John Clements – the Roath Patriot

My research into Roath’s fallen of WWI and WWII continues.  I’m finding their stories enlightening and so sad at the same time. Their histories are recorded on our Roath Virtual War Memorial, sadly far from being completed.  In many ways I am using the research as vehicle into helping me learn more about the social history of the area; the housing, schools and employments of the time. I thought I would share with you the story of John Clements.

John Clements Russell Street Roath

John Clements – a Roath Patriot

John’s  father Walter Clements was a Corporation labourer, originally from Ledbury, Herefordshire and his mother Elizabeth Clements nee Brown originally from Overbury, Worcestershire.  By the time they moved to Cardiff in the early 1890s they already had three children.  John Clements was their fourth, born in Cardiff on 30 Jan 1896.

John Clements 1901

The Clements family in the 1901 Census.

In the 1901 Census the Clements family are living in the ‘cottage behind the laundry’ near Sandringham Road.    This was the Roath Steam Laundry and established in 1899 on the corner of Blenheim Road and Marlborough Road. Their cottage was probably near the laundry chimney in the picture, and may even have been part of the laundry buildings itself as it doesn’t appear as a separate building on a map of the time. The other possibility is that it was the small building on the other side of Roath Brook, where St Edwards Church hall now stands.

Roath Laundry map 1901

Map of the area around 1901 showing Roath Laundry and Marlborough Road school (map from


The laundry premises were later occupied by United Welsh Mills from c.1923 and much later by Marlborough Carpets and then Bedy Buys Ltd.  The buildings were later demolished and the land now occupied by Thomas Court retirement apartments built around 2013.

Roath Steam Laundry

Roath Steam Laundry


In August 1903 John is enrolled at Marlbourough Road school.  The family address in the register appears to be Penykiew Cottage, and quite possibly the name of the ‘cottage behind the laundry’ in the 1901 census.

Entry to Marlborough Road school

Entry to Marlborough Road school in 1903. The entry shows pupil’s name, date of birth, father and address.


In 1905 John is re-registered at Marlborough Road school  but the address of the Clements family is now given as Russell Street.  A note in the margin seems to indicate he later went to Tredegaville School which would make sense.

CBS23 Marlbourough Road board school

The original Marlborough Road Board School opened in 1900, on the corner of Blenheim Road and Marlborough Road.

After leaving school he was a general labourer before joining the 7th (Cyclist) battalion of the Welsh Regiment. He was then drafted into the 2/4th Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry – and he was one of thirteen men from the city who lost their lives whilst serving with that battalion.  On 21 Dec 1916 John was with his battalion in reserve when he was killed in action, aged 20, probably by German shellfire. The battalion war diary simply states ‘The Berks and Gloucesters again took first innings in the trenches, whilst the Bucks and ourselves stayed in support. Battalion Headquarters with A and B Companies were in Wellington Huts near Ovillers; C and D went two miles further forward to some scattered dugouts between Thiepval and Mouquet Farm’. His death did not warrant a further mention at the time.  He was buried in Ovillers Military Cemetery, Somme, France (grave I. D. 17).

John Clements medals

John Clements medals and war penny


John was not the only member of his family to serve in WWI.  His father Walter and brother Charles also served in the Welch Regiment.  He brother Walter Edward Clements took a different route and served 20 years in the Royal Navy.

So why have I referred to John Clements as a patriot?  Well the residents of Russell Street  unofficially renamed the street Patriot’s Avenue in honour of the fact that the total number of men that served in WWI and WWII at least equaled the number of houses in the street. A plaque commemorating the patriots was originally unveiled in 1995 at the New Park Liberal Club in City Road.  The plaque was unveiled by Terry Clements, a relative of John Clements.

Russell Street memorial

When the New Park Liberal Club was closed around 2012 converted into flats there was a need to re-home the plaque.  The plaque now hangs outside 34 Russell Street, the former home of our patriot John Clements and a property still owned by the Clements family over 100 years after they first moved there.


Memorial on house in Russell Street

Patriot’s Avenue plaque on John Clements house in Russell Street.

It was reported in the paper:

The re-homing and restoration of the plaque was done thanks to Mossfords Memorial Sculptors, who donated the original 17 years ago previously.

Terry Clements, who grew up on the street, said it was a relief to find a new spot for the tribute – on the wall of his sister’s house.

He said: “Sadly only about half a dozen people still live in the street since the street party in 1995 – but it still means a lot to find a place for it.”

Cardiff Central AM Jenny Rathbone said: “It is humbling to think that every house in this street saw a member of their family leave to go to war.”





The rededication of the Patriot's Avenue memorial plaque.

The rededication of the Patriot’s Avenue memorial plaque with Cardiff Central AM Jenny Rathbone on right.


The Patriot’s Avenue memorial is one of the very few war memorials in the area on public display.  There used to be a WWI memorial outside Roath Road Wesleyan church on the corner of City Road and Newport Road but that church was bombed in WWII and the memorial sadly eventually lost.  Splott War Memorial survives outside St Saviour’s church and has been restored.  Most of the others that survive are inside churches or alike. As I add the fallen to the Roath Virtual War Memorial I tend to post a few words on Twitter @RoathMemorial .  Feel free to follow updates there.


The Cardiff High School Headmaster who never was.

I thought I would start to take a look at the names on the Cardiff High WWI memorial plaque.  I’ve made a slow start.  The first name on the memorial is “J L Davies.  Essex Regt (Headmaster 1915)”.  It’s a sad story, as are all that lie behind war memorial names.

John Llewelyn Davies - Headmaster Cardiff High

Major John Llewelyn Davies (Photo credit: IWM)

The war memorial plaque was originally displayed at the old Cardiff High School on Newport Road but now sited at Cardiff High School on  Llandennis Road. It was dedicated in its original position on 22nd Nov 1922, relocated to the new Cardiff High School building in 1970 and rededicated on 30th June 2006 after being restored and remounted.

Cardiff High School War Memorial

J L Davies Cardiff High War Memorial

J L Davies was Major John Llewelyn Davies. He was born in the picturesque village of St Ishmael, near Ferryside in Carmarthenshire in 1879.  His father, David Davies, was a schoolmaster.  Sometime in the next ten years David Davies moved to Neath where he became headmaster of what is now called the Alderman Davies school, more famous these days for being where Katherine Jenkins started her education.

St Ishmael, Carmarthenshire

St Ishmael, Carmarthenshire, birthplace of John Llewelyn Davies

John Llewelyn Davies attended his father’s school in Neath as did probably his five siblings.  After school he then went on to study at Aberystwyth University and then Emmanuel College, Cambridge.  He graduated with First Class honours in Natural Science and went on to gain an M.A.

Emmanual College Cambridge

Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photo credit – Wiki)

On leaving Cambridge, John went as lecturer to Carmarthen Training College (Trinity College) for a short period, and subsequently became science master at the Perse School, Cambridge.  As a  schoolmaster,  Major  Davies  was  thorough  and  successful, enjoying great popularity among his boys and colleagues.  His pupils gained  many open  scholarships at universities.

Carmarthen Training College

Trinity College Carmarthen

As well as having a passion for science, John Llewelyn Davies was dedicated to the military.  Whilst teaching in Cambridge he spent seven years as a Lieutenant in the Officers Training Corps.  When the war broke out he gave up his post at Perse School and joined the 11th Essex Regiment as Captain of A Company.

Perse School, Cambridge

Perse School, Cambridge in the late 1800s

In April 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Major.  In May he was appointed as Headmaster of Cardiff High School.  It was agreed that he would take up his post when the war was over.  On 17th August 1915 he was married to Isabel Christina Jessie Fraser B.A. in Wrexham.  Christina, a teacher,  worked at the Training College in Bingley, Yorkshire.  On 30 August 1915, just thirteen days after he was married,  John Llewelyn Davies and his battalion landed at Boulogne, and proceeded to positions at Loos.

On 25th September 1915, Major John Llewelyn Davies is killed on the first day of the battle of Loos in France, one of the bloodiest battles of WWI where 60,000 British soldiers perished.  He was aged 35. He has no known burial site.

Battle of Loos

photograph (Q 28986) Battle of Loos, 25th September, 1915. Ruined buildings in a street in Loos, 30th September, 1915. The famous Tower Bridge can be seen. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

One of his fellow officers wrote “He was very much a fine soldier and all had such implicit confidence in him.  He was so capable and absolutely to be relied upon. The regiment feels very much his loss for he was one of the ablest officers”.

John Llewelyn Davies is remembered on a number of War Memorials.  As well as the Cardiff High School memorial his name also appears on memorials at Aberystwyth University, Trinity College Carmarthen and Perse School Cambridge as well as the Loos Memorial at Dud Corner Cemetery, France.

Aberystwyth University

Aberystwyth University – one of the places Major J L Davies is remembered

His wife of just one month, Christina, continued her teaching career and never did remarry, and lived into her eighties.  She passed away in Chirk, Denbighshire in 1964.

The probate of Major John Llewelyn Davies details that the executor was his bother  Richard Jones Davies.    The probate also states that  he died as Wesel in Germany.

John Llewellyn Davies probate announcment 2nd May 2016 Cambrian Leader

John Llewellyn Davies probate announcement 2nd May 2016 Cambrian Leader

One newspaper report states that the brother, Richard Jones Davies lived in Llanishen, so maybe there was a connection to Cardiff after all.  I tried to find Richard Davies in Cardiff in the 1911 Census but failed.  It turns out he was at the time in hospital in Pinewood, Wokingham, Berkshire.  Pinewood hospital was a place for those recovering from tuberculosis, a not uncommon disease at the time.

So Major John Llewelyn Davies never got to take up his post as Headmaster of Cardiff High School. Judging by his prior achievements I’m sure he would have been very successful in that role.  A sad loss to his family and to Cardiff High School.

Trinity College War Memorial

Loos War Memorial, France (Photo Credit: Gwyn Prescott)

Subsequent Information

After publishing this blog post Gwyn Prescott (rugby and military historian) was kind enough to share with me his bio on Major J L Davies.  It contained some interesting additional information:

  • The Red Cross reported that Major John Llewelyn Davies had died of wounds in German hands at Wesel, Germany. A fellow officer wrote: “He was such a fine soldier, and [all his men] had such implicit confidence in him. He was so capable and absolutely to be relied on. The regiment feels very much his loss, for he was one of the ablest officers.”  His official date of death is given as 25th September 1915, the day on which the Battle of Loos opened. However, it appears that he may have been mortally wounded on the 26th and, as he died in Germany as a prisoner of war, his death must have occurred later. He was 36. His grave was subsequently lost so he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial to the Missing, Dud Corner, France. He is also commemorated on war memorials in Aberystwyth University; Emmanuel College Cambridge; Perse School Cambridge; and the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, London.
RSC War Memorial Burlington HOuse

Royal Society of Chemistry memorial at Burlington House, London

Gwyn Prescott also made me aware that J L Davies was a Chemist.  When I had read that he graduated with degrees in natural science I had assumed he was a biologist or alike, forgetting that Cambridge University natural science degrees cover a breadth of scientific topics.  Being a chemist myself I realised when I read his name is remembered on the memorial at Royal Society of Chemistry offices in Burlington House that I would have walked past his name on a number of occasions.

Extra bits

I’m a great believer in not only sharing the findings from research but also the methods of how to go about conducting that research.  I’m by no means an expert and there are others far more expert than me out there in Cardiff.

Researching names on war memorials isn’t always straightforward.  In Wales there are a lot of common surnames making things tricky.  On war memorials it is often only the initials and surname quoted.  And beware, sometimes errors are made even in spelling a name etc.

At least in the case of the Cardiff High war memorial plaque the regiment names are quoted which can help.  In the case therefore of ‘J L Davies.  Essex Regt’, the first thing I did was to see if he was listed on the Commonwealth War Graves.  There were a number of matches J L Davies’s but only one in WWI in the Essex Regiment and he was Major John Llewelyn Davies.  I’m still not convinced however at this stage that I have the right person.

I then spent quite a long time looking for a John Llewelyn Davies in Cardiff on the census records.  A census is carried out once ever ten years in England and Wales but the information kept secret for a hundred years.  The last census therefore available for us to study is the 1911 census. A sort of census was carried out in September 1939 but detailing a lot less information but is also available and called the 1939 Register.  Let me clarify by what I mean when I say ‘available’.  Census records are most easily searched and accessed using the two main family history websites Ancestry and Find my Past.  Unfortunately, both these are subscription websites.  Don’t get despondent, there’s good news.  Both can be accessed free of charge in Cardiff libraries.

John Llewelyn Davies

So I search for John Llewelyn Davies in Cardiff in the census information and find nothing.  This is where I made a mistake.  I should have probably just done and internet search for ‘John Llewelyn Davies’ and ‘Cardiff High School’ where I would probably have discovered that others had carried out similar research.  Instead I just kept looking for a John Llewelyn Davies on census records but without a date of birth things were proving tricky.  Eventually I found one born in Ferryside and had a father who was a schoolmaster. Then I found him in the 1911 census as a schoolmaster in Cambridge which would explain him being a member of the Essex Regiment.  Things were beginning to fit together.  A couple more bits were obtained from Wales Newspapers Online and then back to some more general searching using Google (other internet search engines are available!).

John Llewelyn Davies obit

Mid Glam Herald and Neath Gazette Dec 4th 1915 Obit

I won’t bore you with every avenue I took during my search but I did enjoy doing it.  If you are interested in starting off or honing your skills I can recommend the Glamorgan Family History Society.  They periodically run courses for beginners and have a session on the first Saturday of the month at Cardiff Central Library for more experienced researchers who may have hit a brick wall in their particular project.  A number of Cardiff libraries also run sessions for beginners such as Cathays and Rhydypennau and maybe some others.

My final recommendation is a train trip to Ferryside and St Ishmael, the birthplace of Major John Llewelyn Davies.  I went there earlier this year and the views across the estuary to Llansteffan and Laugharne were something else.  Don’t forget to tell the train conductor you want to get off however as Ferryside is a request stop.  More about that trip on my own blog Cardiff Capers.