The Great War and the Valleys

Merthyr Tydfil and the Cynon Valley

Cymraeg

The First World War was the first modern war to harness the full power of industry. On the battlefield the large scale of the fighting, with mass armies, needed an enormous volume of resources to continue the conflict. This meant that large parts of the economy at home had to be geared to provide guns, ammunition, ships, food and other resources. This new type of ‘total war’ included civilians as well as soldiers and seamen in the war effort. The industrial valleys of south Wales played an important part in both aspects of the war effort.

This exhibition reflects this reality by focusing on the town of Merthyr Tydfil and the Cynon Valley at the heart of the south Wales coalfield. It explores attitudes to the war and how a variety of groups and individuals responded in their different ways to the conflict. It shows how many men volunteered to fight, while others did not join the armed forces when compulsory military service was introduced in 1916. It also recognises that opposition to the war was a prominent feature of life locally. The lives of civilians were transformed during the war in a variety of ways.

Table of Contents

1. Remembering and Commemorating War

The First World War has been a controversial event ever since it began in August 1914. Historians have debated the causes of the war whether the killing was justified. But it is not just historians who have interpreted the war in different ways. The war was controversial to pe...

2. Initial Responses

Different sections of society took opposing standpoints on the need for war in 1914. David Lloyd George, the most prominent Welsh public figure and Chancellor of the Exchequer, argued that the conflict was a war to defend the ‘five-foot five nations’ – small ...

3. Bringing the War Home

The First World War was fought on two fronts. The first of these was the battlefields in such places as Flanders, northern France, Gallipoli and the Far East, and the naval battles at sea. The second front was the battle for hearts and minds at home, which was conducted throug...

4. Discontent on the Home Front

Following the outbreak of war the government passed a controversial Act of parliament called the Defence of the Realm Act, known as DORA. This allowed the authorities to prosecute and fine or imprison people who said or did something prejudicial to the war effort. It was used ...

5. The End of Hostilities

The fighting ended with an Armistice that came into effect on 11 November 1918. The first response to the end of hostilities was relief that the fighting had come to an end. There were public celebrations in all towns. However, there was no straightforward return to peace. The...

6. The Cost of War

The cost of the war was counted in both financial terms and in terms of the human costs of the loss of life and casualties. A War Savings movement was inaugurated in Britain with the aim of funding the war effort from voluntary investments. As the war progressed the movement b...