David’s War – 1st Batt RWF 1878 – 1938

Private David Richards 1st Batt RWF 1878 – 1938

On the 13 September 1916 a photograph and letter were printed in the Llangollen Advertiser. It was from Pte David Richards a Prisoner of War in Switzerland.

FUNERAL OF PTE. COMPTON, WELSH REGIMENT.

We have just received the enclosed letter from Private D. Richards, 5534, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, whose wife lives at 18, Derby Road, Wrexham.

“Pension, Edelweiss, ‘Leysin D.  Aigles, Switzerland. 24 Sept 1916.

Dear Sir, I take the liberty of writing these few lines to you. I have just been reading your paper dated 13th September, 1916. It gave me great pleasure to read the news of the counties. It was the first paper I had seen for nearly two years, having been captured on 21st October, 1914 and been a prisoner of war in Germany till my arrival in Switzerland on the 11th of August, 1916. We were very delighted to read of the exciting military boxing contests at Oswestry. I am sending you a few photographs which I brought from Germany I thought they might interest. The funeral cards are of a comrade that was killed by Germans. His name was Walter Compton of the Welsh Regiment, and the group that is standing is a working party. Their names are Pte. Wicklin. Royal Warwickshires, Pte. Plamer. D. Richards and Morris, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Pte. Adams, Royal Warwickshires, Pte. Warner, Royal Welsh, Fusiliers. Another is of the camp at Gottingen, while the others are of myself one taken in Wrexham in August 1914, and the other in Germany, 1915. We had a great reception on our arrival in Switzerland. From the time we got over the frontier we were cheered by enthusiastic crowds at the railway stations; and all along the line of route we were smothered with flags, and flowers. You may think how we felt to be free again. I am at Leysin D. Aigles. It is a very lovely place. We are improving a lot. Well, I will draw my short letter to a close.

I remain yours, etc.  

Pte. D. Richards. R.W. Fusiliers.


“We understand from Miss Violet Bury of Wrexham that the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Prisoners’ of War Association are arranging, to send Mrs. Richards to Switzerland to visit her husband, from whom she has been separated since August 1914. It will be remembered that Mr. H. S. Higginbottom of Liverpool and Cefnybedd has kindly offered to defray the cost of sending the wives of half a dozen soldiers to see their husbands in Switzerland.

The full details of Walter Compton`s death were reported over a period of weeks in September in several South Wales newspapers.


Alleged Murder by Germans.

It is reported that Private Walter Compton, of the Welsh Regiment, has been murdered at the prisoners’ camp at Gottingen under peculiarly revolting circumstances. When war broke out Compton who had only been married a month was working as a collier at Penrhiwceiber, and was immediately called up as a Reservist. He went to the front right away, and was taken a prisoner at Mons. News of his death has just reached his relatives, and the story of Russian and French fellow-prisoners is that Compton when being taken out to work one day complained of illness, and asked to see a doctor. The sentry refused and tried to force him to work, stabbing him several times with a bayonet. An under-officer who was fetched finished Compton off by shooting him with his revolver.  Private Walter Compton, of the Welsh Regiment, resided at Ty’rfelin Street, Penrhiwceiber, and prior to joining worked at the Penrhiwceiber Colliery as a miner. Pte. Walter Compton’s wife and child now reside at Pond Street, Caeharris, Dowlais. His brother, Pte. Harry Compton, of the Gloucester Regt., is now at Alexandria, and his aged father lives at Sherston, Wilts.

Penrhiwceitter Soldier’s Burial in Germany.

Further particulars are now to hand regarding Private Walter Compton, of Penrhiwceiber, details of whose death while a prisoner of war in Germany have already been published. Private Walter Compton was a native of Shearston, near Bristol, and had resided at Penrhiwceiber for about four years. He was 30 years of age. Mrs Compton, who is a native of Abertillery, has received from Sergeant-Major G. Shea, a fellow prisoner, a letter stating that her husband died on the afternoon of May 6th. Describing Private Compton’s funeral, he says that, besides 50 other followers, the British Choir attended and sang “Peace, perfect peace,” at the grave side. The whole of the English in this camp, and I may say other nation alities as well, join with me in expressing our deepest sympathy in your great loss.

As if the family hadn’t suffered enough another report appeared in October 1916.

PENRHIWCEIBER SOLDIER DROWNED.

Private F. Compton, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, has been accidentally drowned whilst bathing in Egypt. The sad news has just been received by the deceased soldier’s father at Sherston, Malmesbury.  Pte. Compton worked at Penrhiwceiber before joining the Army. He was a brother of the late Pte. W. Compton, Welsh Regiment, also of Penrhiwceiber, who was taken a prisoner by the Germans, and into the circumstances of whose death at Gottingen the British Government is now inquiring.

Walter Compton`s War Grave Certificate confirms his date of death, he died 5 May 1916 aged 36.  2nd Bn. Welsh Regiment. No 8665.  Husband of Maggie Compton of 77, Church St., Aber-bargoed, Bargoed, Cardiff.  It also shows he is buried at Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel, Hessen, Germany.  This cemetery was begun by the Germans in 1915 for the burial of prisoners of war who died at the local camp.  Walter had been first been  buried in Gottingen  Military Cemetery, but  in 1922-23 it was decided that the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who had died all over Germany should be brought together into four permanent cemeteries.  Niederzwehren was one of those chosen and in the following four years, more than 1,500 graves were brought into the cemetery from 190 burial grounds in Baden, Bavaria, Hanover, Hesse and Saxony.

David’s war service records haven’t been found, they were probably among those lost in September 1940, when a fire was caused by an incendiary bomb at the War Office Record Store in London, it was estimated that about 4 million soldiers’ documents for the First World War were destroyed. However, an estimated 2.8 million service records survived the bombing. Luckily from his letter there is an address and it`s clear he has a wife. David is one of the soldiers in the photo, but there is no indication which one and none of the other photos he sent were printed which is a great shameFrom some of the few records that have been found they show he enlisted in the RWF Special Reserve on 11 August 1914 and   went to France on 6 October 1914. The  RWF 1st Bn casualty book  state he landed on 7 October 1914, and was reported missing   on 20 October 1914.  He was a PoW at Gottingen before being exchanged to Switzerland on 11 August 1916 and finally returned home on 14 June 1918. His regimental number was 5334.

In January 1916, the first contingent of French and German POWs suffering from tuberculosis arrived in Switzerland. The French were sent to Aigle in the Romandie; the Germans to the Grison resort of Davos. After the successful launch of the project, the Belgian and British governments joined the system. The internees were placed in internment regions according to their nationality. French and Belgians were quartered in the regions of Montreux and Lake Geneva, in Aigle, Leysin and surroundings, Montana and Lower Valais, Gruyère, in the western Jura Mountains, Upper Valais, in the Aargau spa town of Schinznach and in wide parts of the Bernese Oberland, whereas the British were placed in Château-d’Œx, Murren and partially also in Leysin.

It’s probable that David was sent to Switzerland because he was ill especially as in his letter he wrote “We are improving a lot”

His POW records state that his last camp in Germany was Mannheim. He had arrived in Berne, Switzerland for internment on 11 August 1916, another place where he was interned was in Murren at the Alpina Hotel, before moving on to Leysin, Aigles.

David had been born in Coedpoeth in 1878, his father Robert Richard was a Master Shoemaker, his mother Eliza Hirst was from Liverpool. When he was 3 the family were in Coedpoeth, but by 1891 they had moved to Bridge Street in Wrexham. Robert and Eliza were both born about 1842.  The known children were Thomas John b 1870, Eliza Ann b 1871, Mary Elizabeth b 1875 George William b 1876 David b 1878 and Emma Jane b 1880 and Sarah E b about 1882.

Sarah Jane Parry was the daughter of Joseph Venables Parry and Harriet Hughes, she was born in Wrexham in 1871. There were a lot of children in the family, Joseph had been a tailor but by 1891 he was a bill poster living in Charles Street. Sarah Jane was still with her family in 1901.

In the summer of 1908 Sarah Jane Parry married David Richards in a civil marriage. In 1911 the couple are at 18 Derby Road, and David is a plate layer at Brymbo Steelworks also there is John Venables Parry aged 27 and Harriet Parry aged 78.

It`s not known what happened to David after he returned home in 1918, his father Robert Richards had died aged 69 in April 1911. His mother Eliza had gone to Bolton and died there in 1919 aged 77, she was brought back and buried with Robert. Sarah Jane Richards hasn`t been found for sure and no children’s birth registrations have matched their surnames.

David died in 1938 aged 62, in 35 Derby Road, Wrexham and is buried with his parents and his unmarried sister Mary Elizabeth who died in 1948. There is no headstone on the grave.

Researched by Annette Edwards, with military help from Max D. December 2018.

Grave ref: Wrexham Cemetery R-04841