A new generation remembers a former student: Gwilym Williams B.A. (1890–1916)

A hundred years ago today, 22 May 1916, Gwilym Williams of Nant-yr-afr Fawr farm, Tre-lech a’r Betws Carmarthenshire was buried in Merville Cemetery, France. His family are marking the centenary of his death this weekend by visiting his grave.

Gwilym was a graduate of the Department of Welsh, Aberystwyth and a promising poet. He won numerous eisteddfodic chairs, including the Chair of the University Eisteddfod in 1912: his winning ode was entitled ‘Gwanwyn Bywyd’ (Springtime of life) and the competition was adjudicated by T. Gwynn Jones.

Gwilym Williams

Gwilym Williams

Gwilym graduated with honours in 1913 and taught at Newtown and Walsall near Birmingham. In July 1915 he joined the army and was made a lieutenant in the 17th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The battalion sailed for France in December, and in Mai 1916 Gwilym was in Fauquissart. He was injured in the throat by a bullet Saturday 20 May and died the following day in the hospital at Merville. Gwilym was buried at Merville Cemetery 22 May 1916; he was twenty six years old.

Amongst those mourning Gwilym was his friend, Jane Helen Rowlands of Porthaethwy who had been a student at the University College, Bangor and who dedicated her life to missionary work. She later became a well-respected Bengali scholar.

The two met as members of staff at Newtown Secondary School, and letters in the family archive attest to their close relationship. Indeed, Hefin Wyn M.A. believes that Helen Rowlands’s decision to become a missionary influenced Gwilym’s surprising decision to go to war.

Hefin Wyn says (translated from the Welsh):
“‘Helen of Anglesey’, as she was known, would send letters from Assam to the family every May for years following Gwilym’s death, in which she spoke about her feelings for him. In one letter she notes ‘Here is the most pure-hearted lad I ever knew’. One must conclude that a broken heart compelled Uncle Gwilym to go to the battlefield. His farewell stanza to his girlfriend attest the strength of his feelings:

Draw i randir yr India – mae Helen
Am hwylio o Walia;
O’n golwg ni. O gwylia
Hi dros y dŵr, Iesu da.
(Helen will sail from Gwalia/ to a region of India;/ out of our sight. Oh, good Jesus,/ watch over her at sea)”

Remembering Gwilym Williams
Gwilym Williams was the great uncle of another of the Department’s alumni, Hefin Wyn, and an event was held to remember Gwilym 18 May 2016 in the Old College where he had spent much time as a student. It was a pleasure to welcome Hefin Wyn and other members of Gwilym’s family to the event.

The event was led by Hefin Wyn who gave a splendid lecture interweaving personal research and family oral history: ‘O Nant-yr-afr i Merville: cofio Gwilym Williams B.A. 1890–1916’ (From Nant-yr-afr to Merville: remembering Gwilym Williams B.A. 1890–1916. Inconceivable numbers of men and boys were killed during the Great War and learning the details of one life like Gwilym Williams is a way of understanding the loss to families, communities and the nation.

A small exhibition of Gwilym Williams’s life and works was organised to coincide with the event, including the Eisteddfodic Chair that he won in 1912, a photograph of Gwilym in his military uniform, as well as numerous letters. The exhibition included two letters that he wrote from the trenches 18 Mai 1916, a tribute by D. J. Williams, as well as other documents and photographs from his students days at Aberystwyth.

The event was brought to a fitting close by staff and current students of the Department who read a selection of Gwilym’s own poems from the memorial volume Dan yr Helyg (1917), as well as original poems that were inspired by this former-students powerful story. Gwilym’s Poems can be read online as they are now available electronically on the National Library of Wales’s Wales1914 website: Dan yr Helyg (1917) on Wales1914.

Gwilym Wms darlleniadau
(From right to left: Hefin Wyn, Eurig Salisbury, Endaf Griffiths, Iestyn Tyne, Marged Tudur a Miriam Elin Jones)

Many thanks to Ceredigion Museum for the loan of the beautiful wooden display cabinets used in the exhibition.

Student Led Teaching Awards 2016

It is wonderful to be able to congratulate two of our colleagues in the Department of Welsh and Celtic Studies on being highly commended in this year’s Student Led Teaching Awards: Mrs Rhian Haf Davies (Support Staff of the Year) a Dr Ian Hughes (Supervisor of the Year). The awards acknowledge their excellent work and we are glad of this opportunity to thank them and congratulate them both warmly.
Rhian ac Ian SLTA 2016
Dr Ian Hughes is about to retire and so this is also an opportunity to acknowledge his immense contribution to the Department. Ian is an inspiring language teacher (for both Welsh and Irish) and a clear and balanced interpreter of the Arthurian legends and the Mabinogi. As a scholar, he specialises in medieval Welsh prose and we look forward to reading his forthcoming volume, Bendigeiduran Uab Llyr, a Welsh edition of the second branch of the Mabinogi. We will miss his unstinting support and intelligent humour. As one current student eloquently stated, ‘Ian Hughes *%£#@! rocks!’

Comhghairdeachas agus go n-éirí leat, aireoidh muid uainn go mór tú

Many thanks to every one of our students who showed their appreciation by nominating Rhian and Ian this year!

Erasmus+ exchange at Aberystwyth – Juliana’s story

Sut mae! My name is Juliana and I am a student at Philipps-University Marburg, Germany where I study European Literatures, English Literature and – most importantly – Celtic Studies. As a student of those three things it was always my plan to spend one year abroad. And so I did! And I came to Aberystwyth. (Obviously, why else would some girl from Germany write an entry on this blog?)

I have to admit that at first, Aber was not my university of choice. I wanted to go to Dublin. (Sorry!) But I changed my mind quite quickly after our Head of Department and other students who have already been to Aber, recommended it to me by heart. And the truth is, I have never regretted this decision since.

I came to Aber in September of 2014 and as someone who had just left home to live in a different country for one year, I felt a little lost in my first few days. But with amazing flatmates it didn’t take me too long to feel at home. Especially because the Celtic Studies Department took me in and gave me a lot of advice and support. Through the Celtic Studies Society I felt even more welcome. Everything is so much more personal there. It felt so amazing, being in a place where the Celtic culture was and is still lived and preserved.

When I started university, I’d never heard of Celtic Studies before and I began studying them out of mere interest and curiosity. I stuck with them and I became more interested and curious with every semester. All the exciting experiences I made in Aber weigh in a lot on that. The people, the culture, the seaside…the sunsets! Overall I am just so grateful for this year.

And one little anecdote to finish: an old English teacher of mine spent her year abroad in Aberystwyth too. Years and years ago. And she still returns once a year every year since!
Juliana Dümler (Erasmus+ student)

A Day in Future Wales – a glimpse of the future!

Researching into Welsh language science fiction has led me to many different places. I often wander to space, searching for aliens, and via time machine to distant futures… This research, being the first of its kind in a Welsh language context, is a constant adventure.

I also, of course, have been on many adventures in the real world, away from my books. One of the most recent was the opportunity to arrange a bilingual conference, Diwrnod yng Nghymru Fydd / A Day in Future Wales, with Rhodri ap Dyfrig, formerly from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television.

The conference, held at Arad Goch Centre in Aberystwyth, was an opportunity for everyone to gather and discuss ideas relating to futurism, specifically in a Welsh context. Bleddyn Bowen, a research student at the International Politics Department, was invited to introduce the political economy of space and its potential for Wales. There were also talks about art and video games, and later, a performance by Eddie Ladd and Nico Dafydd introducing Owain Owain’s almost-forgotten science fiction nofel, Y Dydd Olaf (The Last Day). During the afternoon, I chaired a discussion about the state of Welsh language fantasy and science fiction literature today, featuring authors, Elidir Jones and Ifan Morgan Jones, and academic Dr Gareth Llŷr Evans. It became clear that more needed to be done to promote genre literature in Welsh.
Diwrnod panel
This wasn’t an exclusively academic conference. It was an invitation to celebrate Welsh futurism, and the day was topped off with HMS Morris and Roughion gigging in the evening. After almost three months of making arrangements, seeing everything come together was a great feeling. Without a doubt, this has been one of the most exciting adventures of my research so far.

Miriam Elin Jones (BA Welsh), PhD candidate funded by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol

Happy retirement

We wish every success to Dr Mihangel Morgan, who is retiring after lecturing in the Department for 22 years. His contribution to the life of the Department has been multifaceted, as a gifted writer, a searching critic and an inspirational lecturer – and friend. Furthermore, he has always been a positive and witty presence in departmental boards and Christmas parties.

Mihangel has generously donated dozens of volumes to us, and two original pieces of calligraphy for display.

We look forward to celebrating his contribution to the Department once Semester 1 examinations are over. In the meantime, we wish Mihangel a happy (and creative!) retirement.

A warm welcome in Edinburgh

This week saw the final annual meeting in Edinburgh of the Leverhulme-funded project ‘Women’s Poetry in Ireland, Scotland and Wales 1400–1800’. Previous meetings have been held at other participating institutions, namely Aberystwyth University and National University of Ireland, Galway.

The team spent the morning finalizing the structure of the anthology of original texts in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Scots, Anglo-Scots, Ulster Scots and English. The final edit will include new poems discovered during the course of the project! With the content of the anthology firmly in place, we turned our attention to the jointly-authored critical study that will elaborate the fascinating comparative threads highlighted by the poems and poets that we have selected. We were all struck by the specific generic and national differences in the material: from the politicized elegy of Irish and Scottish Gaelic women poets to the Crown Loyalism of Welsh women balladeers!

It was a pleasure to be in such a vibrant city as Edinburgh and to be welcomed by colleagues at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures on George’s Square. It is always a pleasure to work with Dr Sarah Dunnigan of the Department of English Literature, and it was great to meet colleagues in the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies. We look forward to returning next year to deliver papers on the project’s findings.

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