This blog was written by Flora McNerney, a UWTSD third-year student in Anthropology and English, who was a member of the team that worked on the material for the exhibition. Flora was the Lampeter Campus Students’ Union President in 2014/15.
This year a number of third-year students embarked upon a project within the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives to uncover the stories of men who had studied at St. David’s College and fought at the Battle of Somme during World War I.
The University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) was formed on 18 November 2010 through the merger of the University of Wales Lampeter and Trinity University College Carmarthen, under Lampeter’s Royal Charter of 1828.
On the 1 August 2013, Swansea Metropolitan University became part of UWTSD. St David’s College was the original name of the University under the Royal Charter of 1828.
WWI is an historic event which we are all taught about and know the basic facts of, but this project gave all of us who curated it a very different insight into the war; it became a personal insight.
We discovered what these men, while they were students did in their spare time, how academic they were, whether they fitted the student stereotype of drinking their bodyweight in beer or not; we researched their families and where the men had come from, what sort of background they were from.
For me it was like getting to know them; I felt very much that I got to know Thomas Thomas, the man that I researched, and it was very saddening to follow his life for the short 22 years that he was alive. While building this picture of Thomas, I not only researched him but also looked into his family life and the losses they suffered during the war.
There were students who fought and died at the Somme and there were students who survived and returned to Lampeter to complete their studies. It was interesting to support and follow my colleagues as they pieced together the stories of these men who returned, searching for post-war college photographs, researching their time fighting and their return to studies. Those who returned led the way with ensuring that their fellow St. David’s College students who had died were remembered officially.
The project was a really excellent opportunity to explore the archives and discover just how much research there still is to be done in all sorts of areas. The archived material in the Roderic Bowen is extensive. For the period we were researching, the college magazines, registers and newspapers held a wealth of information about society and life in rural Wales, as well as life at the university. Having access to such wonderful primary materials was a great experience, at times when using newspapers we were required to do some detective work to ascertain the accuracy of what had been printed which in turn taught us valuable lessons in not always believing what you read in the papers!
One of the main things that has struck me whilst researching for this project has been the awareness that this only happened a hundred years ago. For my generation it is the story of our great grandparents, the story of our parent’s grandparents and for me when I think of it like that it really wasn’t that long ago: yet life has changed so very much in that hundred years. It is important to remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives during 1915-1918, and this project really drove home the human reality of that sacrifice which I think left its mark on all of us.
From July the research by UWTSD students will be put on display as part of an exhibit which has been put together to remember the Battle of Somme and the college students who fought. The project was part of the practical third-year module ‘Roderic Bowen: Archives and Research’, which is available to all third-year students and is an introduction to working and researching in archives in practice.
The Roderic Bowen Library and Archives houses the Special Collections of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, the University’s oldest printed books, manuscripts and archives and is one of the principal resources for academic research in Wales. You can find out more about the RBLA and its exhibitions here.