Tribute - Mr Emrys Jones




On Wednesday we laid my father to rest in the little cemetery at Capel Soar above the village of Talsarnau . It was my father’s ardent wish that he be buried in the small churchyard there with his parents, sister, grandparents, great-grandparents and   . . . well, I’m not sure how many generations are there in all . . . My father became a member of Capel Soar in the 1920s and remained a paid up member all his life and despite playing an active role in the life and business of other chapels he remained faithful to Soar to the end.

My father was born less than two hundred yards from Capel Soar in a little cottage called Gwndwn on May 8th 1920 the second of six children to Robert and Maggie Gwynedd Jones.

After his school career in Talsarnau Village School and at Barmouth County School, in 1938 my father went to serve as an apprentice to Mr Griffiths Chemist in Penrhyndeudraeth one of his tasks being to replenish the perfume display cases rented by Mr Griffiths at the Portmeirion Hotel. On the outbreak of war in 1939 my father volunteered for the RAF much against his father’s wishes but failed his medical for air crew owing to an irregular heartbeat. Not being discouraged he decided to train as an RAF medical orderly.

Following his training he was posted to Torquay and was based at the Palace Hotel which had been requisitioned for an RAF Officer’s Hospital. Here he worked under the famous surgeon SirArchibald McIndoe who was developing groundbreaking new techniques in to plastic surgery on aircrew with burns sustained during the Battle of Britain. In more recent years when my father had plastic surgery himself he was less than pleased with the treatment he received and remarked to the surgeon that he had seen better work done 60 years ago.

He was posted overseas to the Middle East with 238 Squadron in May 1941 sailing from Gourock on the Clyde on the liner the RMS Duchess of Bedford – going the long way round via Capetown and the Suez Canal to Cairo – to avoid the German U Boats in the Mediterranean . He spent the next five years moving with his medical unit around Egypt , Libya , Tunisia , Palestine , Syria , Jordan and Lebanon not returning home to Talsarnau until 1946.

He was a member of the Clwb Cymraeg Cairo, Secretary of the Clwb Cymraeg Jerusalem and made regular contributions to the Welsh Language Forces Newspaper for the Middle East – ‘Seren y Dwyrain’ – serving as their Jerusalem correspondent whilst he was based there.

For almost three years he and 238 Squadron moved from one desert based landing ground to another; sleeping in dugout bivouacs and wrecked vehicles as the campaign moved to and fro across the Western Desert including a period in November 1942 when the Squadron operated behind enemy lines having been isolated by a German push. My father talked very little of his wartime experiences but his photograph album and his aerogramme letters home document some of the hardships endured. As far as we know my father was never involved in direct combat but was bombed and strafed regularly and the five years away took their toll – he was hospitalised for some time with cerebral sandfly fever and his hearing was sadly permanently damaged by the noise of the guns and bombs.

At the end of the Desert Campaign he was posted to Jerusalem where he ran a medical centre for the RAF and did research work into malarial mosquitoes. It was in Jerusalem that he met Alun Smith Jones through their shared hiraeth for their homeland and the need to speak in their mother tongue. Alun, who was serving in the Palestine Police Force, was to become a lifelong friend and stood by my father as Best Man at his wedding. They were later to spend many happy times together through their mutual love of field sports and perhaps the one thing my mother will not miss is to having to pluck and gut pheasants, grouse, rabbits and the like that he had shot for her to cook.

The end of the war in Europe on the 8th May 1945 coincided with my father’s 25th birthday which he celebrated in Cairo . With all his friends being demobbed and returning to Britain my father realised he did not want to return to an apprenticeship but he didn’t have enough points to go to further education. He struck a deal with his commanding officer and in exchange for a reference to get him into college he agreed to run a Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinic for   RAF servicemen in Cairo for twelve months.

At the end of his time in Cairo he was posted to Stranraer in Scotland from where he was demobbed in May 1946. With his wartime airforce experience he was able to enrolee in the Welsh College of Pharmacy in September 1946 where he was to meet my mother Audrey in September 1947.

His first job as a qualified pharmacist was in Bowen & Ellis Chemists in Bangor . He took the job with a view to becoming a partner in the business which had been offered as a carrot but after two years it was clear that this was not going to happen and my father went south to be nearer his fiancée. He worked for MR Hislop in a pharmacy near the Plaza Cinema on North Road, Gabalfa for a few months before moving to the Penygraig Cooperative Chemist in Gilfach Goch. It was whilst working here that my father married my mother at St Mary’s Church, Whitchurch on July 18th 1953 . Whilst this was without doubt the happiest day of my father’s life he regretted forever that his beloved grandmother – Nain Tynyberth whom he adored – had died a couple of weeks before – he so wanted her to be there and for her to be proud of him.

My sister Nerys was born eleven months later and the family moved to a flat above the pharmacy at 43a Gaer Road , Newport on Nerys’ first birthday – the first business my parents owned themselves. Derfel came along in August 1956 and I completed our little family in April 1960. The years in Newport were happy ones with my mother running the pharmacy at the other end of Newport in St Julians

When my father was finishing college back in 1949 he was offered a placement as locum at Howell’s chemist in Barry – he really loved the experience and enjoyed the buzz of being in a busy pharmacy which served all the ships and visiting seamen coming in to Barry Docks. At the end of the job he asked Mr Howell to offer him first refusal should he ever consider selling the business – a confident request from a young man who was just graduating and didn’t have two pennies to rub together. The phone call was quite a while coming but seventeen years later in 1966 Mr Howell contacted my father and asked him if he was still interested. My parents bought the shop and my father commuted daily for two years before he moved as a family to Sully in July 1968. The two shops in Newport were sold and a Pharmacy at 37 Corporation Road in Grangetown was bought, which with Howell Chemist, 80 Holton Road, Barry and a discount toiletry shop at 56 Holton Road, Barry became the family businesses where we all did our stints on weekends and school holidays.

Howell Chemist was also a Shipping Chemist and Derfel and I used to love going on board the GEEST boats in Barry Docks bringing bananas in from the Windward Islands and the National Environment Research Council ships which came in to Barry after six months in the South Atlantic and Antarctic. My father replenished the dispensary in the sickbays of the ships and issued certificates allowing the ships to leave dock. And in those halcyon days before health and safety, Daddy and Derfel used to come home with all kinds of creatures that the crew of the banana boats had collected from their cargo, - spiders, locusts, lizards and snakes which they killed with chloroform and preserved in formaldehyde and Derfel kept in jam jars in his bedroom.

As well as being an extremely busy working environment and the hub of my father’s career the dispensary at 80 Holton Road was also the nurturing ground of friendships that were to last him to the end: friends like Dr Denzil Davies and my father’s own doctor Akram Beig whose support my mother and our family have greatly appreciated during his final illness.

On a family holiday to Talsarnau in the early sixties my father’s brother Ieu introduced Nerys and Derfel to the joys of homing pigeons and we returned home with two birds as pets. This was the start of an all encompassing hobby for my father which lasted until he was forced to retire from the sport in 1985 when he was diagnosed with pigeon fancier’s lung where the bloom from the feathers had reduced his lung function to 40%. His accomplishments in the sport were legendary and amongst the many trophies that he won were; two gold medals, four silver medals and one bronze medal from the Pigeon Olympics in Poland , Belgium and Germany . He was also the only fancier to have won the coveted Queen’s Cup on two occasions in 1968 and 1975. His breeding strain still features in successful pigeon racing lofts and he served as President of the Welsh North Road Pigeon Federation for over 30 years.

When he was forced to give up the pigeons he didn’t waste any time in developing a new passion and with his friend the late Cliff Jones he renovated and re-roofed Capel Bethel in Rhiwbeina. Capel Bethel and its community became a whole new raison d’etre for my father and he enjoyed great fellowship from the chapel members and thrived on its supportive Christian environment.

My father’s faith was strong throughout his life and as a family we have often rolled our collective eyes as Taid excused himself from the table on a Sunday evening to watch Dechrau Canu, Dechrau Camnol... knowing that within minutes my father would be singing along at full volume with that week’s congregation. Lloyd and Carys remember a particular instance when the family was at my house for Sunday dinner and whilst everyone was playing Cludo in the dining room my father slipped off to watch Dechrau Canu... The singing soon began and... not being blessed with his younger brother Geraint’s beautiful singing voice my father’s discord was soon raising the decibels... accompanied by loud banging in protest from my neighbours. Daddy, being so hard of hearing was blissfully unaware.

Family was everything to my father. And this wasn’t limited to his own brood... My father was just as interested in the welfare and progress of his siblings’ children and grandchildren as of his own. He followed their careers with great interest and cared deeply about them. He was never happier than with his family around him and Christmas was of course a great opportunity to gather together. Our family home was always just slightly more Christmassy than Santa’s Grotto and my father loved it. His sense of the importance of family was acute and extended to a greater family, family history and the roots of his family. In recent years a distant cousin... linked our family in Talsamau back to the Welsh Princes and Rhodri Fawr and Hywel Dda. And it is this sense of history and roots that my father was very anxious to instil in us as children. As he and my mother were raising us here in south Wales he wanted to make sure that we knew where we were from. Family holidays for Nerys, Derfel and I were nearly always in Talsamau and we loved it... learning about nature the trees and the birds, walking along the traeth, fishing with Uncle Bob, gathering cobb nuts with Auntie Jin and collecting the eggs from Auntie Tywyna’s chickens. And this was something that my father made sure that he passed on to his grandchildren in turn — Nerys, Alun and the boys holidayed here where my father was able to share the playground of his own childhood with Richard, Robert and David ensuring that they would appreciate the lands of his fathers.

Daddy’s brother Ieu recorded this in a poem he wrote to mark his 80th birthday:

A throist d’olygon nawr ers tro
  I chwilio hen ddogfennau,
Rhwyddhau ein hawl ar ruddin hen,
  Brenhinbren Maesycaerau.
A phan ddaw hoe i fynd am dro,
  Awn yno i’r hen frodir,
Lle bu ein hil yn trin a hau
  Hyd leiniau brwnt fynydd-dir.

In 1980 my parents and a group of friends and colleagues from Barry bought Villa 111, Senhora da Rocha in Armacao de Pera on the Algarve and for twenty years the family were lucky to be able to holiday together in the sun but most importantly for my father he could bring his siblings together to share quality time together and a good time was had by all.

At the Denbighshire Eisteddfod Genedlaethol in 2001 my father was inducted into the Gorsedd y Beirdd in recognition of his support for both Welsh Cultural life and the sport of pigeon racing in Wales.

Inspired by the clock at his grandparent’s home Gwndwn he started collecting grandfather clocks and my parent’s house vibrates to the sound of his collection. I will never forget the look on my father’s face when a very young Robert handed him the pendulum he had taken out of one of my father’s longcase clocks saying, "I’ve been very busy Taid, it was very hard work. I think I should go for a rest now".

Nerys and I were lucky to be able to take my parent’s on holiday to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary. We drove down through France and visited the graves of two of my father’s forebears who died in the First World War — his Great Uncle Dafydd Ty’n Llan and Uncle John Rees Jones. This was a personal pilgrimage that my father had been longing to make for many years as although he had never met them they had figured greatly in his formative years by their absence. We then travelled on to Switzerland and Montreux which was where my parents spent their honeymoon in 1953. My father’s romantic nature hit us all full square when on our first morning in Montreux he sat down at the breakfast table in the hotel and emptied an envelope on to the table. The little pile of tram receipts, match books, hotel lobby labels, restaurant menus etc were all souvenirs of his honeymoon that he had kept safe for fifty years without my mother’s knowledge.

My father had to have a project - he was never very good at sitting still - there was always something that had to be done. .. our family home Tir Na N’og in Sully sits right on the sea bank of the Bristol Channel and in his late sixties my father decided King Canute—like to build a 144ft long stone wall to keep back the sea - he decided to build the wall single-handed and for reasons better known to himself started in early November toiling in wind, rain, sleet and snow to finish it by February · and when we questioned him or suggested he leave it until better weather he would simply say that there would be other things to do in the summer. ..

If this eulogy has seemed a little long, I make no apology and I haven’t even mentioned his passion for Welsh language literature, his vegetable garden, his Koi Carp or even John and Charles Wesley — my father had a full, long and good life and many of you here will have known him for one part or another of his life but few will be aware of the whole Emrys, Uncle Em, Taid.

During his life my father travelled far spending five years in the Middle East during the Second World War - travelling to Hong Kong and Japan with his pigeons - following in the footsteps of St Paul in the Eastern Mediterranean on the Reverend Cynwil Williams’ chapel trips, family trips to Portugal and journeying to Patagonia and Chile with the Gorsedd y Beirdd and yet despite all his trips and travels and all the experiences he lived, in reality he only travelled full circle a matter of two hundred yards in his whole life – from cradle to grave – from his birthplace in Gwndwn to the churchyard at Capel Soar.