Pages

Friday, 22 May 2020

Frank Wrentmore - The Rugby Warrior Who Went to War and Found Peace.


"I suppose you want to know how the boys are getting on here."

Recruits in Rhondda 1914.
Frank Wrentmore is assigned to

 the Somerset Light Infantry

The year is 1914 and the Great War barely five months old. This was the opening sentence of a letter sent to Councillor Mark Harcombe of 5 Garth Road, Trealaw from former colleague, Frank Wrentmore. The men had both worked in the Ely Pit at the Naval Colliery Penygraig. In 1910 coalowners D.A.Thomas and Leonard Llewellyn took the decision to lock-out all the men who worked at the colliery following a dispute over 'abnormal work places' in the Ely Pit. Harcombe and Wrentmore suddenly found themselves embroiled in a bitter struggle that engulfed Mid-Rhondda and ensured the name of Tonypandy would reverberate across the land. They might have fought the same battle but they took very different paths.
.
Mark Harcombe, along with Will John, Noah Rees, J. Ivins, John Hopla and T. Smith formed the Cambrian Combine Workmen's Committee. As leaders they embraced a new approach rejecting the conciliatory tactics of men like William Abraham (Mabon) and Tom Richards, describing them as 'apologetic leaders'. When The Miners Federation of Great Britain accepted the terms proposed by the coalowners to end the strike their reaction was fierce and uncompromising. "Worse than defeat" they respond,". . . Leonard Llewellyn will get his pound of flesh." They invited Rhondda M.P. Mabon to attend a mass meeting at the Mid-Rhondda Athletic Fields to explain the decision and vowed to fight on.


Frank Wrentmore
Frank Wrentmore a man who preferred action to words, was something of a local celebrity in sporting mad Rhondda. His rugby career begun with Penygraig RFC where he proved himself a talented threequarter in both defence and attack. He also possessed leadership qualities and a fiery disposition. In October 1907 the Rhondda Leader, to the great relief of Penygraig supporters, reported that Wrentmore and Ridley had no intention of signing for Northern Union side Salford, despite quite specific rumours to the contrary, and would be turning out for Penygraig against Mountain Ash the following Saturday. The Northern Union was offering players financial incentives that were difficult to resist while seeking to gain a foothold in South Wales. The threat to the amateur code was very real and Penygraig were particularly sensitive having lost Welsh international John 'Jack' Rhapps to the very same club in 1897. Rhapps, nicknamed 'The Lion of Salford' was one of the world's first two dual rugby internationals and still playing for Salford at the time. 



Two years earlier Penygraig had won the Glamorgan League Cup.  A year later they forsook their old venue to make a triumphant first appearance on the Mid Rhondda Athletic Field against Cardiff Northern Belle Vue.  Their tenure on the new ground would not last long. Once the Mid-Rhondda Athletic and Social Club Committee agreed to host the Wales v England Northern Union International on the Athletic Grounds, Tonypandy the writing for Penygraig was writ large on the wall. Shortly after the successful venture the Mid-Rhondda Athletic and Social Club Committee announced they were going to run their own Northern Union side. At their A.G.M. held in the Butcher's Arms, Penygraig the club secretary expressed his club's regret that a Northern Union side was to be formed in Mid-Rhondda but announced they had managed to secure a new home in Penygraig for the coming season. 


But there is more bad news for Penygraig.  At a time when working men cannot even command a minimum wage the opportunity to earn an extra income doing something you enjoy is a temptation too great to resist. Frank Wrentmore is one of the first to break ranks. He is followed by Palmer Griffiths and Norris.  Penygraig’s loss proves to be Mid-Rhondda’s gain. Wrentmore's decision will prove bitter sweet. On 3rd October 2008 Frank and his team-mates stand on the Mid-Rhondda Athletic Field and wait for their opponents to take the field. The day is fine. Clouds drift across a blue sky and an estimated seven thousand spectators crowd into the stands or take a position on the high banking. An air of mystique surrounds the visitors from 'Down Under' who have travelled across the world to fulfill this their first fixture of the tour. One name  in particular is on everyone's lips. Herbert Henry "Dally" Messenger has already attained legendary status in the North of England where ‘Messenger Will  Play’ placards were placed outside grounds to confirm his appearance. Today the crowds that climbed the Empire Hill to pass through the gates of the Mid-Rhondda Athletic Grounds are eagerly anticipating the prospect of seeing the great man in action. They will not be have to wait much longer. 

The Wallabies, who played Penygraig a week later,
also performed a questionable version of the haka.

No one waits more eagerly than Frank Wrentmore and his team-mates. A roar from the crowd greets the appearance of  the Kangaroos as they race onto the field clad in their sky blue and maroon tops, that represent the colours of New South Wales Blues and Queensland. The home team join in the cheers then fall silent as the visitors perform their version of the haka. If the spectacle was meant to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition it failed miserably. A reporter from the Rhondda Leader describing it in his match day report as, "somewhat ludicrous". 
But the spectacle is soon forgotten as the game kicks off. 


Messenger proves his reputation is richly deserved. Despite having to limp off the field for treatment  he puts the Kangaroos in front with two penalty kicks, one from the half way
"Dally" Messenger
Herbert Henry "Dally" Messenger
line. The visitors also lose half back Auleyzark through injury but Messenger is proving irresistible scoring a magnificent try when he completely outpaces the home team. Half time arrives and a shell shocked Mid-Rhondda find themselves 18-0 down. But the home team are far from finished. The visitors may have the great man in their ranks but they are a man short. This is also their first tour game following the arduous long haul from Australia by boat. Daily sessions in the gym cannot compensate for actual game time and as the game progresses they begin to tire. 

The second half begins with Messenger dropping a goal to put the visitors further ahead but Mid-Rhondda's response is swift. Following a slick handling move Wrentmore touches down for the    home team and ignites a stirring fight back. Messenger almost succeeds in breaking out and scoring but is brought down by Wrentmore. Mid-Rhondda now exert tremendous pressure on the visitors who defend stubbornly. Eventually they buckle under the pressure when Dai Thomas weaves past weary defenders to score Mid-Rhondda's second try. It is not enough. The final score is Mid-Rhondda 6 Australia 20.


In December, Wrentmore's achievement as the first player to score a try against the Australian tourists is recognised at a presentation evening held at the Mid-Rhondda Social and Athletic Club in honour of club steward Sam Stock. Club chairman Tom Griffiths presents Frank with a gold medal, provided by Barney Isaacs proprietor of The Mirror of Gems Tonypandy, that bore the inscription,"Presented for scoring first try against the Kangaroos, October, 1908." It represents the pinnacle of Wrentmore's sporting achievements, but his fall will be swift and sudden. The Mid Rhondda Social and Athletic Club was established in an atmosphere of optimism and anticipation but, by the end of their first season, all that positive energy has dissipated. Crowds dwindle and the venture ultimately proves a failure commercially, and from a sporting perspective. The quarter final of the Challenge Cup against Hunslet and the epic encounter with Dally Messenger’s Kangaroos have proved the high points and both end in inglorious defeats. 

Ton Pentre AFC 1906

In the April of 1909 an event takes place on the Mid-Rhondda Athletic Ground that is to sound the death knell for professional rugby in Mid-Rhondda. The emergence of a rival professional game is not only eclipsing rugby league in popularity but is set to threaten the dominance of rugby union as the pre-eminent sport in South Wales. Association football has previously been synonymous with North Wales, but its popularity down South is growing apace. A few miles up the road Ton Pentre A.F.C. command a loyal fan base and have achieved remarkable success. In April 1909 they face newly formed Merthyr Town in the Final of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Cup Final. The game attracts a crowd in excess of 6,000 and takings at the gate of almost £300. Ton Pentre win 2-0 with goals from W. Jones (pen) and Fyfe. 

Cross Keys Hotel, Tonypandy
A post-match luncheon is held for both teams at the Cross Keys Hotel in Tonypandy. During the after dinner speeches Mr. Griffiths, chairman of the Mid- Rhondda Northern Union Committee, announces, “We are going to have a Soccer team at Tonypandy next year. I have been a, great supporter of amateur Rugby and Northern Unionism, but the financial position has not realised expectations. We are going to fall away from Northern Unionism, as we can see that Soccer is the coming game." After just one season the Mid Rhondda Social and Athletic Club committee ruthlessly wield the axe proving the old adage there is no room for sentiment in business. 

This is a grievous blow for Frank Wrentmore who has committed his future to the newly established and now defunct club. He suddenly finds himself stranded in the sporting wilderness. The die is cast, but the best laid of schemes do not always go to plan. Events beyond the control of Mr. Griffiths and the Mid- Rhondda Northern Union Committee are poised to engulf Mid Rhondda. Although an amateur side is established the following season, the vision of a professional football team based in Tonypandy is suspended as, for the next two years, industrial unrest consumes Mid-Rhondda.


Naval Colliery, Penygraig
Ironically Frank's place of work, the Ely Pit at the Naval Colliery, Penygraig will provide the spark that sets Mid-Rhondda ablaze. It is now August 24th, the season is over and with it Frank's dreams of a professional rugby career. He stands in the cage huddled together with his colleagues sharing the usual daily banter as they wait for the winding-engine driver, David Davies, to lower their bond down the Ely Pit shaft. Another day of darkness and toil beckons. The cage, a double-decker, is designed to hold no more than twenty five men but twenty eight have squeezed themselves inside. Once the banksman gives the all clear Davies will begin the operation of lowering the cage 525 feet to the pit bottom. It is the fifteenth bond of men and Davies of 75 Cornwall Road, Penygraig has lost count of how many times he has repeated this extremely responsible task during his twenty five years of service.

Men waiting to enter a cage at the Naval Colliery.
During the week a fault was detected by Thomas Evans a winding engineman who had only been in post since the previous November. A crack was discovered in the spanner that controlled the reversing gear. It was reported to the mechanic Dorman who decided the crack in the spanner could be repaired with no need of a replacement. The men waiting in the cage were unaware their safety was now entrusted to a patched-up spanner bar. Whether it was fate or simply a poor memory something intervened on Frank's behalf because without warning he leapt out of the cage. "Forgot to order coal for Mam," he explained to his amused comrades. Valleys' Mams were formidable figures, not to be crossed lightly. His place was quickly taken by Tom Morris, another local footballer but one the gods did not smile on that day. The bondsman gave the signal to David Davies and the men descended into the pit. 

The Ely Pit head wheel 
showing shattered sheaves.
However far Frank had got he must have heard the tremendous 'battle and din' that sounded an ominous warning over the Naval Colliery. Disaster had struck. He looked back at the pithead wheel in utter disbelief. Many of the sheaves that radiated from its centre were shattered and could be heard clattering down the shaft. Some calamity had occurred and he should have been in the midst of the carnage. With the cage just 90 feet from the bottom of the shaft the repaired spanner bar fractures and the men plunge down to the bottom breaking through the platform that covers the sump at the base of the pit. It is the empty cage that, having been propelled upwards by the increase of steam in the engine, smashes into the wheel shattering the sheaves. What Frank cannot see is the same cage hurtling back down the shaft before making contact with the cage full of trapped colliers. 
The chains and the cap of the empty cage, weighing several cwt, jam down through the roof of the upper section housing the imprisoned men inflicting carnage and death.


Albert Watkins Deceased.
His wife Margaret brought
 writs against the owners
 of the Cambrian Combine

Six men are killed. The following Sunday the total of fatalities rises to seven when Harry Marshall of Williamstown succumbs to his injuries. One of the dead, Gideon Chapman, had only started work in the Ely Pit the day before. Tom Morris, who took Frank Wrentmore's place is taken to hospital. Several of the men's injuries are so severe that amputation of the affected limbs is unavoidable. One can only imagine the thoughts that pass through Frank's mind as he attends the funerals of his stricken comrades on the Tuesday of the same week.  Almost a year later the management post 'lock-out' notices on the Ely Pit. All the men employed there are now without work and without pay. In a show of solidarity the men who work the Nantgwyn and Pandy Pits join their workmates and the Naval Colliery is effectively on strike. Soon the other Cambrian Combine Collieries follow suit.

                                             "It is very cold and freezing hard."


Councillor Mark Harcombe might have afforded himself a grim smile as he read the next line of Frank's letter from the Front. Like many other young Rhondda volunteers, including his own son, it was a case of out of the frying pan into the freezing fire of another more brutal conflict. Together, he and Frank had endured the bitter Winter of 1910 when the families of strikers suffered hardship so great that members of the Metropolitan Police and Lancashire Fusiliers took pity on their plight and left food on the doorsteps of many strikers homes in the 'Glamorgan Terraces'. As Christmas approached a newspaper reported on the misery inflicted on the most vulnerable.
Women scouring for coal among the slag tips.
"Throughout the homes of Mid-Rhondda the season of Yuletide festivities comes this year upon a land of fasting , for the wage-earners are on strike. Of all those who will feel the pinch of poverty the children will suffer most. There are some thousands of hungry children waiting to be fed . .Empty larders may be counted by the score, and although every effort is made to cope with the distress, many of the most deserving cases are difficult to get at because people are reluctant to- make their necessity known, preferring to suffer in silence. The absence of coal adds very materially to their sufferings in the cold and bitter weather. All the surrounding rubbish tips have been so thoroughly cleared of any scraps of coal that might be left about, that the strikers, armed with picks, hammers and other implements, have been digging in the vicinity of tipping screens to relieve their distress."
Miners assemble of the Empire Hill
 following a mass meeting
on the Mid-Rhondda Athletic Fields
On Tuesday 8th November 1910 Wrentmore would have been among the men being paid off by the companies of the Cambrian Combine. In the afternoon he most likely attended the mass meeting held on the Mid-Rhondda Athletic Grounds where the strikers were addressed by Stipendiary Magistrate Lleufer Thomas who pleaded for their assistance in keeping the peace. Also present was Chief Constable Captain Lionel Lindsay who read out the message he had received from Home Secretary Winston Churchill asking for the rioting to cease and confiding in the "good sense of the Cambrian Combine workmen". The message further stated, to the dismay of the Chief Constable, that the Home Secretary was "holding back the soldiers for the present and sending only police."

Strikers tear down fencing around
 the Glamorgan Colliery
The message was well received and so Frank joined the huge procession of around 9,000 men  formed by the strikers that marched through Tonypandy, Trealaw and Llwynypia in an orderly fashion. Their destination was the Glamorgan Colliery Powerhouse which the Cambrian Colliery General Manager Leonard Llewellyn had transformed into a virtual fortress. What remained of the wooden palings were pulled down but the men made no attempt to storm the power house even though they had overwhelming numbers. The banking overlooking the colliery was lined with youths who threw stones at the power house windows. Two of the men requested an interview with the Chief Constable who was inside the colliery yard. He refused the request and met the men outside the gate instead but the meeting was quickly broken off. Shortly afterwards the Chief Constable ordered the mounted police stationed in the colliery yard to, clear the main road with their truncheons in the direction of Tonypandy. Chaos ensued and after a fierce and bloody confrontation the strikers were slowly driven back towards Tonypandy Square leaving one miner, Samuel Rays, dead in their wake. Later that evening shops in Tonypandy were vandalised and some were looted. The following day troops entered the district to support the Glamorgan, Swansea, Bristol and Metropolitan Police.


What part Frank played can be surmised from a case heard at Porth Police Court on 31st
Porth Square.
December relating to events on the evening of November 9th, the day after the riots in Tonypandy. According to P. C. Mitchell, the witness for the prosecution, Wrentmore was allegedly one of a large crowd that had gathered on Porth Square creating a disturbance. P.C. Mitchell cautioned him to desist and Wrentmore responded by throwing himself at the officer's legs in an attempt to bring him to ground. According to Mitchell he jumped back and was able to push Wrentmore away before another man tried to do the same thing. Two more men then attempted to strike P.C.Mitchell but the officer stated he held them off as Wrentmore once again set on him but fell over in the process. Upon getting to his feet Wrentmore shouted:
"Here's one of 'em, and we are out; let's give it to 'em; come on, boys, let's have our revenge to-night." 
Apparently Wrentmore and some others struck P.C. Mitchell on the arms. Despite several onlookers coming to the officer's aid they could not prevent Wrentmore striking P.C. Mitchell on the shoulder and face. P.C.Mitchell then states he attempted to hit Wrentmore with his truncheon but slipped and fell. Wrentmore was then heard to shout:
"Come on, boys, we smashed bloody Pandy up last night, and we'll bloody well do Porth tonight." 
P.C. Mitchell advised Wrentmore to go home and was then joined by P.C.'s  Davies and Doolan and Inspector Williams. Upon reaching Cymmer Bridge P.C. Doolan stated he saw P.C. Mitchell and four men on the bridge. P.C. Mitchell told P.C. Doolan he had been assaulted by the four men. The crowd, said Doolan, became very threatening and began shouting and booing. Wrentmore allegedly shouted at the Inspector: 
"Send the bloody soldiers back, we don't want them here." 
Inspector Williams further stated that stones and bottles were thrown in their direction.


Stipendiary Magistrate Lleufer
Thomas speaking to the
C.O of the Hussars.
Under cross examination P.C. Mitchell stated, "I did not know the defendant was a good footballer but I knew he was a good one for making rows." The defence then referred to an incident that occurred on 21st November resulting in P.C. James Thomas of Penygraig appearing in the same court charged with assaulting Henry Griffiths and David William Griffiths, both of 41 Bank Street, Penygraig. One of the witnesses to the alleged assault had been Frank Wrentmore who was in the Griffiths' house at the time and gave corroborative evidence. P.C. Mitchell denied he had seen Wrentmore give evidence against Sargeant Thomas. Mr. T.W. Lewis, acting on behalf of Wrentmore, stated that his client was in Porth on the night in question, but was not on the spot where the assault was committed. Stipendiary Magistrate D. Lleufer Thomas however was satisfied that the case was 'made out' and sentenced Frank to two months hard labour. Former rugby star Frank Wrentmore was now a convicted criminal.

Like many young men there is no doubt Frank harboured a deep resentment and anger towards the police and the military whom they perceived, with some justification, as acting on behalf of their enemy the coalowners. The violence that had erupted outside the Glamorgan Power House only served to heighten these feeling and added to that was a sense of frustration that their struggle was now against overwhelming odds. One of their number had the day before paid the ultimate price and therefore it was no surprise that the anger spilled onto street corners and town squares. The Home Secretary had urged the Chief Constable to "go gently in small things", advice that was not always heeded. 

Merthyr M.P. Keir Hardy repeatedly called for a public inquiry into the actions of the
Merthyr M.P. Keir Hardy
who called for a public 
inquiry into allegations  
of police brutality.
police but Churchill repeatedly refused. When Churchill asked Hardy what grounds there were for a public inquiry he replied:
"On the grounds of the charges against the police - charges of having ill-used women and other perfectly unoffending persons, not during a baton charge against a mob, but under circumstances in which revenge could be the only motive." Hardy then made direct reference to a specific assault that followed the second serious riot at Tonypandy on November 21st. "Mrs Morgan, 45 John Street, has had her house forcibly entered by police when the whole family were indoors. A most brutal and savage assault was committed on two young men. One of the policemen broke his truncheon, half of which is in possession of Mrs. Morgan."



This incident is remarkably like the one referred to in Frank's trial. It also occurred on the same night, November 21st, following serious disturbances around Tonypandy and Penygraig when strikers attempted to prevent
Imported stokers from Cardiff inside the
Glamorgan Power House, Llwynypia.
Cambrian Combine General Manager Leonard Llewellyn importing blackleg labour by train from Cardiff. The stations at Dinas and Tonypandy were effectively besieged. It took the combined effort of the Glamorgan and two detachments of Metropolitan police to clear the stations and eventually drive the strikers back to Penygraig Square. As General Macready had sanctioned the importation of the twelve stokers from Cardiff the military were also called upon to support the police. A squadron of Hussars traveled by road from Pontypridd at 11.15 p.m. while 50 infantry of the Lancashire Fusiliers arrived at the Pandy Pit. Significantly Stipendiary Magistrate Lleufer Thomas accompanied the soldiers an indication that he was ready to read the Riot Act in which case soldiers would load their rifles with live rounds. 



Around 40 or so police assembled on Penygraig Square while the strikers took up
A show of force by the police.
positions on the side streets from where they stoned the police who took refuge in shop doorways. Whenever the opportunity arose the police would charge up the hill after the retreating strikers but as soon as the police withdrew back to the square they found themselves under a renewed bombardment. Eventually Chief Constable Lindsay arrived with reinforcements to break the impasse. One squadron of police held the square while three squadrons pursued the strikers up the hill. Here the police were met with a cross-fire from men and mostly women who threw whatever was to hand from doorways and windows at the pursuing police. Early on in proceedings P.C. Knipe was struck by a brick, severing a main artery. The pursuit continued until nearly every striker, probably including Frank, had taken refuge in a house. Feelings were obviously running high on either side.

Amos Hill Penygraig. 
Bank Street, where the assault took place,
is one of its side streets. 

The house in which Frank took refuge was 41 Bank Street, Penygraig, the home of brothers Henry Griffiths and David William Griffiths. It was here, that same evening, that P.C. James Thomas of Penygraig was accused of assaulting Henry and David. According to David Griffiths he arrived home that night around 8.30 p.m. After supper he went out again and did not return until 11 p.m. When he returned home for the second time he found five neighbours, including Mr James Francis, in the middle kitchen talking about the riots that had occurred that evening. The conversation focused on Mrs Francis, who Mr Francis said had been injured by police. At this point the door was locked and bolted. Around 12 p.m. Henry hung up his coat in the passage and was about to make his way to bed when they were disturbed by the front door bursting open. They heard no request from anyone outside to be allowed in and no missiles had been thrown from the house. Alarmed, everyone rushed into the back kitchen Leaving Henry alone in the passage. 


Henry was struck on the arm and on the head with a truncheon and lost consciousness. James Francis hid under the table while Lizzie Morgan, Henry's niece, made a futile attempt to hold the door of the middle kitchen against the police but they were too strong. A
policeman then entered the back kitchen. David Griffiths was unable to identify him. Griffiths was then struck on the back of the head and became unconscious. From his vantage point under the table James Francis witnessed a policeman enter with a club in his hand but could not say who the officer was. However Lizzie Morgan and Frank Wrentmore both confirmed it was  P.C. Thomas. Morgan testified that only P.C. Thomas had entered the back kitchen and she recognised him 'from before' stating, "That's the man who hit David William on the head with a club." In court Lizzie's mother stated "I think that's the man who raised the club to me." Neighbours testified they saw police enter the Griffiths' house. Elizabeth Evans of 1 Bank Street, said she was on the doorstep when she saw police burst open the door of number 41 but only one entered the house. Esther Porter, 43 Bank Street, said at around 12.00 that night she was in the parlour frightened to go to bed because of the disturbance outside. She witnessed police go into the house of the Griffithses shouting, "Out with them."The broken truncheon found on the kitchen floor was produced in court as evidence. Both men were examined by Dr. C. J. Weichert the following morning. Dr. Weichert stated that David William Griffiths had a scalp wound half an inch long. Henry Griffiths had been hit on the head and forearm.


Pandy Pit showing Cambrian Combine 
General ManagerLeonard Llewellyn assist 
Mrs D.A. Thomas in cutting the first sod. 
It was here Captain Lindsay made his base 
of command on the night of the riots in Penygraig.

Sergeant Thomas denied the charges when the case was brought before the Porth Police Court in December. He claimed that on the night of the 21st he had met Inspector William De Brose of the Metropolitan Police on Penygraig Square where they were stoned by rioters. Inspector De Brose testified that he met Sergeant Thomas about 9.30 p.m. Sergeant Thomas, being a local man, then acted as his guide helping the Metropolitan Police negotiate their way through the unfamiliar back streets as they set about attempting to quell the rioting. They returned at 10.15 p.m. not having entered any house along the way. Inspector James Bole of the Metropolitan Police stated he met up with Sergeant Thomas at 10.30 p.m. on Penygraig Square where they were again met by a hostile crowd. Sergeant Thomas led Inspector Bole and his men through the back streets to the Pandy Pit. They stayed at the pit until 11.00 p.m. During that period they met with Chief Constable Lindsay and Sergeant Thomas went to speak with him. Inspector Bole said he had been with Sergeant Thomas until 11.15. 

Another witness, P.C. Alfred Williams of the Glamorgan Constabulary, said he was by the
Penygraig Square. The Butchers Arms is at the bottom of Amos Hill.
Turberville Hotel when a squad of police arrived with Sergeant Thomas in command of one column. P.C. Williams fell in and they paraded through the streets before returning to the Butcher's Arms a few minutes after 12.00. At that point Sergeant Thomas left them. They had not entered Bank Street at any point and there had been no charging during that time as it was too dangerous for a small group to detach themselves from the squad. 
Further evidence was given in Sergeant Thomas' favour by P.C David Bowen and P.C. John Rees, both of the Swansea Police. P.C. Bowen had been in the squad and Sergeant Thomas had been in charge of one column. He confirmed they had only gone a little way up Bank Street because of the stoning but had not entered any house. P.C. John Rees gave corroborative evidence having been near the Butcher's Arms on the night in question at about 9.30 p.m. and was ordered to clear the streets. Later they met with the Chief Constable at around 11.20 p.m. and P.C. Rees joined No.2 squad led by Sergeant Thomas. He stated that Sergeant Thomas did not go into any house and neither did any of the squad.


Stipendiary Magistrate D. Lleufer Thomas

The conflicting evidence given by the police and the public reveals the stark division that had already taken root between the community and police. The case against Sergeant Thomas was dismissed on the grounds that the identification of Sergeant Thomas as the perpetrator of the assault had not been satisfactorily proved. The Stipendiary Magistrate's summation centred on the fact that Sergeant Thomas was a well known figure in the locality and all the witnesses would have known him although only two actually recognised him. He deemed the evidence of Lizzie Morgan as 'not at all satisfactory' as David William Griffiths had his face to the wall when he was assaulted and the assailant's back would have been turned towards her. Lizzie Morgan was by the door in a room with 'meagre light' which meant she could hardly identify the assailant and had therefore made a mistake. It had been fortunate, he continued, that Sergeant Thomas had been able to trace his movements throughout that night as he now left "without a suspicion on his character." Stipendiary Magistrate D. Lleufer Thomas declared his hope that, 'the real persons who entered the house should be found'. 


The fact Frank Wrentmore had identified Sergeant Thomas as the assailant was raised when
The 18th Hussars arriving in Mid-Rhondda.
Franks challenged Corporal Randall to an eight round contest at the
Assault-at-Arms held at the Porth Skating Rink
Frank's case was heard on 31st December. Whether this had any bearing on his subsequent conviction is open to debate. However Frank was not a man to keep his head below the parapet. With his own case just two weeks away he attends an Assault-at-Arms at the Porth Roller Skating Pavilion on Tuesday evening, before a large number of spectators. The proceeds were in aid of the Porth Cottage Hospital and the Porth Nursing Association. The main attraction was Jimmy Driscoll who gave a brilliant display of boxing. There was another fight that attracted great interest but probably not for the same reasons. Corporal Randall of the 18th Hussars had been challenged to an eight-round contest by one Francis Wrentmore. One can only imagine what Frank's motivations were. Like many young men he was one of a large family, being the eldest of five, and throughout that bitter Winter they would have watched helpless as wives and mothers struggled to feed their families and keep clothes on their backs. It was not only the weather that was bitter. The fight ended in the second round with Frank left licking his wounds. Two weeks later Frank Wrentmore was on his way to prison.  

"We have had a lot of rain, so it has been very rough in the trenches. We have been up to our knees in water."
 I wonder what crossed Councillor Harcombe's mind as he read the letter. Perhaps he thought how 
Soldiers billeted in the Glamorgan Colliery Yard
he and Frank had already spent time in the trenches together during the uncompromising struggles of 1910-11. Frank's fighting spirit ensured he was always up to his knees, and occasionally his neck, in trouble of some description. They certainly shared a common fierce tenacity that expressed itself according to their different temperaments. There was now a danger that many young men like Frank would descend into a spiral of anger and bitterness that on occasion was turned against one another. On 10th May at the Pontypridd Police Court fifty charges against Mid-Rondda strikers were due to be heard for alleged offences committed in Penygraig, Clydach Vale and Blaenclydach. Due to the sheer volume of cases it was decided that only the Penygraig cases would be heard that day. Mr. D. Rees appeared for the prosecution and also in attendance was Chief Constable Captain Lindsay and Deputy Chief Constable Cole. Mr. Ivor Brown acted on behalf of the defendants with Mr. Noah Morgan, chairman of the Naval Workman's Committee offering moral support.

The first cases heard were against David Powell and David Williams and were brought by
Pontypridd Police Station and Court.
The Police Court is the large building to the right.
Sergeant James Thomas who had himself recently been acquitted of assault. Thomas stated that at 11.15 on April 29th he had approached a large crowd near the Butcher's Arms Hotel where the two defendants were fighting. Mr. Brown caused some amusement when he suggested, "It was a private enterprise on their part?" A less than amused Sergeant Thomas replied, "Yes." Mr. Bowen stated the case had nothing to do with the strike riots. Powell and Williams denied fighting and witnesses corroborated their testimony. Stipendiary Magistrate Lleufer Thomas reserved his decision until all the cases were heard. Midad Lewis, Benjamin Kelly and Griffith Davies were the next to face similar charges. Mr Bowen asked whether the defendants were violent towards the police. "No," replied Sergeant Thomas. Mr. Rees then interjected, "The row had not yet reached the fighting stage?"  Sergeant Thomas affirmed it had not. Mr. Rees then stated, "It was a sort of preliminary canter was it?" When called to the witness box Kelly and Lewis completely denied the evidence given by the police.


Rhondda Leader headline 13th May 1911

The next case heard was against Francis Wrentmore who was summonsed for throwing stones and assaulting the police. Mr. Ivor Bowen maintained that an assault on the police while in the execution of duty was an indictable offence, and he therefore wished the case to go before a Jury. The Stipendiary decided that the case should be dealt with summarily and P.C. Moore was called to give evidence. Moore stated he had asked Wrentmore to go home. Wrentmore initially appeared to comply with the officers request and walked away in the direction of his home with a friend. According to P.C. Moore, Wrentmore was then heard to shout, "Corner up the hill boys." Upon reaching a lamp on Amos Hill the defendant stooped down and shouted, "Clear the road boys." Stones were then thrown at the police. 

Wrentmore stated he went straight home after being spoken to by P.C. Moore.
Similar summonses were then brought against Evan Evans and Edmund Davies.
Inspector Thomas said he heard Davies shout, "Clear, the street!" and afterwards, "Charge!", while Evan Evans shouted, "The bastards will have it to-night." Later on he heard Evans remark, "Let's have another  Majuba." 
(This was a direct reference to a battle in the First Boer War thirty years earlier when the British Army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Boers. Major General Sir Charles Colley was killed and only a handful of men escaped.)
P.C. Moore further stated that although he could not see the stones in the hands of the defendants he saw them in the act of stone collecting and throwing at himself and the other officers with him. 
Mr. Ivor Bowen said he was pleased to find that none of these disturbances had arisen out of the strike. Both defendants denied the charges.
Stipendiary Magistrate Mr. D. Lleufer Thomas announced the following decisions:
In respect of the charge of obstruction, Midad Lewis was discharged on payment of costs; 
David Powell was fined 20s. and costs: 
David Williams, 30s. and costs; 
Benjamin Kelly, 40s. and costs;
Griffith Davies, 40s. and costs. 
For throwing stones and assaulting the police, Francis Wrentmore was sentenced to three months imprisonment; Edmund Davies, two months: and Evan Evans, one month. 
Mr. Bowen undertook to see that the fines were paid within three weeks.


Mr Cable of the Glandwr Hotel, Ystrad
 distributing food to hungry children.
Frank would spend five of the first seven months of 1911 in prison undergoing hard labour. A man regarded as one of the most talented rugby footballers in Rhondda was at his lowest ebb. I wonder if he was in some measure compensated by the fact his family would have one mouth less to feed for a time. In the August of that year the strike came to an end amongst great suffering and hardship. Men began to drift back to work but how easy would it have been for Frank? He would by now have been marked as a troublemaker by the authorities. It is likely he would have been among the last offered employment if at all. During the strike a total of 1,499 police including 902 from the Metropolitan force had been deployed in the Rhondda and Aberdare valleys. The highest number at any one time had been 1,301 on the 14th and 15th of November 1910. Many of them would remember the name Francis Wrentmore!


In 1912 reports appear in the local newspaper of rugby matches that appear to feature Frank Wrentmore. As Frank had turned professional, albeit for just for one season, with Mid-Rhondda the WRU would have been most unlikely to sanction his return to the amateur fold. However a spirit of camaraderie had been forged in the fires of the Ely conflict and perhaps local clubs were prepared to defy the WRU on behalf of one of their own. As the name Wrentmore appeared in mostly reserve matches perhaps the WRU were prepared to turn a blind eye rather than become embroiled in another scandal involving professionalism. In April 1912 Frank plays for Llwynypia Harlequins against Penygraig Reserves. Frank scores two tries and makes another. In September Llwynypia defeat Cardiff Central 42-0 and Frank scores another two tries.  

Extract from The Rhondda Leader 27th July 1912

However an incident occurs during this period suggesting all is not well with Frank. On 22nd July, he is summonsed to make an appearance at Ton Pentre Crown Court. Wrentmore and his friend Evan Evans are charged and convicted of brawling in the street. Both were issued with fines of 10s each. Six months later on 20th November 1913, Frank again finds himself back in the now familiar surroundings of a Police Court at Ton Pentre. Described as the well-known Penygraig footballer he is facing the charge of drunk and disorderly conduct. Evidence given by P.C. Gibbon stated that Wrentmore was creating a scene on Penygraig Square, 'cursing and swearing' and surrounded by a large crowd. According to P.C. Gibbon he became very abusive and he had to be restrained by three or four of his friends. 

"It's all lies," Wrentmore declared."Why were they holding me back. I don't know."
Stipendiary Mr. Lleufer Thomas issued a warning but adjourned the case for three months in a gesture of leniency and probably in the hope Frank would keep out of trouble in the interim.
"Now, Wrentmore, I give you another warning. I recollect you were in very serious trouble not very long ago. One thing you might try to remember is that neither the police nor the Bench have any grudge against you. Take this seriously to heart. You seem to be a young man of some sense and intelligence." 
It seems the Stipendiary was aware Frank bore a grudge against the police.

Apparently Frank heeded the advice or perhaps events overtook him. On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo
Rhondda recruits at the outset of the Great War
Princip, a Bosnian Serb Yugoslav nationalist, assassinated the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. A series of alliances was then activated and a blind unwitting world was dragged into the conflict. Frank was among the first group of Rhondda volunteers to enlist. Optimism was high and the general consensus of opinion was that the war would be over by Christmas. Perhaps Frank viewed it as a great adventure, a chance to escape from the grim and troubled times that had settled on his life like a pall. How were any of those young men to know the horrors that awaited them? The letter he sends to Councillor Mark Harcombe in those early months of conflict affords us a glimpse as though through a glass darkly.

"We had a good skirmish on December 19, when we were successful in taking the trenches of the Germans opposed to us. We, however, had to retire from them because they were full of water so I suppose they were glad to leave them. We lost a lot of men in the skirmish - roughly speaking about six officers and 127 men killed."

Yet in the middle of this carnage it seems Frank at last found a measure of peace. If only for a time.
"The Germans acted very well on Christmas Day. They helped us to bring in our dead, and we did the same for them. Some of theirs had been there two months. But under the circumstances we did well. The Germans and ourselves climbed out of the trenches and we shook hands with each other. We stopped firing from five o'clock until midnight, and we visited each other's trenches."


On 20th February 1915 the Rhondda Leader reports that, "Private Frank Wrentmore, of the Somerset Light Infantry, is lying at hospital in Liverpool, suffering from injuries received at the front. Wrentmore is a native of Penygraig, and a well known professional Rugby footballer."
No details were given of his injuries. Peace, it seems, only visited Frank fleetingly. In the same report mention is also made of one of Frank's workmates at the Ely Pit. Private John Edwards had been a haulier at the Naval Colliery. They were comrades in the bitter strike before becoming comrades in the Great War. I suspect that during those troubled times they would have bridled at the suggestion that in just a few years they would enter the ranks of the military they regarded as oppressors in their struggle for a living wage. The report continues, "Information has been received of the death in hospital in France of Private John Edwards, of the 2nd Welsh. Deceased was a resident of Penygraig, and was engaged as a haulier at Ely Pit (Naval Collieries). He was wounded on October 21st in the head, and after being treated at the base hospital returned to the trenches. Deceased has two brothers also serving - Private Will Edwards, of the 1st Welsh, who is in action, and who was also employed in the Ely Pit, and Tom, who is with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Salisbury."

No further mention is made of Frank and so he passes into Rhondda's history as the rugby warrior who went to war and found peace.

FOOTNOTE
Thanks to the wonders of social media and Facebook in particular Frank's story does not end here. Having sent out a request for information on what may have become of Frank I received two replies.

The first was from Alun Lloyd who know lives in Raleigh, California:

"I think he was my great uncle... my family tree shows a Francis Wrentmore, born November 1st 1884. He was the eldest of five (youngest was my grandmother, Annie). He died in 1954, but I don’t have the date. He had five children and some grandchildren some of whom I imagine could be findable."

The second from Alun's father, David Lloyd:


"Alun is exactly correct and I am Alun's father so Frank was my Uncle whom I never met as he moved early 40's with his family from Penygraig to Priory St, Carmarthen where for many years he kept a pub. Probably none of his five children are no longer alive, as the youngest would now be 100, but you would be able to trace the grandchildren if they are still living in Carmarthen with such an unusual surname."

I was delighted to learn that the young Frank Wrentmore had not only survived the war but returned home and raised a family of his own. 

R.I.P. Frank Wrentmore


4 comments:

  1. Hi Phil,interesting read.I remember my Grandmother talking about a woman who she was friendly with the woman's name was Maud Wrentmore I believe, wonder if she was related to Frank.My Grandmothers name Elizabeth Morgan, she lived in Craig-yr-Eos up the hill from Bank st.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would not be at all surprised. What times they lived through!

      Delete
  2. Hi Phil,I remember my Grandmother talking about a woman who she was friendly with,the woman,s name was Maud Wrentmore.Wonder if she was related to Frank.My Grandmother,s name was Elizabeth Morgan she lived in Craig- yr-Eos Tce.up the hill from Bank st.Interesting read.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Merkur 37C Safety Razor Review – Merkur 37C
    The bsjeon Merkur 37c is an excellent short handled DE safety casinosites.one razor. It is more suitable for both heavy and non-slip hands deccasino and aprcasino is 출장마사지 therefore a great option for experienced

    ReplyDelete