new ways. Hopefully allowing the formation of new ideas and insights.

Works from the collection will be displayed with pieces which they are not normally displayed alongside and some will be displayed in a different manner, such as on open display rather than cased or viewable from all angles rather than against a wall.

We have a number of works coming out of the balcony cases on the first floor of the museum. Those who are familiar with the applied art collection of the museum and its permanent displays may know that these cases are arranged thematically; including cases of “Studio Ceramics”, “Craft and Design inspired by History” and “Craft from 1900 to present”.

For Fragile? pieces from these cases will be taken out of these displays and put into new groups to form new narratives. For example James Tower’s Pod Form, will leave “Craft from 1900 to present” and instead go into a dialogue of objects which examines how artists have applied colour to the base ceramic body.

Another example is Claire Curneen’s In the Tradition of Smiling Angels which usually sits in our "Contemporary Acquisitions" balcony case. In the exhibition it will be surrounded by other artists who have approached figurative representation through the ceramic medium. Though it could be argued that this work could also sit comfortably in all manner of dialogues; artist who mix materials, artists who use hand building as their technique and religious iconography this is the primary dialogue it sits in for this exhibition.

Putting object into new narratives, whether to do with ideas of form or decoration, we hope will be interesting and thought provoking  to new and regular visitors alike.

As some objects to be included in Fragile? are coming from display in the museum other objects have to come in and replace them in the permanent display cases. Therefore it gives another opportunity to get works out of stores and on display for everyone to enjoy. This too though a good opportunity, presents challenges. We have to get pieces which both fit into existing case narrative but also those which will practically fit the dimensions of the spaces which objects being used in Fragile? are moving out of.

Fragile? opens on the 18th April, in the meantime why not come and see the works which have replaced the works going into the exhibition on display? Come and see if you can spot the new pieces!  

View this exhibition in our “What’s On” Guide

Are there any themes or processes to do with Fragile? or the Applied Art Collection that you are particularly interested in? Leave any suggestions for future blog posts in the comments.

Pod Form

James Tower, Pod Form, 1985, tin-glazed earthenware.

In the Tradition of Smiling Angels
Claire Curneen, In the Tradition of Smiling Angels, 2007, terracotta & gold lustre.

 

Northumberland’s Sea Life

Katie Mortimer-Jones, 24 February 2015

The Marine Section at National Museum Cardiff have studied the shores around Berwick-upon-Tweed for several years now, concentrating on the marine bristleworms living in the muddy sand and the rocky outcrops of this beautiful beach. This is an historic beach for these fascinating creatures as several species were first described from this locality by Dr George Johnston (1797 – 1855), a Scottish physician and naturalist who studied the fauna and flora of the area. One of the most abundant types of bristleworms found there are shovelhead worms, beautiful creatures that use their flattened heads to dig in the sand and feed using two long feeding tentacles. Staff at the museum specialize in this group and hence Berwick-upon-Tweed is an important site for their research. Hence, I “set sail” to the shores of Northumberland again to collect more samples both for our research and the museum’s natural history collections. One of our current focuses is to understand how these animals feed, breed, burrow and behave and our latest findings have recently been published in the proceedings of the 11th International Polychaete Conference.

On this trip, I was joined by fellow science curator Kath Slade from the Botany section, who specializes in seaweeds. This allows us to look more holistically at the shore’s ecology, by looking at both the flora and fauna.

We will keep you posted with updates about what we have discovered.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Sampling for shovelhead worms (Magelona), Berwick-upon-Tweed

Worms that Dig

Katie Mortimer-Jones, 24 February 2015

Our trip to collect shovelhead worms (a type of marine bristleworm called a magelonid) at Berwick-upon-Tweed started last Thursday (19th) at 06.30, giving us plenty of time on the shore before low tide. We were extremely lucky with the weather, as although it was only 7 degrees, the sun was out and it wasn’t raining. Staff at the museum specialize in this fascinating group and this particular trip was aimed at collecting animals to further our understanding of the biology of the group but also to gain specimens for the Museum’s natural history collections. Magelonids are extremely abundant on this shore and material used in the description of the British species, Magelona johnstoni was collected here by Head of Invertebrate Biodiversity Andy Mackie, who was one of the team who described the species back in 2000. The species was given its name in honour of the work carried out by the naturalist Dr George Johnston in this region.

Although, abundant on this shore, finding and collecting animals which are less than 1 mm in width can be tricky! These animals are rather long and fragile and a great deal of care has to be taken when collecting them. Animals are gently removed from the sand using a water bottle and soft forceps and placed into a cool box to keep them cool on the journey home. Once back to our makeshift laboratory I was able to identify and observe them for our research. We have designed a specialist tank in order to observe them over longer periods of time as well. We have successfully kept animals in this tank for nearly two years. We are hoping to observe the difference between three species, which can be found on this shore, Magelona johnstoni, Magelona mirabilis and Magelona filiformis. A fourth species is known to occur in low numbers on this shore, however, we were unable to locate any specimens for study this time.

We spent four days on the shore at Berwick-upon-Tweed collecting animals and although the weather did turn and temperatures on the beach dipped significantly it is a lovely shore to collect on. The tank and the animals have now made the long trip back to Cardiff and are now in the marine laboratory at National Museum Cardiff. We will continue to observe and publish research on these fascinating and also beautiful creatures (although may be I am somewhat biased, I shall leave it up to you whether you agree or not!).

Watch this video, to see how we sample shovelhead worms.

Collecting shovelhead worms, Berwick-upon-Tweed

The worms are gently removed from the sand using a water bottle and soft forceps

Shovelhead worms are generally less than 1 mm wide and can be difficult to find on the beach

Shovelhead worms in the sand, they have to be removed very gently as they are so fragile

Identifying species back in the makeshift laboratory

Shovelhead worm under the microscope

Aquarium tank back at National Museum Cardiff, allowing us to observe shovelhead worms over long periods