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Our Museum during the Great War

Jennifer Evans, 5 January 2016

This post is a synopsis of a Behind the Scenes event I presented on September 30th 2014. It consisted of looking at a “snapshot” of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ activities during the WWI period. Information was obtained through scanning our scrap books, publication archives and photographic collections for the years 1914 to 1918 and extracting interesting items of news concerning  staff and exhibitions.

However, the first thing I did was to warn everyone that in 1914 this is what we looked like….

Archibald H. Lee

We still existed of course, established by Royal Charter back in 1907 but, without a finished building to call our own.

Therefore, during this time while construction of the building was in progress, administration was carried out in offices close by at Park Place and the Kingsway area while exhibitions were held in temporary galleries next door in City Hall.

Cyril Mortimer Green

I centred the staff news on three people...

Eleanor Vachell

Archibald H. Lee, the Museum Secretary, who saw active military service and was decorated with the Military Cross after fighting at Gaza. He returned to work after the war and remained Museum Secretary for 44 years, finally retiring in 1953. He appears in many photographs of special events and royal visits over the years. 

Cyril Mortimer Green, who had been appointed as Botanical Assistant in 1914, but never got to take up his post. He held a Commission in the 3rd Royal Sussex Regiment, went abroad to fight early on in the war and was eventually killed on active duty in November 1917. 
His death is all the more poignant because, not only did never take up his position at Museum, his brother Hugh Mortimer Green had also been killed on active duty in 1915.

Click the link below and scroll down for more information on Cyril and his brother.

Eleanor Vachell, spirited and outstanding amateur botanist who stepped in to take charge of the botany collections, while Cyril Mortimer Green was absent on military duty. She did this, with the help of pupils from Cardiff High School for Girls, whilst also supporting the war effort as one of the ‘Committee Ladies of the Auxiliary Workers Territorial Forces Nursing Association’ at the hospital set up in Howard Gardens, working as both nurse and librarian.

Eleanor was the daughter of Charles Tanfield Vachell [1848-1914], a member of the Cardiff Naturalists Society, serving as its secretary and president for many years, he was also behind the creation of the Cardiff Municipal Museum and was a member of the National Museum Wales council.

Eleanor compiled, with her father, the Vachell herbarium that contains 6,705 dried specimens and is one of the most complete herbaria ever collected by a private individual. This is now held here at the Museum along with a very large collection of their own personal library on British floras.

I also looked at the problems faced in the construction of the building due to a lack of basic materials that had been re-allocated for the war effort. The progress must have been excruciatingly slow and all material orders had to apply via license applications to The Ministry of Munitions and the Report for 1917/18 it is stated that work was suspended completely for a time…

Unfortunately it has become necessary to suspend work on the New Building, and an agreement terminating the contract has been entered into with the builders, Messrs J. Willcock & Son. The roof had already been completed and the windows have been filled with oiled canvas so that the structure is now weather proof… Some of the rooms in the New Building are already in use for storage of specimens. NMW Annual Report p. 9

One of the most enjoyable parts of researching this talk was looking at the exhibitions that were held through the war years and there were plenty of them! Because even though the country was at war, the Museum still had an obligation to the public to carry on programming exhibitions and events. Here are just a few of the many exhibitions held at City Hall and for which we hold the original catalogues...

Turner's Welsh Drawings

Open from Oct 26th 1914 to Jan 30th 1915 and visited by over 8,000 people

Exhibition of Modern Belgian Art

Held in 1915 from March 17th to April 15th….visited by over 6,000 people.

Exhibition of Topographical Prints and Engravings 

An exhibition of Prints and Engravings of places in Wales was opened on July 27th 1915 and closed on October 30th The number of visitors to the exhibition was in excess of 7,000.


Lovett Collection of Toys

A unique collection of children’s toys and playthings lent to the Museum by Mr. Edward Lovett, of the Folklore Society. The exhibition was originally intended to close on August 16th 1915 but in view of the interest it aroused, and to give school children an opportunity of visiting it during the whole of their holidays, the date of closing was postponed to September 2nd. The total attendance was 21, 889.

I also found mention of a number of war related exhibitions held at City Hall but for which we do not hold the catalogues…

Exhibitions of Women’s War Work 

A Ministry of Munitions exhibition of photographs illustrating women’s war work during February 1916

Exhibition of Allied War Photographs 

An Exhibition of Allied War Photographs held in 1917 from August 4th to 20thand visited by nearly 4,000 people.

British Battle Photographs [in colour]

An exhibition lent by the Ministry of Information. This was opened in November 1918 closed on the 11th December, and visited by about 3,500 people. 

I concluded the talk by showing two other WWI related items held here in the Library. The first was a volume of military portraits of soldiers from the Welsh Horse Yeomanry. This regiment did not exist before the Great War; it was formed in August 1914 under the administration of the Glamorgan Territorial Force Association and headquartered in Cardiff [Sophia Gardens]. The title page states that the album was presented to Alderman J. Robinson, who was Lord Mayor of Cardiff (1913–1914) and it was donated to the Library on the 27th April 1932 by Councillor R. G. Robinson.

More information on this regiment can be found on this page recounting the history of the Welsh Horse Yeomanry.

Jennifer Evans

Assistant Librarian

Comments (7)

Comments are currently unavailable. We apologise for the inconvenience.
Mr David Ridout
2 November 2020, 10:49
In response to Mr Richard Fry Australia I would love to send on the photo of George to you. He appears in
Owen Ross Comyls book The Welsh horse regiment, and also the picture albums produced by the museum of the welsh horse regiment. As a single man George lived in llandaff road Canton Cardiff I believe with his mam, the family run a farm in Pentrebane Cardiff. He worked as a haulier and later as a docker in Cardiff. I am waiting for your e mail address to pass on some more information

kind Regards

Richard FRY
5 May 2020, 11:20
In relation to David RIDOUT's comment, George William FRY was my great grandfather's cousin. My great grandfather served in WW1 also. He was one of the original ANZACs who landed at Gallipoli. I'd be very keen to see the photos you have of George. You can contact me on the above email if you'd like.

Kind Regards
Richard FRY
David Ridout
1 September 2019, 19:58
Hello my grandfather

Sgt George William fry . Served with the A Squadron of the welsh horse regiment, before joining he was with the 5th Dragoon guards Boar War

I still have a picture of him and his service medals.

Kind Regards Mr David Ridout
Jennifer Evans Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales Staff
7 August 2017, 12:01

Dear Mark Lloyd,
Many thanks indeed for your comment.
Apologies that the link doesn't work any more!
Here is one that should work -
You are most welcome to view the album here in the Library [the name of your Grandfather does appear in the individual portraits but he may be included in the group and squadron photographs].
Please email us directly to book an appointment or for further information on how best to share your photographs -
With very best wishes,
Jennifer Evans
Assistant Librarian

Mark Lloyd
4 August 2017, 09:40

Hello, when recently sorting through some family belongings we found some photographs of my grandfather Herbert James Lloyd who served with the Glamorgan Yoemanry. We know that he was in a mounted unit that spent time in Egypt before being transferred to France. In 1918 he returned to the UK spending some time in a military hospital in Hitchen. I was interested to read about the volume of photos above; unfortunately the link is not working for me. I would be interested in sharing my photos with any other interested parties (such as the Museum & Mike Davies above). Thanks, Mark

Jennifer Evans Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales Staff
10 January 2017, 16:00
Dear Mike Davies,
Many thanks for your comment.
You are very welcome to view the album.
Please email us directly to book an appointment -
With thanks, Jennifer Evans
Assistant Librarian
mike davies
9 January 2017, 15:53
Hi as you can see my name is Mike Davies and I'm an amateur military historian compiling nominal rolls for the Glamorgan Yeomanry, Glamorgan Fortress Engineers, Glamorgan Garrison Artillery and the Welsh Division Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve up until the cessation of hostilities in 1919.
as well as the men's service details I'm adding an address and photograph if possible.
So when I came upon a mention of the Welsh Horse Photo album, it got me wondering if any of the ex Glam Yeo. men's photo's are in the album. Quite a few of the original Welsh Horse NCO's saw previous service in the Glamorgan Yeomanry.
Back to the reason for the email, is it possible to view the Welsh Horse photo album.
Many thanks Mike Davies