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April 1st 2018 marks the centenary of the formation of the Royal Air Force, and to coincide with this anniversary I’d like to share with you a remarkable story from the collection. Here at St Fagans, we have a collection of letters and telegrams sent to and from Eli Evans of Cardiff. They relate to the wartime experiences of his son, Arthur Wellesley Rees Evans, and it’s from these correspondence that I have managed to piece together their story.

Arthur Wellesley Rees Evans was born on 18 June 1898 in St Mellons, Cardiff. He lived with his parents – Eli and Laura Evans – at 204 Newport Road, Cardiff and was employed by Mr D. P. Barnett, a ship owner, based at the Baltic Buildings, Cardiff Docks.

In December 1916 Wellesley was accepted for the Officers Training Course, but was medically rejected at Whitehall due to Tuberculosis in both lungs. He was eventually accepted into the British Army and was passed fit for the Royal Flying Corps on 22 August 1917. A week later he was posted to the R.F.C. no 2 Cadet Wing in Winchester, before being transferred to no 25 Training Squadron in Thetford, Norfolk.

On 9 January 1918, Wellesley began his basic flying and fighter training at Old Sarum Training Base in Salisbury and graduated with the 103rd Squadron Royal Air Force on 5 April 1918, four days after the formation of the RAF. He was then transferred to No 1 School of Aerial Navigation and Bomb Dropping in Stonehenge, before leaving for London on 24 September to embark on his journey to France.

Wellesley arrived in Paris on 28 September 1918, and from there transferred to ‘somewhere in France’ where he joined up with the 110th Squadron RAF on 15 October. He took part in his first mission six days later on 21 October when his squadron flew to bomb Cologne, but Wellesley did not return. He and his observer, Lieutenant Thompson, had been shot down.

Eli and Laura Evans received official information from the Air Ministry that their son had been reported missing on 21 October. Eli sent letters and telegrams to the Air Ministry and the International Prisoner's Agency in Geneva requesting news of his son. To their relief, they finally received word that Wellesley was alive and well and being held as a prisoner of war in Limburg, Germany

Luckily for Wellesley his time as a prisoner of war was brief. The armistice signed on 11 November effectively brought the First World War to an end. He’d been a prisoner for less than a month. On 3 December, he left Germany for home via Switzerland and France and finally to Dover on 10 December. On 7 February 1919, Wellesley went to the Air Ministry to be demobilized, and a week later he resumed work with Mr D. P. Barnett in Cardiff Docks. A few months after his son returned from the war, Eli Evans passed away at the age of 52. Perhaps the stress and anxiety suffered by him during those weeks may have contributed to his early death.

After the war Wellesley remained in Cardiff working as a Marketing Officer for the National Coal Board. He married Gladys Gwendolyn Mitchell and they had a daughter. Arthur Wellesley Rees Evans died on the 5 January 1965 aged 66 in Cyncoed, Cardiff. He is buried alongside his wife at St Edeyrns Parish Church in Llanedeyrn, Cardiff.

Richard Edwards

Digital Content Officer / Public History Assistant

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