The Welsh National Book of Remembrance for the First World War contains the names of 35,000 servicemen and women, as well as members of Welsh Regiments, who lost their lives in the First World War. These individuals are listed according to regiment and battalion alongside the names of those who might well have died alongside them.
Following a campaign in the Western Mail in the early 1920s, money was raised to build a Welsh National War Memorial. After much debate it was located in Cathays Park, Cardiff. No names listed on the monument itself, therefore the committee decided that a ‘roll of honour’ would be created, which became this Book of Remembrance.
The elaborate design of the Book was the work of the respected calligrapher Graily Hewitt at his workshop in Lincoln’s Inn, London. It is a huge volume approximately 32 x 48 x 15cm in size, bound in Morocco leather, with gold lettering and lines on the covers and spine. The following appears on the cover: "HEREIN ARE RECORDED THE NAMES OF THE MEN AND WOMEN OF WELSH BIRTH AND PARENTAGE AND OF ALL THE MEN BELONGING TO THE REGIMENT OF WALES WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE WAR OF 1914-1918 A:D: THEY ARE COMMEMORATED BY THEIR FELLOW COUNTRY MEN IN THE MEMORIAL ERECTED NEAR BY." It contains approximately 1,100 pages with around 40 names on every page. Each name has been individually written in calligraphy, and the gilding techniques are a revival of those used in the Middle Ages, turning what is essentially a list of names into a work of art. However, even though the volume is so impressive and beautiful, it is important to remember that it is a record of the sacrifice of some 35,000 Welshmen, and that figure is only a fraction of the 17 million people that were killed around the world during World War I.
Of the thousands of entries in the book, one name symbolizes the sacrifice of an entire generation of young Welsh people. Ellis Humphrey Evans (1887-1917) of Trawsfynydd, the poet Hedd Wyn, lost his life on 31 July 1917. He had joined the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers following the 1916 Military Enforcement Act, and sailed out to France in June 1917. He posted his poem, 'Yr Arwr', to the 1917 National Eisteddfod to be held at Birkenhead from the village of Fléchin in Northern France. When 'Fleur-de-lis' was asked to stand and receive his prize at the Eisteddfod the crowd was told of the death of the winning poet, Hedd Wyn, six weeks earlier on the battlefield of Flanders fields near Ypres. The chair was covered with a black cover, and from then on that eisteddfod was known as the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair. The Black Chair became a symbol of all the empty chairs in homes across Wales.
The symbolic significance of the Book is often seen to be as important as its role as a record of the fallen. At the unveiling ceremony of the Welsh National Memorial, the programme stated: “The collection of the names… was a work of considerable magnitude… and although the list can scarcely be claimed to be absolutely accurate and complete the greatest care has been taken to make it so.”
At the ceremony for the dedication of the memorial on 12 June 1928, the front page of the Book that contains the words ‘Er Cof’ [In Memoriam] was signed by Edward, Prince of Wales
The Book of Remembrance is kept in a specially constructed underground vault at the Temple of Peace in Cardiff. The Temple of Peace was founded by Lord David Davies (1880-1944), a politician, philanthropist, internationalist and veteran of World War I, as a gift to the Welsh people. He had witnessed conflict first-hand in the trenches of the Somme and believed that the way to avoid the bloodshed of another world war was through international cooperation, in particular through the work of the League of Nations. He wanted it to be “a memorial to those gallant men [and women] from all nations who gave their lives in the war that was to end war”, and so it was dedicated to the memory of the loss of life as a result of the 1914-1918 War. The building was created from raw materials from various countries, in order to emphasize the international nature of the work carried out within the building. The building was opened on November 23, 1938 by Minnie James of Dowlais who represented the war-bereaved mothers of Wales - she had lost three sons in the war. In dedicating the building, Mrs James said: “[it is] a constant reminder of the debt we owe to the millions who sacrificed their all in a great cause and as a symbol of our determination to strive for justice and peace”.
The Welsh National Book of Remembrance, which until then had been held at the National Museum of Wales, was placed on display in a glass and French bronze case on a pedestal of Belgian marble, as it was on French and Belgium land that most of them had died.
The National Book of Remembrance was digitised by the National Library of Wales in conjunction with the Welsh Centre for International Affairs as part of the Wales for Peace programme. By digitising and publishing it on the web, Welsh people around the world will have access to the thousands of names inside its cover. To make it easier to find individuals, the Library has developed software to enable volunteers to transcribe the content. Over 100 volunteers have been busy transcribing and tagging the names – a digital act of remembrance so that each person can be remembered for generations to come.