Each year, at the University’s Remembrance Day ceremonies, the story of one veteran is told. This year, Denize McIntyre from the University’s Directorate, shares the story of Private Thomas Richard Davies Ray.
If it’s possible for someone to be more singular, among an exceptional group of men, then that is how you’d describe Thomas Ray. Glamorgan’s first students in 1913 were not generally drawn from the lowest level of working men, but many came from backgrounds which we might describe as middle class; many had good skills and education levels when they arrived here. But Thomas was born in Treherbert in the Rhondda on 1st of October 1885 and by the time he was 15 he was already working as a ‘hewer of coal’. His was hard and dangerous work, hacking at the coal face itself. He lived in a two-up-two down terraced house with 6 other lodgers and a family of 5 – totalling 12 people in all. He would have earned about 1 shilling and 9 pence a day (1), or 10/6 a week (52 ½ pence). How he was chosen by the colliery owners to be among the first group of just 30 or so students to be sent to the South Wales and Monmouthshire School of Mines will remain a mystery, but it must have been because somebody, a foreman or a manager, saw something exceptional in this young man as he was one of a quarter of a million men employed in the South Wales coal industry in 1913 (2).
Thomas lived in Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley and he was employed at the Bute Colliery in Treherbert. The Troedyrhiw coal company paid his tuition fees for 1913/14, and these cost £2 10 shillings (about 4 weeks of Thomas’s pay). Before arriving here, Thomas only had an elementary education which he’d left about 14 years earlier. So it’s no surprise that he enrolled on a level 1 course which involved studying ‘Mechanics and Heat’, ‘Physics and Chemistry’, Colliery Practice’ and ‘Principles of Mathematics’. His attendance wasn’t good and his marks at the end of the academic year reflect this. But Thomas wouldn’t have been paid for the days he attended college so perhaps his poor attendance tells us something about his need to be in paid work.
Imagine, then, how this opportunity to get an advanced education would have changed Thomas’s life if war hadn’t intervened. But it did intervene and, despite being in a reserved occupation, Thomas volunteered for service almost straight away. He enlisted in Pentre, and joined the Army Service Corps. The Army Service Corps was important for continually re-supplying the materials of war, whether it was bullets or bread and the range of their tasks was immense. Thomas was assigned to the enormous Bulford Camp on Salisbury plain in Wiltshire – which still exists today. We don’t know exactly what role Thomas undertook at Bulford but from his Army service number we can tell that he was in the Motor Transport Branch. It seems quite clear that Thomas never left these shores because after little more than a year in the Army Thomas died in a tragic accident. On Monday, 13th December 1915 Thomas accidentally fell down stairs and fractured the base of his skull and he died in the military hospital at Bulford camp.
For his family and friends there may have been a crumb of consolation in that Thomas could at least return home and have his family and friends pay their respects at his graveside. He was brought home to Treherbert on Thursday the 16th of December and his funeral took place the following day with full military honours. Among the stories about local weddings and the Christmas show, the local newspaper reported Thomas’s funeral on the front page. He was attended by the Volunteer Training Corps, the Ambulance Brigade, a large company of local soldiers and the Ty Draw Brass Band. Thomas was described as being “…held in high esteem in the Upper Rhondda where he was well known”. (3)
As Thomas’s gravestone in Treorchy Cemetery so quietly puts it, “For King and country he died. In God and in peace he lived”.
1 Source: The South Wales Coal Annual,1913
2 source: 10.3.2011, http://www.thevalleys.co.uk/site/attractions/industrial-heritage/mining
3 Rhondda Leader, 25th December 1915.