No. 473117; A man of the Great War
John Llewellyn Evans was born in 1893 in Newport, and grew up in Whitchurch, Glamorgan. A bright boy, he spent a happy childhood with his mother, father, brother and sister, attending Cardiff High School before receiving an Exhibition Scholarship to attend the Monmouth School for Boys in 1908. He left after a year, however, to work at a Bank in Cardiff. In 1913, he left his home, his family and friends, and embarked on an adventure to Canada, where he soon got a job for the Union Bank, and was appointed a position as bank clerk in Yorkton, Sasketchewan. It was this chain of events which meant that, when World War 1 broke out in 1914, the young Welshman enlisted in the Canadian Army. After a series of training programmes and recommendations, he arrived back in Europe on the SS Olympia in 1916, and, after a short stint at the Canadian Military School in Shorncliffe, Kent, was shipped to France in September of that year to join the 54 Battalion.
On St David’s Day 1917, John Llewellyn Evans fell to his death during the preparations for the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Writing to his mother, his Colonel reports that “he fell when gallantly leading on his men, and that his body was actually the furthest into the German lines of the whole of the British. It is something to be proud of to have given a son like that.”
This information about my Great Uncle was discovered by my nephew during his studies at Sandhurst. Now an Officer with the Welsh Guards, my nephew Tom organised a family pilgrimage to the Pas de Calais last March, to follow in the footsteps of John Llewellyn. We visited Vimy Ridge, his graveside at Villers au Bois, and the beautiful Ring of Remembrance memorial at Lens. The trip was incredibly moving; not one of us had known about the bravery of our ancestor, least of all my father who, on 23 March 2016, placed a single rose on his Uncle’s grave.
I was particularly taken by the land at Vimy Ridge. Now owned by Canada, the land has been left without having been farmed or interfered with. The undulating mounds covered in grass and trees bring to mind a place where magical creatures may live, but the truth is far from magical. These are the scars of shells and trenches; the battle forever embedded into the memory of the land.
No 473117; A man of the Great War began as a book for my family, as a record of this trip and as a memorial to John Llewellyn Evans. However, as I began working on it and looking back at the photographs I had taken during our time in France, it occurred to me that this was much more than a personal story. This is a story of the other 687 men who died that day; the other 3,598 who died during the Battle of Vimy in April 1917; and the other 17 million men who died during World War 1.
Each of us has our own story of an ancestor who gave his life for the future of our country 100 years ago, in the belief that he was doing was going to change the lives of future generations. The landscape of these battles tells their tale. This project is to remember all of those brave men; and to teach our children about their sacrifice.
No 473117; A man of the Great War book and accompanying exhibition launches on 24 February at The Army & Navy Club, Pall Mall, London. Register to attend here.
The Landscape of Conflict, an event exploring the nature of photographing past wars and the memory of the land, takes place on 25 February at The Army & Navy Club with Carole Evans, Andrew Youngson, Marc Wilson & Gina Glover. More details and registration here.
The exhibition will be touring to the Monmouth School for Boys in June this year.