The two infant brothers, both named Charles Connell lie buried together somewhere in this cemetery. They have no headstone or known last resting place. Their lives taken away at such a young age, as were so many during this period through illness and disease. The purpose of this story therefore is to give readers a flavour of a history that would otherwise be forgotten and unknown to many of Carmarthen’s residents – the history of their forgotten father WILLIAM CONNELL who grieved his entire life in the loss of his beloved infant sons.
William was a hero in the true sense of the word, having fought with the Heavy Brigade at the famous battle of Balaklava in the Crimea on the 25th October 1854 winning the Distinguished Conduct Medal for extreme bravery and gallantry……what follows is but a brief glimpse of his life and that of the CONNELL family. I hope you find it of interest. After returning to the UK from the Crimea, William came back to Carmarthen to marry his sweetheart and joined the Great Western Railway as a Policeman, eventually becoming a signalman at Carmarthen Junction.
William Connell was born in Kilmarnock and enlisted in the 2nd Dragoon Guards (Scots Greys) on the 16th May 1846 in Glasgow at the age of 24 years and 6 months for the princely sum of five pounds fifteen shillings and sixpence, having previously served for over four years in the same Regiment. He was considered as medically unfit on the 25th April 1855, having served a total of 9 years and 28 days. He is described in his military records as being 5ft 9” with grey eyes and blonde hair.
His medical report when discharged from the army informs us that …. “He is rendered totally unfit as a consequence of severe gunshot wounds near the right shoulder and through the neck of the humorous received in the Cavalry Charge at Balaclava”
On being discharged from the Army, William returned to Carmarthen to continue his courtship of his beloved girlfriend Margaret Miller who lived in Magazine Row, close to the Barracks armoury in Picton Terrace. William had met Margaret during the time he was stationed here with the 2nd Dragoon Guards in 1848 during the civil unrest caused by the Rebecca Riots, their courtship only being interrupted when the Dragoons were deployed for service abroad. On July 13th 1855, Margaret and William were married at St David’s Church Carmarthen, both their parents being described as shoemakers and William’s profession as Carpet Weaver. So began a lifelong marriage which was to last 45 years .Very sadly William and Margaret’s first born son Charles died aged just ten weeks and was buried in St David’s cemetery on August 25th 1856. To say that they were heartbroken was an understatement; after all that William had gone through in his life to have his first child die so prematurely was a terrific blow to them both, to be followed by another tragic death of their third child aged just three months, also named Charles in July 1861.
It was said that William returned to St David’s cemetery every year without fail on the anniversary of their deaths to visit their last resting place. Neither of his sons now have any headstone and their burial place remains unknown, but his father’s love for his two deceased infant children and of Carmarthen, the place he loved so much during his 45 years will live on in the telling of this brief story.
Retirement of an Old Balaclava Hero (A report headline from the local newspaper in October 1899)
ENTHUSIASTIC FAREWELL MEETING AT CARMARTHEN RAILWAY STATION.
The retirement of Mr William Connell from the G.W.R. Company, after 44 years service, was the occasion of an interesting presentation at Carmarthen Station this week. Mr Connell, who has attained the advanced age of 79 years, was born in Kilmarnock, in Ayrshire, and enlisted on the 15th of May, 1846, at the age of 24, in the 2nd Dragoons. He was one of the heroes who won three medals for distinguished conduct in the field of Balaclava, the scene of that memorable charge of the Six Hundred. Mr. Connell has held the post of signalman for many years at the Bridge signal-box, and is now leaving Carmarthen with Mrs Connell and Miss Connell for Birmingham, where he will reside with his son, Mr Robert Connell. There were a large number of officials and friends present, and the meeting was a most enthusiastic one, the utmost good fellowship and sympathy prevailing. On the motion of Mr W. Hughes, seconded by Mr Lloyd, Mr Inspector T. Dalton was unanimously elected to the chair. Mr Dalton thanked them cordially for electing him to the chair on such an auspicious occasion. Nothing afforded him greater pleasure than to be associated, however remotely, with that presentation to their old friend, which was the object of their gathering there that afternoon (applause). All of them had known Mr Connell for many years, and he thought he would be voicing their sentiments when he said that a more agreeable and courteous old gentleman it would be difficult to meet with (hear, hear). There, before him, he saw the portrait of Mr Connell, wearing the medals which he had won for bravery and distinguished service in the Crimean war, and if it were in their way to do so, they would be happy to present him with another medal for his faithful and exemplary conduct, and his kind consideration and courtesy towards his fellow men (hear, hear).
He was retiring after 44 years’ service, at the age of 79, truly a wonderful age. He had held the important position of signalman, and, as they were all aware, the signalman’s and engine-driver’s posts were the most important on the railway. But Mr Connell, notwithstanding his great age, never showed any want of alertness or activity in the performance of his duties, and he was glad to see him retiring with his mental faculties as bright as ever (applause). Great importance and consideration were given to the signalmen and their duties at the present day by all railway companies in their own interests and the interests of the public and the greatest precautions were adopted by them in everything affecting the signalman’s box, insomuch that an age limit had been fixed in respect of signalmen but it was in virtue of his exceptional activity that Mr Connell had remained so long in that post. However, it was unnecessary to assure them that he was leaving the service with the highest respect and esteem of the men and officials, many of whom were unavoidably absent on that day (applause). He was sure that no man had ever left the service who carried with him the affection and regard of his fellow-men to a greater degree than Mr Connell did and the hearty response of subscribers also went far to testify that (hear, hear). He had been his Inspector for five years, and he would say that he felt the most profound regret at losing such a worthy man, in whose conduct there was much they could all endeavour to emulate.
He hoped sincerely, notwithstanding his great age, that he would live a still further span of life, and that his declining years would be marked with good health and happiness, and tender recollections of his pleasant associations with that large circle of friends he would leave behind at Carmarthen (loud applause). Mr Teale said I fully appreciate what has been said here to-day by our worthy Chairman with regard to our noble friend, Mr Connell. I have during the past eight years worked most successfully with him without any hitch or unpleasantness. I have always found him a solid colleague, ready and attentive at all times, and always up to a perfect standard of work. I have found in him a man of faith and good conduct, an upright and virtuous man, who endeavoured to do what, was just and right towards his fellow-man (hear, hear). This portrait before me will remind Mr Connell in the future of the great friendship which existed between him and his co-workers. I sincerely wish him every pleasure and happiness in the quiet society of his son (applause). Mr Griffiths (Loco, Department) fully endorsed the praiseworthy remarks which had been made by the Chairman and Mr Teale respecting Mr Connell. He had always been very fond of their friend, Mr Connell, inasmuch as he always treated his fellow-men and officials alike (applause). He was truly a man whom they all admired for his noble manliness (applause). He sincerely wished him the good health and enjoyment in the future which he richly deserved, and hoped they should see him visiting the old town again (hear, hear). Mr Phillips, Carmarthen Junction, said I am very pleased to have this opportunity of expressing my feelings towards Mr Connell. He is a gentleman whom I have always admired, and a chat with him about his adventure was a source of infinite pleasure to me. We have lost from the district a faithful and sympathetic friend, and an excellent railwayman and it is a loss which I and all very deeply regret. It pleased me infinitely to hear the expressions of good wishes for Mr Connell’s welfare and happiness in the future which accompanied every subscription to the list. The arranging of this little affair has been a labour of love to me, and I hope in conclusion that Mr Connell will enjoy good health and many years again in his new home (applause). Mr T. Phillips, district relief man, spoke in commendatory terms of Mr Connell. There had been a slight difficulty in deciding what to present to their old friend, but he thought nothing would be more appropriate than that beautiful portrait as a memento of his happy associations at Carmarthen. They all knew his capabilities, and also that the old adage was true, “Virtue has its own reward,” and in Mr Connell’s life they saw that adage exemplified (hear, hear). He had attained a great age, and he was glad to see him enjoying such good health and strength. He was leaving them with the good will and hearty good-wishes and regard of everyone who knew him, and he (Mr Phillips) did not know what could be more gratifying to a man than that assurance (hear, hear). He hoped he would further enjoy happiness and comfort in his new home (applause). Mr Hughes, guard, said he heartily agreed with all that has been said d their dear old friend who was about to leave them. His moral soundness, kind and courteous disposition, had made him admirable in the eyes and hearts of his colleagues. He had borne an exemplary character right through his life. He had won honour and glory for himself in the defence of his country, in the memorable engagement at Balaclava, and he had won the honour, respect, and admiration of his fellow-men in the Great Western Railway service (hear, hear). He hoped most sincerely that the evening of his day would be yet the most pleasant time of his life (loud applause). Mr David Lloyd, guard, heartily agreed with the previous speakers. He knew Mr Connell from experience, and he knew that he rightly merited the praiseworthy allusions that had been made there that afternoon respecting him. He had been an ideal railwayman, who did his work with a spirit of cheerfulness, and endeavoured at all times to make matters glide smoothly over the rugged path of life (applause). He wished every happiness to Mr Connell in his retirement. Mr Richard Webb (signalman) said I have been closely associated with Mr Connell for over four years, and when I think of the pleasant time we have spent together I feel the most profound regret that we are to lose from this district a gentleman whom I, and all others, have always regarded with the affection of a brother (hear, hear “). Everybody in the district respected and admired Mr Connell, whose sterling qualities and noble character have made him an example worthy of imitation by all (applause). I, and so do you all, I am quite sure, wish our dear old friend here to-day every happiness, every comfort, pleasure, and good health, and many more years again to enjoy it (loud cheers). Mr Charles Bowen, stationmaster, Carmarthen Junction, then rose to make the presentation. He was, indeed, very pleased to hear the kind things that had been said of Mr Connell. It was his (Mr Bowen’s) intention to have been away that day, but he would have felt very grieved upon his return to find that he had been absent from that auspicious event. He could fully endorse what had been said. He had always found Mr Connell very courteous and obliging, and always ready to put his hand to the plough to do a good turn for any- body. He assured them that he was very sorry to lose him from his staff. He looked forward with pleasure to a visit to the Bridge cabin, where he used to hear exciting and inspiring stories of the old times. Those medals he saw before him were reminiscent of the time when he (Mr Connell) was in the thick of the fight, where, by his undaunted courage and bravery, he had won honour and fame (hear, hear),
A better servant the Company had never had. He did not think he could enlarge upon what have been said by previous speakers, and he was sure that they would all agree with him that what had been said was perfectly correct, which many of them present knew from experience.—Turning to Mr Connell, Mr Bowen said I now, on behalf of your friends and fellow-workmen at Carmarthen Junction and Carmarthen, present you with this portrait and purse of money, as a token of the respect and esteem in which you are held by them all, and I hope you will live many years again to look upon it. It will remind you of the pleasant associations and sterling friends yon have made, who are heartily sorry to see you leaving the town after such a long stay. I wish you good health, every comfort, and happiness in your new home (loud cheers). The old hero then rose to respond, but was suddenly overcome with emotion, and the scene was most pathetic and affecting. On recovering, Mr Connell said with difficulty “I sincerely thank you, my dear friends. I can assure you I deeply appreciate your kindness. I have always tried to live peacefully, and I think I have succeeded (cheers). My family will appreciate as much as I do your great kindness to me. I thank you again from the bottom of my heart (loud cheers)”. The pathos of the farewell scene was most touching. The portrait was beautifully executed by Mr Henry Howell, The Studio, and bore the following inscription on a brass plate “Presented to Mr. W. Connell by his fellow servants, as a mark of esteem, on the occasion of his leaving the service of the G.W.R. Company. October, 1899.
DEATH OF MR WILLIAM CONNELL
(CARMARTHEN WEEKLY REPORTER FRIDAY NOVEMBER 9TH 1900)
It is with sincere regret we hear of the death of Mr William Connell, late of Magazine row, in this town, which occurred at his residence, 41, Willis-road, Wiston Green, Birmingham, on Thursday, November 1st from senile decay, at the ripe old age of 78 years. In October 1899, Mr Connell retired on a pension from the position of signalman on the Great Western Railway at Carmarthen, after 44 years service, and his leaving was made the occasion of a presentation to him of a framed oil-painting of him- self and a purse of money by his fellow servants. Mr Connell was born in Kilmarnock Ayrshire, and enlisted on the 15th of May, 1846, at the age of 24 in the 2nd Dragoon Guards. He was one of those who won three medals for distinguished conduct on the field of Balaclava, the scene of the memorable charge of the Six Hundred. It was while the Dragoons were stationed at Carmarthen that he met his future wife. Mr Connell was of a quiet peaceful nature, and was highly respected in Carmarthen for his integrity and uprightness and his departure with Mrs and Miss Connell this time last year for Birmingham, to take up his residence with his son, was much regretted in the town. We are sure that Mrs Connell and the family-Miss Connell and her three brothers-receive the sincere sympathy of their Carmarthen friends in their sorrowful bereavement. (Margaret his beloved wife died in Birmingham on March 26th 1903 aged 75)
The recommendation for William Connell’s Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) is dated 13th January 1855, the medal was sent to the Crimea on 26th March 1855 but was returned and sent to Chatham on the 14th May as William had been invalided home. The DCM was created on December 4th 1854 for the Crimean War and was conferred on Non Commissioned Officers and soldiers who were recommended for “distinguished conduct in the field” It was the second highest award for gallantry in action after the Victoria Cross awarded to military ranks below commissioned officers. Out of 300 men of the 2nd Dragoon Guards that fought at the battle of Balaclava only 7 were to receive the DCM.
I cannot let this story end however without giving a brief insight into the historic battle and repeating the last section of Tennyson’s Poem of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade…..for William Connell to have survived at all was a miracle…………….
The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava on the 25th October 1854 was one of the most neglected events in the annals of British military history. On the day in question the Heavy Brigade were involved in TWO SEPARATE CHARGES. The first was the successful charge of the Brigade on the advancing Russian cavalry who were intent on capturing the overcrowded port of Balaclava, the main supply point of the British army. The second was in support of the LIGHT BRIGADE on their unsuccessful attack on the Russian Artillery. Lord Raglans real intention was to prevent the Russians from removing the British guns situated in the redoubts along the Causeway heights, but the orders were confused. As the Light brigade advanced down the valley, the Heavy Brigade followed in support. Lord Lucan had sufficient foresight to halt the advance of the Heavy Brigade which had come under heavy bombardment to prevent it from being annihilated in the same fashion as the Light Brigade.
The Heavy Brigade under the command of General Scarlett had assembled at the foot of the heights, organising his troopers into a near perfect formation. He instructed his trumpeter to sound the charge. Then against all the odds they attacked the Russian force which outnumbered them five to one. The charge was made uphill against an oncoming force, the Dragoons taking few casualties and the Russians were routed. Lord Cardigan in charge of the Light Brigade charged LATER as a direct result of a garbled and misunderstood message resulting in the destruction and loss of the Brigade with 118 men killed and 127 wounded or taken prisoner.
Following on from the Charge of the Light Brigade, a reporter by the name of William Russell wrote a poignant newspaper report for the Times and this in turn inspired Tennyson to write one of the most well known poems ever written. The poem was to be recited up and down the country and made Lord Cardigan a household name and immortalise the Light Brigade who charges into the “Jaws of Death” The heroism of ALL the men involved in BOTH of the charges along with their unwavering determination should have been equally recognised. However, 28 years after the event Lord Tennyson, realizing his error of judgement wrote another poem specifically in relation to the Charge of the Heavy Brigade, and the following is the last part of the poem which encapsulates the scene most vividly. How William Connell survived his horrific injuries in this battle is a miracle in itself, but survive he did for another 45 years.
Fell like a cannon-shot,
Burst like a thunderbolt,
Crash’d like a hurricane,
Broke thro’ the mass from below,
Drove thro’ the midst of the foe,
Plunged up and down, to and fro,
Rode flashing blow upon blow,
Brave Inniskillens and Greys
Whirling their sabres in circles of light!
And some of us, all in amaze,
Who were held for a while from the fight,
And were only standing at gaze,
When the dark-muffled Russian crowd
Folded its wings from the left and the right,
And roll’d them around like a cloud,–
O, mad for the charge and the battle were we,
When our own good redcoats sank from sight,
Like drops of blood in a dark-gray sea,
And we turn’d to each other, whispering, all dismay’d,
‘Lost are the gallant three hundred of Scarlett’s Brigade!’
‘Lost one and all’ were the words
Mutter’d in our dismay;
But they rode like victors and lords
Thro’ the forest of lances and swords
In the heart of the Russian hordes,
They rode, or they stood at bay-
Struck with the sword-hand and slew,
Down with the bridle-hand drew
The foe from the saddle and threw
Underfoot there in the fray-
Ranged like a storm or stood like a rock
In the wave of a stormy day;
Till suddenly shock upon shock
Stagger’d the mass from without,
Drove it in wild disarray,
For our men gallopt up with a cheer and a shout,
And the foeman surged, and waver’d, and reel’d
Up the hill, up the hill, up the hill, out of the field,
And over the brow and away.
Glory to each and to all and the charge that they made!
Glory to all the three hundred, and all the Brigade!