A Harford Tale


Yesterday we wrote of soldier-epicure-boulevardier Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. Today, it’s about another soldier, the plainly-named John Griffiths. Newnham-Davis was an infantry officer in a good regiment retired from stations in Transvaal, Ceylon and India to take up food writing and other journalism in London.

Sapper J. Griffiths was an enlisted man raised in Haverfordwest, Wales. “Harford”, as it’s called locally, is in southwest Wales, an area with considerable English-speaking history and traditions despite the distance from the English border.

Not to say the Welsh tongue is unknown in the corridor running from Harford to Milford Haven at the sea, and more so today with the revival of Welsh culture.

Griffiths wrote a letter in 1915 from France to his parents. They found it amusing and worthy of notice by the local paper, The Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph.

The editor readily published it (see here) and one can see why.

French Beer Don’t Make You Zig Zag

Sapper J. Griffiths, of Albert Street, writes an amusing letter to his parents from France, where he is attached to the 20th Signalling Company. He says: I am going on fine and you need not worry about me as I am as safe here as you are in England. We are not very far from the firing line and go up there now and again. I am very glad to hear that Phil (his brother) is alright. The poor Terriers got it pretty bad at the Dardanelles, and I am glad we did not go there. We get plenty to do out here and are at it from morning till night, but that does not trouble me as I have got to do my bit as well as the others. I met one of the Rodneys here the other day. He is in the Artillery. The French beer is a penny a glass and you can drink it from morning till night and it won’t make you zig zag as the French people say. I really think I shall learn to speak French if I am out here ten years. I forgot to tell you about the French people giving their children beer and I think they give it instead of tea. I had a feed of frogs the other day and they were quite all right. I suppose you don’t know how Stump (see letter to Guss Hugh in this issue) is getting on? With best from your loving son, John. Mr. Griffiths has also received a letter from his son Phil who is with the 14th at the Dardanelles. He was all right on the 29th of August.

With the British understatement that seems to be going out in our confessional age sapper John rattled off a series of observations calculated to unnerve, a little. Some were based on typical English prejudices of the day, harmless as they were. The others revolved around the Griffiths’ fully justified concerns for their son’s safety, and for John remaining John.

He hits all the bases: he is safe as can be, only going to the “firing line” “now and again” while being at it “from morning till night”.

French beer is washy, not the heady British stuff they would know, so no zig-zagging yet at times he is drinking all day. (Remember the pivotal role of Welsh pulpits in promotion of British temperance).

The food was funny as he just ate a mess of frogs, the eternal English horror story of French eating. And he kind of likes it.

The French have loose family morals as they serve beer to the kids (which they used to, but just a little and it had only a skosh of alcohol).

John is British as can be and “doing my bit as well as the others”, yet incipient Europeanization should be feared as he’s learning French and could be in the country another 10 years!

In other words, despite the benign tone the John they raised in Albert Street of Pembrokeshire seems a different person under stress of war. A little gomping, eh?

But it’s tongue-in-cheek of course, jaunty, John is having some “good fun” as the British say.

This Welsh tourism site states of the area:

Haverfordwest has many famous sons and daughters including the artists Augustus and Gwen John, the poet Waldo Williams, the actors Rhys Ifans and Christian Bale as well as Suggs from Madness.

Soldier John Griffiths was not a noted artist or celebrity but shared with those mentioned a gift for expression. I hope he survived the war, and brother Phil too.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Welsh tourism site, Visit Pembrokeshire, here. All copyright in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.