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‘Splendid patriotism and heroic self-sacrifice’: First World War memorials in Welsh metalworks


Gethin Matthews


Much of the academic attention on issues of Great War mourning and commemoration has focussed on the civic memorials, particularly given that they are designed to be public, visible reminders of the local community’s contribution to the war effort. The focus of this article is on a different subset of memorials, in that they refer specifically to workers from particular companies who served in the war. As such they were not always public memorials, being located in many cases within the works and thus only on display to fellow workers. Yet neither were they entirely ‘private’ memorials, such as the ones established in so many family homes to those they had lost. This article considers twenty five metalworks memorials in the south Wales counties of Monmouthshire, Glamorgan and Carmarthenshire. Taken as a whole, these memorials convey a number of messages about south Wales society in the immediate aftermath of the war. In most examples these were commissioned within three years of the Armistice, and the terms they deploy show that the ‘language of 1914’ was still in vogue. Patriotism was ‘splendid’; self-sacrifice was ‘heroic’; the memory of the fallen was ‘glorious.’ Death was preferable to dishonour. In naming these men, the metalworks companies claimed them as their own and by extension laid claim to a share of the glory. The men’s identity as employees was highlighted in the numerous memorials which noted their position within the company. They had an identity as steelworkers or tinplaters, as well as their identities as men of their hometown, and as Welshmen, Britons and sons of the Empire.


Commemoration, First World War, Mourning, Wales, War memorials

How to Cite:

Matthews, G.  (2021). ‘Splendid patriotism and heroic self-sacrifice’: First World War memorials in Welsh metalworks, Historical Encounters, 8(3), 73-84.


  • Published 22 December 2021

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

  • Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 License

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