Robert John Evans’s early life was spent in Bryniau, Ochr y Marian, in the small hamlet of Cwm near Dyserth. He was the first born child of John Thomas Evans and Caroline Lewis. Like their father before them the first three children were born in Cwm: Robert in 1895, Thomas in 1898 and Mary Jemima ( Minnie) in 1901. Their mother had been born in Dyserth. The family was Welsh speaking and their father, Thomas senior, worked as a carter transporting stone from the quarry to places where it was required for building walls. He employed other men to assist him with this work.
By 1911 the family had moved to a small farm in Dyserth. Pen y Bryn was situated just off the top of the High Street. Thomas and Caroline had by now been married for 17 years and there were five children. Two more had been born after they moved to Dyserth – Peter William Edward Evans (Bill) in 1902 and Joseph Hubert Evans in 1905. They had a live-in servant in Pen y Bryn: 17 year old Annie Roberts. The older boys helped their father – carrying stone and working on the farm. Both fought in the Great War.
Later two more sons were born: Noel and Albert. Albert’s daughters, Carolyn and Mary, have contributed to this story about their family.
The children attended the village school. Apparently Robert was known by his contemporaries as “Don Pen y Bryn.”
Don enlisted in Prestatyn – probably in the latter part of 1914 – and was first recruited into the Welsh Horse Regiment later serving with the 1st Battalion of the South Wales Borderers.
The Welsh Horse Yeomanry did not exist before the Great War. It was raised in August 1914 under the administration of the Glamorgan Territorial Force Association. Its headquarters were in Cardiff. Later in 1914 it moved to Newtown and came under the Montgomery Territorial Force Association. This may have been when Don Evans joined up. By early 1915 it had moved to Diss in Norfolk. There were three battalions in all, only one of which served overseas. By 1917 the Welsh Horse Regiment had effectively ceased to exist as its troops had been absorbed into other regiments.
We do not know when Don transferred to the South Wales Borderers. However by researching the location of his Battalion on the day he died we can make an educated guess as to where he was at the time.
The War Diary of the 8th Canadian Battalion gives a flavour of the action as the 1st Battalion South Wales Borderers were involved in the same mission. The weather at Ypres had been dull and wet for most of the preceding week and the diary states that on the 7th of November 1917 “during the night the Hun bombed this area very heavily”. On the evening of the 9th the Canadians suffered heavy casualties.
The diary continues:
“At 6pm on the 9th inst., the assembly of the Battalion in the Jumping Off Positions commenced and all Companies had reported ready to “go over”, by 10.30pm. Unfortunately the Company Commander of the Left Assaulting Company had been wounded and the command of this Company had to be entrusted to a somewhat junior subaltern.
During the evening the Scout Officer of the 1st South Wales Borderers reported that there was no suitable place for a Battalion HQ in his Area and asked that we should let him use the Pill Box at D.5.b.central. Orders were issued to have two of the compartments of this Pill Box cleared and information was sent to Brigade HQ that this section had been taken. At 1am the Scout Officer reported that a tape had been laid across our front and parallel to our final objective.
Between 3 and 5am on the 10th, the enemy put down an extremely heavy barrage with 4.1 and 5.9 calibre guns. This barrage fell about 50 yards behind our assembly lines, and whilst no casualties were caused by it to the assaulting troops, it was a source of considerable anxiety, and made the reception and dispatch of messages from the MOSSELMARKT dugout almost an impossibility.
Punctually at 6.05am our rolling barrage opened and from the window of the dugout it was possible (at about 6.30am) to watch the advance. At 7am the observer reported that the Battalion was retiring in considerable disorder from the objectives, and having ascertained that it was quite true that large numbers of khaki clad soldiers were returning over the crest at our objective, the reserve company was ordered forward to the support of the Left Assaulting Company.
However, at 7.15am the O. C. the Support Company, 1st South Wales Borderers came into the HQ and reported:-
- that three companies of the 1st SWB had lost direction and pushing the Left Assaulting Company of the 8th Battalion over to the right had advanced on the 52nd contour.
- that the two supporting platoons of “D Company” the 8th Battalion had continued in its normal position in support of the Left Assaulting Company.
- that for some reason a large number of the 1st SWB had after reaching the 52nd contour returned to their original jumping off line, leaving the left flank of the Canadians entirely exposed.
- that heavy machine gun fire had opened from VOCATION and VOX farms which had not been mopped up in the advance.
- that the Munster Fusiliers on their left flank had altogether failed to advance.”
Don Pen y Bryn was killed in action on this day – the 10th of November 1917 having been in the army for 3 years.
The story goes that when his mother heard of his death she went down the field towards Carreg Heilin to a big tree where she could be heard screaming…..
The Register of Soldier’s Effects shows that he left £19/17/2 (nineteen pounds, seventeen shillings and two pence). A War Gratuity of £8.00 was paid to his mother.
Don’s father died in 1919. By this time his brother Thomas had been demobbed and Caroline, no doubt, had the additional burden of seeing him suffer from the effects of having been gassed during the war. She looked after him until his premature death in 1932. Thomas’ story is on the next page on the Dyserth Memorial website.
Caroline’s granddaughters remember her as a shrewd and determined woman. She apparently helped people who were hard up by lending them money. Daughter Minnie had a milk round and if customers didn’t pay up her mother had been known to threaten them with a solicitor’s letter!
To her credit she set up a building firm, built houses in Dyserth and rented them out. She saw to it that all her surviving sons had a trade. The “Evans brothers” as they were known worked in the family business.