The War Graves of Ystradgynlais

James William Givens

James William Givens served with the Royal Army Service Corps on the Western Front and in East Africa during the First World War, and died in late November 1918, after the conclusion of the Armistice. He appears to have gone by the name of William, his middle name.

He was in his forties, and as such had two sons in the war, John Alfred Givens and William Sherlock Givens, both of whom survived the war. In addition, his wife had been married before, and he thus also had a step son in the war, Harry Bickerdike Furness, who was killed in action in 1916.

The information on James William Givens has been compiled from a number of sources, including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, from the Labour Voice newspaper, and the Parish Burial Register (courtesy of the Swansea Archives).

NameJames William Givens
Date of Death30th November 1918
Place of DeathPLACE
Age at Death45
Unit and RegimentRoyal Army Service Corps
Service NumberM2/098458
Additional InformationBorn Yorkshire 1873 Prior to enlisting on May 15th 1915 worked as a railway wagon repairer
Local MemorialsYstradgynlais War Memorial
Family DetailsHusband of Mary Jane GIVENS (Born Yorkshire) Formerly Wife of James Russell FURNESS
Known SonsJohn Alfred GIVENS (Born Yorkshire 1896) Coal Hewer
William Sherlock GIVENS (Born Yorkshire 1898)
Known DaughtersElizabeth Ann GIVENS (Born Yorkshire 1901)
Known Step ChildrenSon: Harry Bickerdike FURNESS (Born Yorkshire 1889) Coal Hewer
Son: Thomas Nicholas FURNESS
Son: William Preston FURNESS
Son: James Russell FURNESS
Daughter: Jessie B FURNESS

The Llais Llafur of 1st May 1915 records that J W Givens had offered his services to the army:-

Mr J W Givens Lower Cwmtwrch, formerly wagon repairer at the Gurnos Goods Yard, who has been ill for many months past, has, we are glad to learn, returned from a long visit to Yorkshire fully recovered in health. Mr Givens' many friends in the district will be interested to know that he has offered his services to the Army as a motor transport driver and expects to leave the district shortly.

The Llais Llafur of 31st July 1915 records an interesting letter from Private Givens on his war experiences:-

We have received an interesting letter from Private John W. Givens, of Mount Pleasant, Gurnos formerly a wagon repairer at the Midland Railway yard, who is now serving as a motor transport driver with the Army Service Corps at the Marlborough headquarters. After expressing his appreciation of the "Labour Voice" and all its local news, and stating that he is enjoying very good health, Private Givens goes on to describe the work of the transport drivers.

He says "We are camping out in the motor lorries now, and are getting fit for active service. I cannot say when we shall be going away, there are many rumours, but we cannot place trust in them. The whole of the 16th division has left for the front quite lately. I have no doubt you would like some details of how the motor transport system works. Here you are! Men are going from all over the country. They are first sent on to Grove Park, Lee, about 10 miles out of the London area - a place first built as a workhouse. It was intended to hold 100 beds in each of the eight blocks, and there are the usual dining rooms for such a place. It is really a sight to see the men lined up for their breakfast, dinner and tea. It is here that the men are given their clothes and other requisites for their kit. They are also given two blankets, and at 9 p.m., find their selves led into the rooms where the dining tables are all put on one side and the men are told to make their beds on the floor. Over 200 sleep here in this fashion, some on the tables, two put together to make a bed, and some on the floor underneath. You must try and imagine what such a condition of things really looks like. Some of the fellows snore so loud that they find sundry things boots, etc., forcibly thrown at them, and one is often asked how the feather bed is going down Then the sergeant of the guard comes and threatens to put noisy ones out into the yard for the night if they are not quiet. The men manage to get two or three hours' sleep, and then they are up at 7 for roll call, and they take two hours to feed. We have accommodation for 800, but we have 3,000 here!

After a day or two like this the men are detailed off to some company of transports - mine is 258, and they are either sent here to Marlborough, or to Bury St. Edmunds, or to Rufford. Then we get detailed off to lorries and we drill with rifles and march and drive our convoy, to train us in our work. Our food is good, but very roughly given out, and there is enough to spare. As a matter of fact if all the food that is wasted was given to the poor of Ystalyfera, they would all enjoy a good hearty meal every dinner time. All things considered, we have nothing to grumble at but it would not do for anyone to come thinking they are going to have a soft time of it.

From the Labour Voice newspaper, 21st August 1915 :-

Private J. W. Givens of Mount Pleasant, Lower Cwmtwrch, formerly local representative of a wagon repairing company at the Gurnos Sheds and who joined the Motor Transport Service a few weeks ago, is now over in France. He was first stationed at Havre and later in Rouen but we gather has now gone to the Base. Private Givens is evidently busy, as no letters have yet been received from him since he left England - postcards only.

From the Labour Voice newspaper, 25th March 1916 :-

Interesting letters have reached the district this week from local boys at the front. Private John Givens (of the Motor Transport) is in a cheerful mood regarding the conclusion of the war and says he will be greatly disappointed if he won't be home by June. And peace declared.

From the Labour Voice newspaper, 14th April 1917:-

John Givens, whose home is in Cwmtwrch, employed in an aeroplane factory somewhere in England, visited his home during the weekend.

From the Labour Voice newspaper, 3rd November 1917:-

Private John Givens Cwmphill Lower Cwmtwrch who is with the A S C has been home on a month's furlough from a Lancaster hospital. He returned this week.

The Labour Voice newspaper of 8th June 1918 records Private Givens being on hospital leave in Cwmtwrch. It is interesting to note how the initials get reversed, presumably because although his first name was James, he went by the name of William:-

A reception concert was held at Bethel Chapel Cwmtwrch on Wednesday evening under the auspices of the local S. and S. Reception Committee, presided over by the Rev. W. T. Hughes (Beulah) when a hearty welcome was extended to Private William J. Givens (Motor Transport) and David T. Davies (2nd Mons.) two local soldiers home on hospital leave.
Private Givens was attacked with fever in German E. Africa and was brought to Barton in Sea in March last.

The Labour Voice newspaper of 7th December 1918 records the death of Private JW Givens, without giving a cause of death. We are investigating whether calling him George is a transcription error, or one made in the newspaper at the time.

We regret to report the death of Mr George Givens, Cwmphill, who passed away on Saturday last at the age of 45. Mr Givens had seen three years' service in the army, and was at present on furlough. He was the head of a family with an excellent service record, having lost one son in action, whilst another has been a prisoner of war in Germany, but returned home this week, and another is still on service. A large number attended the interment at Beulah on Wednesday.
Mrs. Gibbon, who resided near Beulah, also passed away on Sunday last. She had only recently come to reside at Cwmtwrch, and died as the result of influenza. A sad feature of the case is that the whole of the family is also ill.

The Labour Voice newspaper of 15th February 1919 reported on a memorial service held at Beulah Chapel, Cwmtwrch, to revere the memory of the fallen soldiers of that community.

An impressive memorial was held at Beulah Chapel, Cwmtwrch, on Sunday when the three Churches united to revere the memory of soldiers who had enlisted from within the district covered by the Lower Cwmtwrch S. and S. Reception Committee and have died in the war. Rev W. T. Hughes, Beulah and Rev W. P. Jones, Bethania, officiated in English and Welsh, respectively. Mr A. W. Griffiths (chairman of the committee) read out the Roll of Honour, after which the orchestra played The Dead March in "Saul," and Mr Johnny Walker sounded the "Last Post", the vast congregation standing. Rev W. T. Hughes then preached in English, and Rev W. Jones in Welsh, followed by a short address by Mr. Benj. Williams. J.P. Suitable hymns were sung during the evening.

ROLL OF HONOUR The Roll of Honour is as follows:

Private Lewis Holt, 14th (Swansea Battalion Enlisted October 10th. 1914. Wounded at Mametz Wood. Died in hospital in France, July 24th 1916

Private Thomas O'Connor, Irish Guards. Enlisted September, 1914 wounded, and killed on the way to dressing station in Belgium, June 18th 1917

Sergeant Marsden. Enlisted at outbreak of war and fell in action in France

Private George Haydn Francis, Welsh Regiment Enlisted February 8th 1915 Fell in Mons, May 25th 1915

Private Harry Bickerdike Furniss 14th Welsh (Swansea Battalion) Enlisted November 17th 1914. Fell in action on the Somme, July 11th 1916

Signaller William T Williams S.W. B. Enlisted August 1914 Fell in action in France, May 30th 1918

Private Harold King, Brecknocks, Enlisted September 1st 1914, afterwards transferred to S. W. B. Wounded February 17th 1917 in the attack upon Kut-El-Amara (Mesopotamia) Died February 19th

Private Richard Reginald Taylor M.G.C. Enlisted September 10th 1917. Fell in action. France July 28th 1918

Driver Harold Martin R. E. Enlisted March 22nd 1915 Died at de Treport (France) October 1918.

Gunner Edgar Phillips, R.F.A. Enlisted October 14th 1914 Gassed in France and died at Sheffield, October 14th 1918

Private John Wm. Givens Motor Transport, A.S.C. Enlisted May 15th 1915 Served in France and East Africa where he contracted fever. Died November 30th 1918

Private Danny Weston, 14th Welsh (Swansea Battalion) Enlisted October 10th 1914 Fell in France November 7th 1918

Staff-Sergeant Alfred Williams A.S.C. Enlisted December 1914. Fell in France September 1915.

Private Tibbet Lewis, S.W.B. Enlisted April 24th 1918 Reported missing since September 18th 1918

John Alfred Givens and William Sherlock Givens

The two natural sons of James William Givens served during the First World War and survived. Here we report some of the newspaper stories that mention them.

From the Labour Voice newspaper, 5th September 1914

Recruiting in all parts of the Valley for Foreign Service in the Territorials has been very brisk, and this week the number has reached the excellent figure of 39. All these men (from the Pontardawe, Ystalyfera, Ystradgynlais and Abercrave districts) have entered the ranks with great enthusiasm, and they leave the Valley this week, probably Friday, for the training centre. The following is a list of the recruits:
Ystradgynlais = John Alfred GIVENS Mount Pleasant Lower Cwmtwrch

From the Labour Voice newspaper, 18th September 1915:-

Several more Lower Cwmtwrch and Gurnos boys have been home on furlough during the past few days. Among the number Private Sherlock Givens, who is with the 10th Battalion South Wales Borderers and stationed at Winchester.

From the Labour Voice newspaper, 19th August 1916:-

We also regret to announce that Private Sherlock Givens, of the S. W.B., has been officially reported missing. He was last seen on July 11th, but since then, nothing further except the official intimation has been heard of him.

About the same time, Private Weston son of Mrs. Weston, residing near Beulah, wrote, that the last he had heard of Private Harry Furness, the step-brother of Sherlock Givens, was that he had been wounded in the leg. No news has since been received of this young man. We also sympathise with Mrs. Givens, more especially as her husband is "doing his bit" as well in France.

From the Labour Voice newspaper, 2nd September 1916:-

A few weeks ago we announced the death in action of Private Sherlock Givens of Lower Cwmtwrch. This week we are pleased to state that Mrs Givens has received a postcard from her son stating that he is a prisoner in Germany. We trust Private Givens will soon obtain his release.

The Children of H B Furness

The South Wales Voice of Friday September 30th 1960 records the death of William Preston Furness.

His wife, Dora, had predeceased him in 1957.

News of her death was carried in The Voice 6th December 1957:-

Information about her funeral was carried in The Voice 13th December 1957:-

J W Givens was one of 14 men of Cwmtwrch remembered at a memorial service held in February 1919. The write-up in the Llais described his service thus:-

Private John Wm. Givens Motor Transport, A.S.C. Enlisted May 15th 1915 Served in France and East Africa where he contracted fever. Died November 30th 1918


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