My grandparents, Jim and Beattie Curtis are buried in St David’s Cemetery Carmarthen – James Charles was born in 1890 and died in 1946 and Beatrice Mary born in 1891 died in 1977. They were married in the summer of 1918 in Narberth. They lived at first in a cottage in Johnstown and then secured a council house in 1927. I was born in that house at 50, Pentrefelin Street in Carmarthen town but, unlike my father and his brother, attended the Pentrepoeth School and then the Q.E.G.S. for Boys.
Jim Curtis joined the GWR before the Great War and was sent down to Carmarthen from his home in rural Berkshire, the village of Beedon, a few miles north of Newbury. His grandfather had been Parish Warden and his grandmother had run a “Dame School” from 1847 in their cottage, Walnut Tree. Carmarthen was a major terminal for the railway system. He met and married Beatrice Mary Barrah who was in service at the rectory in Trevaughan. She was born in 1891. She had left the family farm in Jeffreyston, Pembrokeshire following the death of her father in 1908 and entered service in Trevaughan. The Barrahs had been tenant farmers and mine workers and also mine owners on leased land for over two hundred years in south Pembrokeshire.
James Curtis came from a long line of bell-ringers and church wardens going back at least as far as the seventeenth century. In Beedon church there are plaques commemorating their contribution to teams who had achieved the “Everest” of bell-ringing – the “Grandsire Doubles”, a continuously changing peal which lasted nearly five hours and which is mathematically unsurpassable. It was obvious that Jim would join the ringers at St Peter’s and he became captain of the team there. My father, Leslie and uncle Desmond also rang; Des became captain in turn and his wife Thelma also rang. Tommy Mayhook was also a ringer and they participated in bell-ringing competitions throughout West Wales.
My parents, Leslie Thomas Curtis and Doris Eileen Williams married in Carmarthen in 1945. Jim and Beatrice are placed on the left side of the wedding photograph. The best man is Ivor Badham, a schoolmaster cousin form Angle. The diminutive Gwilym Williams and his wife Mary are on the right. Gwilym (William) was an Anglican from Bangor who became a Methodist when he found work in the LMS wagon works in Newton-le-Willows, Lancs. He joined the chapel rather than the Church of England because God was spoken to though his native Welsh and there were two Welsh-speaking nonconformist congregations in that industrial area before the Great War. He was one of twelve children born to Hugh and Elizabeth Williams ; Hugh and his son, Richard, both captained ships out of Bangor in the slate trade. My Gran Williams died at our tea table at 50, Pentrefelin Street when visiting. I would have been four or five.
My mother attended the Methodist Church in Carmarthen which was on the site of the present M&S store, a retail development which also covers that of Nelson’s Garage at which my father worked as an auto-electrician.
I never knew either of my grandfathers, they both died before I was born on Boxing Day, 1946. But my Gran was an important figure in my life and I remember her taking care of me almost equally with my mother. Beatrice worked in the school canteen when I was at Pentrepoeth and also as the chief cook at the Littlewoods store restaurant in the town.
We moved to Pembrokeshire in 1960, but when I was an undergraduate at the University of Swansea Margaret and I visited number 50 on several occasions. Beatrice died in the Priory Street hospital and since 1977 we have looked after the grave of both my grandparents.
In 1993 I included a poem about that in my collection Taken for Pearls (Seren Books):
Under the Yew
Gran, it’s me. Passing through.
I’ve stopped again and brought these daffs for you.
No, it’s the beginning of February.
They fly them in from somewhere now – Jersey,
abroad. They force them in greenhouses.
They’re wiry and all the same
as if someone stamped them out on a machine,
but they’ll last a week
in the rain-water your urn’s filled for them.
The cover had blown off with its dry sticks
of whatever they were I left last time
from the other side of Christmas. I’ve put it back.
I’m losing my feet, such terrible winds we have now.
That’s all to do with greenhouses too,
but explaining would take more time than I’ve got,
Gran, and it’s more than I really know.
The yew in front and to the left of you
is down like a drunk old man. The earth still
clings to its roots, out in the daylight
after god knows how many years. It fell
last week in the last gales, no doubt.
The one behind that overhangs your plot
has weathered firm enough. Shelter for years to come
and, I suppose, shade and shelter enough for my time.
There’s blue sky, but not enough to patch a sleeve,
and the rain hammers down today like nails.
The Towy’s up to the brim of the fields and about to spill.
At least driving home I’ll go east before the weather.
It will be a month or two now, I expect –
I come down to work, or just to see Mum.
Dad’s so much dust on the coast path at Lydstep,
and that’s nothing like the same.
I fly to America, Hong Kong, all over the place,
but the string is tied back here, as they say. –
apron strings, heart strings, a way through the maze.
The time. I have to go now.
The rain’s coming hard again.
The motorway will be awash and dangerous as glass.
Everyone does such speed now, Gran.
Take care. And I’ll take care.
I’m sure that James and Beatrice would be pleased and proud of the work that we are doing to honour their lives and those of many others who have their final resting place in St. David’s Churchyard. The work that has been undertaken and which continues is ensuring that the churchyard is both a place of remembrance and a space of contemporary wellbeing and contemplation. St. David’s is a place of Anglican remembrance and for the whole town and district of Carmarthen.
Professor Tony Curtis BA. MFA. D.Litt. FRSL