Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Struggle for Our Past : Welsh Battle Sites Remembered by Gethin Gruffydd

Introduction. It will perhaps be surprising to most people if they were told that the majority of Welsh Battle sites are not only without a memorial but very few are even marked on maps. 

It is perhaps therefore surprising to find that the site of the ‘Battle of Bryn Glas’ 22 June 1402 is one of the very few Welsh Battle fields to find marked on maps but is, however, without a memorial.* 

Unfortunately, the majority of Glyndwr battle sites also remain unmarked on maps and are without memorials set up to record where they took place.

* Battlefields Memorials are set up for Battle of Llwchwr 1136, Moel y Don 1282 and Hyddgen. I understand a wooden plaque was placed by Cofiwn at Bryn Glas sometime during the 1970’s, this soon disappeared. However, I have heard on the grapevine that plans are in pipeline for another plaque to be placed at battle site of Bryn Glas soon.

The ‘Battle of Bryn Glas’ is the better known of Glyndwr's victories. Hyddgen 1401 is recorded as his first real battle victory and has been marked by a Memorial set up by Mudiad Cofiwn but sadly, this memorial has since been vandalised and the inscripted slate plaque has been replaced by a smaller plaque set up by a former member of Mudiad Cofiwn.

It had been hoped that the 600th anniversary would have seen moves to restore the Hyddgen memorial to its proper glory and, perhaps, even bigger; but this was not to be so, it is we believe now, as with all our memorial project proposals, a matter for local concern and pride to get something done.

Prince Owain and his gallant soldiers fought many battles such as the aforementioned; amongst the greatest were the Battle of Bryn Owain/Stalling Down 1403 Craig y Dorth 1404 and the Battle of Pwll Melyn fought in Gwent during the ‘bloody spring’ of 1405 - all of which have 600th anniversaries on the horizon and we hope moves will be made in their localities to have memorials set up to record fittingly, be they victories or defeats.

Not least, campaigns should begin to see that these battle fields are not only recorded on maps but that local Authorities, in particular, give them due attention in literature they produce. Battle of Llwchwr 1136 memorial is ignored by Swansea local Authority and tourism in their brochures etc.

Further, do keep in mind that other that Battles, there were ‘guerrilla campaigns’ and ‘major offensives’ that deserve to be similarly recorded and, not least, the campaigns against the English held castles all over the land. 

In this connection it should be especially noted that it was in 1403 that Prince Owain began a military offensive ‘Haf Glyndwr’ specifically against these English garrison positions and brought to an end, for a short while, English castle rule of Wales.

Do note we also need to initiate a major campaign aimed at prompting CADW to also carry out long overdue commemorative and memorialising work. 

We consider, at the very least, that Cadw should set up Interpretation Display boards * at all castles Glyndwr put to siege - especially in 1403-1404 periods of campaigns.

Brwydrau Glyndwr 1405 - 2005: The Battles of Grosmont 11 March 1404 and Battle of Pwll Melyn 5 May 1405 (yes! Election day?) “The Bloody Spring Offensive”, most historians determine this as the beginning of the end of Owain Glyndwr’s good fortunes.

I detect possible ill discipline of the Welsh Army whose ranks had been greatly swollen by the “peasantry” aka “Barefoot Welsh Doggis” who have pillage on their mind rather than any military strategy.

Interestingly it is largely the same sort of military ill discipline which messes up Confederate strategy meant to deliver a knock out blow against the Union but instead ended up with the South’s Gettysburg disaster. 

Confederate strategy required avoiding the town of Gettysburg but a great number of shoeless Confederate soldiers (“Bare foot Doggis”) knew that Gettysburg was a German settlement of shoemakers and could not resist a foray into the town. 

However, a Union battery at Gettysburg dug in and resisted and thus the rest is history (see Film ‘Gettysburg’ also of interest the alternate history novel ‘Bring out the Jubilee’). It is these “minor moments” of military history that often determine the course of history, as example the failed arrival of bread supplies determined the Moors abandon the siege of Malta.

I am now meandering off course, not an unusual thing for me to do. Glyndwr battles being pretty much to fore this year leads me to put forward an area of study you may wish to follow up on during the summer:

'Owain Glyndwr - from victory to defeat' *

1 Battle of Vyrnwy 1400: Background connection, the opening Northeast campaign September 1400. 

2 Battle of Hyddgen 1401: Prince Owain's first victory, opening up the Southwest. ''Rallied the Welsh''. See Writer Ian Fleming (no not of Bond fame)

3 Battle of Bryn Glas 1402: Great Welsh battle victory, as important as 'Bannockburn' is to the Scots. See Logeston Publishers

4. Battle of Bryn Owain/Stalling Down 1403: Following on the ''Haf Glynd?r'' Ystrad Tywi Campaign. See Writer Herbert Williams.

5 Battle of Craig y Dorth 1404: In connection with the major ''12 miles deep'' Welsh Border offensive. See Chris Barber.

6 Battles of Grosmont and Pwyll Melyn 1405: the ''Bloody Spring'' in Gwent. ''Final defeat in sight''? See writer Cris Barber.

For overall view of the war see Glyndwr’s War by G.J. Brough. Glyndwr publications.

Welsh Military History Writing and Publishing.

At least there are improvements in area of Welsh Military History Writing, see work of Paul Rempfrey (search web) also recently published book on Welsh Military Institutions, only problem the price; at £30 obviously it will not become mass popular reading.

My concern about Welsh battlefields has been to the fore in my mind for quite some time, prompted by my finding out the disinterest that exists amongst the powers that be who should be concerned - and then also, by the attitude of military historians and publishers.

On the subject of Welsh Battlefields, we were already aware of the fact that battlefields in Wales were particularly under threat, in the main, because the Welsh Monuments Board and CADW the bodies responsible for our ‘Heritage in the Landscape’ do not have Welsh Battle Sites down on their list of priorities. 

Add to this the fact that there is an institutionalised thinking amongst ‘British historians’ and ‘military interest publishing’ that proclaims that there were no Welsh Battle fields only “Killing Grounds”! and no doubt then they usually go on to paint a picture of the Welsh as only being capable of fighting a guerrilla form of warfare.

So very few books on military history ever mention Welsh battles. Go and have a look… you will be shocked that even a major work such as the O.S book of British battles mentions no Welsh battle Fields at all. However, there does exist some books on Welsh Battles.

· Battles in Wales by Herbert Williams.

· The Battles of Wales by Dilys Gator.

· Famous Welsh Battles by Philip Warner.

· Glyndwr's War by Gideon Brough.

· In Search of Owain Glyndwr by Chris Barber.

· Glyndwr’s First Victory by Ian Flemming.

Also must mention:

· For best account of the ‘Battle of Bryn Glas’ see book Owain Glyndwr & the last war of welsh independence in the Welsh Borders, written by Geoffry Hodges & published by Logeston Press. I have suggested to the publishers they publish the chapter on battle of Bryn Glas as a pamphlet. It’s under consideration.

· Last but not least, suggest you buy ‘Reference Wales, compiled by John May, published by UWP, Cardiff. Excellent pen ultimate list of Welsh Battlefields.

Other publications:

· The Normans in South Wales 1070 – 1171. Lynn Nelson. University of Texas.

· Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. J.B.Smith. UWP. Cardiff.

· The Taming of the Dragon. W.B.Bartlett. Sutton publishing.

The Age of Conquest. R.R. Davies. Oxford U.P.

Brwydr Llwchwr 1 Ionawr 1136

There is a fine memorial to this battle, raised by Cofiwn members, supporters and others. This memorial is placed on Garn Goch common near to road on way to Garn Goch Hospital via the A 484. Well worth a visit on a warm sunny summers day with a pic nic in mind.

Military history and battlefields may not be quite the ''Politically correct'' thing to be concerned with but we Welsh are at peril of severe ignorance, understanding and appreciation of the fact that for a 1000 years - roughly between King Arthur's victory at Mount Badon over the Saxons to Henry Tudors victory over Richard III at Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Military history and battles have shaped Welsh history - as the aforementioned clearly indicates - even if you only have a little knowledge of your nation's history' you will know that both these battles in particular were contributory to the Wales, as we know it today.

Most people and that includes the majority of Welsh people understand the significance of the Battle of Hastings, as Americans would The Battle of Gettysburg, whilst Native Americans full understand the significance of the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the consequences of the Battle of Wounded Knee. Our own first minister who recently went out of his way to visit Rourkes drift and Isandlwana battlefields probably knows more about these battles than he does about any Welsh Battlefield - indeed I wonder if he's visited any? It would be very interesting and illuminating to do a survey of this with our political representatives. “Name just one Welsh Battlefield?” would be enough.

So what of Welsh Battlefields? As Mynydd Carn 1081 and Irfon Bridge 1282 or Bryn Glas 1402 - how many Welsh people have even heard of them - let alone know of their significance and consequences? Lets take this Battle of Llwchwr 1136 fought on 1st January 1136 between the Welsh of Brycheiniog led by Hywel ap Maredudd and the Norman's of Gwyr. At this time remember Norman power was expanding into Sicily and Greece and into Ireland and Scotland - the Norman's were on an ''unstoppable roll''. The ''Welsh war of resistance'' to further Norman Conquest started here on a new year’s day and despite a bitter set back at Battle of Maes Gwenllian but finally won at Battle of Crug Mawr near Ceredigion in October 1136. Stopped the ''Norman's in their tracks'', and ''pura Wallie'' was saved for another 140 years - time enough for the ''age of the princes of Dehuebarth and Gwynedd'' to consolidate and strengthen Welsh Laws, culture and customs - from which the Native language was to flourish. So If these Battles had not been fought and not been won - we might not be here today.

It is sad that most Welsh people know and understand little of all this, whilst the English know of their, not least due to being taught so in schools and TV progs etc. Further,The Times ''thundered'' and with an ''English Battlefield Trust'' convinced ''English Heritage'' of need for an ''English Battlefields register'' to designate and thus help to protect and preserve their battlefields, same exists in Scotland, Ireland and else where. Cadw has promised to consider a Welsh Battlefield Register and indeed a provisional listing to inform local Authorities of Battle sites in their localities. However, do not leave it at that, we must continue the campaign. If nothing else you can show active support by writing articles and letters on the subject for your local paper as well as to local councillors. AM’s, MP’s and MEP’s. PLEASE DO WHAT YOU CAN TIME IS NOT ON OUR SIDE OK!

Finally with the aforementioned in mind would you not agree that there is a need for a Welsh Battlefield Register? To give so much attention to Anglo – Norman castles and not to the military struggle that brought them into existence is rather perverse.
Yn Ffyddlon.
Welsh Heritage Researcher


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