Chapter 10: The Move to Wales
There is a certain amount of mystery surrounding the move of the Stephens family back to Wales. In our family we knew that this move occurred at the beginning of the First World War, and we have always believed that there was a shipwreck shortly after departure from South Africa somewhere on the coast of Namibia -- presumably as a result of a torpedo fired from a German submarine -- followed by a transfer to another ship for the rest of the journey back to England. That's all very exciting, involving a stranding on a remote desert shore, a loss of baggage, and then a rescue and another ship voyage northwards through dangerous waters under constant threat of further German attacks........
But no matter how hard we hunt, we cannot find any record of a shipwreck and rescue of passengers at about the right time, and so we have the possibility that the whole of this story is a myth -- created by vivid young imaginations when Heather, Hilary and I were young and liable to build an exciting myth out of the smallest of titbits. For in truth our mother Gwladys never did tell us in any systematic way what happened during her childhood. More's the pity.
So the truth may be a good deal more mundane -- and thanks to Meryl and Joan we do have another version of events that seems to stand up to scrutiny.
Johanna in her thirties or forties? A strong face -- and not as beautiful as sisters Verena and Lily.....
The Walmer Castle, on which the Stephens family travelled from South Africa to Plymouth in November 1915
The story is that Edgar suddenly (and unexpectedly?) inherited Coedybrain Farm near Llandyfaelog, which had been farmed by his Uncle Richard and had been in the family since about 1770. He decided that they should move back to Wales to take advantage of the inheritance. In the year 1913 Owen travelled on the vessel "Gloucester Castle" from Cape Town at the age of 12 in the company of Eleanor, Edgar's sister, who was known to all as "Aunt Nellie." (What was she doing in South Africa? When did she travel there from Wales?) They probably disembarked at Plymouth and then travelled to Carmarthenshire.
The rest of the family travelled from Cape Town to Plymouth on the vessel "Walmer Castle", arriving in November 1915 -- well into the First World War. At that time Edgar was shown on the passenger list as a farmer. However, as a part-time Colonel in the Army he might well have been involved in the campaign which wrested South-West Africa (Namibia) from the Germans in early 1915. That campaign was concluded in triumph in July of that year, and perhaps he was then released from service.
At the time of the move Edgar was 46, Johanna was 43, Ivor was 11, Stanley 10, Gwladys 9, Llewellyn 6 and Alwyn 4. They all travelled third class, and arrived with no winter clothing. On the voyage, Edgar (who had had the foresight to purchase a dress suit before embarkation) earned a few honest pounds by entertaining the first class passengers with his singing. He had, by all accounts, a wonderful bass voice.
When they arrived at Coedybrain, they appear to have been plunged into abject poverty. The farm was cold, damp and run down, and the going must have been really tough for Edgar and Johanna, since the children were still quite young and their schooling must have been a priority. Before the end of the First World War, Johanna's sister Mabel (who had volunteered to work as a nurse in England) came on more than one visit, and she recorded in a letter that she was shocked by the misery of their existence -- she said that they seemed to survive largely on bread and butter. But survive they did, and some of the later photos of the family show them to be tidy and well dressed. Gwladys had very little schooling, and we assume that within a few years of arriving in Wales Grandma Johanna was too poorly to look after the household herself. So Gwladys left school and looked after a family of two parents and five strapping and hungry young men. Hard work for a young woman, and a great sacrifice too.........
Part of a German camel-mounted brigade at the beginning of the Great War in German South-West Africa. When war broke out, Grandpa Stephens went off to fight the enemy in Namibia.....
A political cartoon from the beginning of the Great War 1914-15
A German aircraft being made ready for reconnaissance work in the South-West Africa War of 1914-15
A British armoured column used to ferry troops and armaments to the front line in SW Africa
The Coedybrain Stephens family -- maybe around the end of the First World War?
The Grove, Llanstephan. This photo must be from the late 1800's..... later on, steps were added in the front of the house, and a metal balcony was built right across the front facade.
Close-up of the residents (or some of them) at the bottom of the garden at The Grove.
The Coedybrain family -- probably taken in the early 1920's, when Gwladys would have been about 16 years old?
This photo may date from about 1928, when Gwladys would have been 22 years old. A fine looking family, with the young men looking very handsome and Gwladys looking very glamorous. The family must have prospered.....