Losing Betsy

William and Sera Thomas were married in 1885 and were determined to make a good future for themselves and their family.

They stretched themselves financially by buying Nant Gwynau Farm near the village of Llansawel in Carmarthenshire, Wales and had to work from dawn to dusk to make ends meet. They eventually had six children which increased the workforce but also the number of mouths to be fed.

My father Jack was their third son who could be relied upon to be up in time to help with the milking and still be ready to walk the three miles to the village school, singing as he went. When I was a child he would tell me of the delight of having two eggs for breakfast on his birthday. He would eat his very slowly just to make his siblings jealous!

Grandpa Thomas allowed himself one luxury in life and that was breeding horses and even this became profitable over a period of time.

His favourite breed was the Welsh Cob and when one of his mares produced a female foal called Betsy, he knew that he’d hit the jackpot! She had the perfect colouring, temperament and Moved like a dream. Needless t say she started winning top prizes in every show in the vicinity. As a result when she started having foals they in turn began to fetch high prices.

Jack shared his father’s love for horses and it was a pleasure for him to help with the feeding, grooming and training. He and Betsy had a rare affinity for each other. She seemed to have an instinct for knowing when he was approaching the gate of her field and would gallop to greet him, offering her head to be stroked and nuzzling him with her nose.

In 1914 when World War One began the two eldest sons joined the war effort, increasing the workload of the remainder of the family. Jack at thirteen was the oldest boy left behind and he would be up before dawn on the day that his father had to go to market. The nearest was at Llandeilo and it was essential to the economy of the farm that he took in as much produce as possible to sell to the townsfolk.

On one such morning everyone was very anxious as a rumour had circulated that the military were going to be at the market that day to requisition horses for use in the war. Grandpa Thomas knew that if he took one of Betsy’s sons to pull the cart they would almost certainly be requisitioned however Betsy was heavily in foal and this would be a cast iron case against her being taken.

When he was dropped off at the farm gate later that day by a sympathetic neighbour they all realised that he had made the wrong decision. Betsy would never come home again.

That night the whole family wept but no-one was more heartbroken than Jack, whose world had just crumbled. The military had paid a paid a price for Betsy which reflected her quality and that of her unborn foal and this sum lifted the family virtually out of debt, but none could face the prospect of what she was about to experience.

Shortly after this episode Jack went to work in a large department store in Swansea where he lived above the shop. He did well and saved hard and in 1931 married my mother.

I was his only daughter and we were very close. He often talked about Betsy and would sometimes draw sketches of her. Outwardly he was a very cheerful person but I know that he bore the burden of grief for Betsy to the end of his life.

Elizabeth Joseph – Swansea, Wales