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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.