Lemuel Thomas Rees – saved by a Bible

Lemuel Thomas Rees
Service number: 12/29573
Rank: Private
Regiment: South Wales Borderers, 6th Battalion.

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Thomas with sister Elizabeth Ann and brother David Griffith Rees

Lemuel Thomas Rees, known to his family as Thomas lived at Cross Inn, Blaenannerch, Cardigan in 1896, the eldest son of John and Sarah, brother of Elizabeth Ann and David Griffith Rees. He volunteered for service at the start of the war but was rejected on medical grounds but in 1917, he was conscripted into the army as a Private in the South Wales Borderers, 6th Battalion.

Thomas served in the trenches in the Battle of Passchendaele, also referred to as the Third Battle of Ypres, where he encountered the full horrors experienced by thousands of his comrades. As a pioneer Battalion, the 6th spent most of their time on the army lines, where they were tasked with repairing and making communication trenches, tramways and roads and building a bridge for tanks over the river Douve. Under the continuous German bombardment and heavy rain, the trenches were in a fearful state, the mud thigh deep in places, making movement impossible. Under these difficult conditions, the working parties were constantly shelled by heavy artillery fire and machine-gunned by aircraft.

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Bible that saved Thomas Rees’ life

It was during these attacks, Thomas took the brunt of the force of an exploding German shell that landed in the trench along side him. As the shrapnel, debris and mud was strewn across the area, he was hit. His life was saved by the small pocket Bible that was presented to him by the Cenarth C. M. Sunday School, which he kept in his breast pocket. He was seriously wounded and spent four months in a field hospital before being sent home on leave.

lemuel-thomas-rees-newspaperDuring this home leave his brother witnessed his nightmares, shouting and bayoneting imaginary German troops as he slept. Whilst at home, a reception concert was held in Cenarth in his honour where he was presented with the usual soldier’s comforts, the gift of the Cenarth Sewing Class and a sum of money collected, amounting to £4. The concert was reported in the local newspaper.

Thomas returned to action in and for the duration of his time in northern France, Thomas wrote letters to his sister Elizabeth, and she responded by writing verses, mostly in Welsh to him. One of the verses reads:

“Er dy fod, fy mrawd anwylaf
Ym mhell o’th gartref annwyl cu
Draw ar feusydd Ffrainc yn ymladd
A’r gelynion creulon cry’
Nid oes dydd yn mynd heibio
Nac un funud chwaith yn wir
Pan nad ydwyf fi yn cofio
Am fy mrawd mewn estron dir.”

the closest English translation being:

“Even though you are, my beloved brother,
Far away from your loving home
On the battlefields of France
Fighting the mighty, cruel enemy;
Not a day passes by
Nor yet a single moment
When I am not reminded
Of my brother in a foreign land.”

In July 1918, the 6th Battalion were in the Godewaersvelde area struggling unsuccessfully to find accommodation for the troops. Diary records show that on the 14th ‘very little cover available and the men were very wet before shelter could be found’. By the end of  October 1918 numerous soldiers had been evacuated to field ambulances owing to the combination of influenza. Thomas died, aged 23, of bronchial pneumonia and the effects of gas attacks in a hospital in Boulogne on 13th November 1918, just two days after the peace treaty had been signed. Thomas’ belongings, including the Bible that saved his life were returned to the family after he was buried in Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France.

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Thomas Rees’ memorial card