My name is Jim, I am 40 and I live in Lewis Road with my wife and two teenage children. First and foremost, I am a military history enthusiast and would never profess to be an expert!
I was always interested in military history throughout Primary School and into my early years of secondary school. As I grew up I lost interest in military history and it was not until around 10 years ago that I started having a reinvigorated/interest in social and local modern history. This developed through reading, watching documentaries and using Facebook groups: specifically memories of Neath old and new. Photography was a topic that I always had interest in I love to study old photographs of both people and local places. This tied in with my historical interest as I would take pictures to share of buildings that were still part if the Town that had been there for over 100 years or more. I had never previously had a specific interest in World War 1 as a youngster and saw it as an ancient event and period of time.
When the centenary celebrations and promotion of WW1 learning started in 2014, this was when I began to appreciate this was not a conflict that happened 100s of years ago and was a relatively recent part of History. What attracted me to it more was that this was an important part of social history and is about people and community as much as it was about bombs, guns and trenches. I thought of it as a way of linking the town physically or structurally to the lists of casualties that people were used to seeing on the Gnoll gates.
The idea of the Great War Poppy Trail came about in 2014 when I discovered the St Thomas's roll of honour online via history points. I had seen the casualty lists on memorial stones and plaques and read about the huge numbers of casualties in the war, but this was the first time I had seen the addresses of the individual soldiers who had fought and died. Reading the role of honour I was able to see where there were heavy losses in individual streets and started looking at my street and the surrounding area to see where local soldiers had once lived. I decided that it may be a good idea to somehow mark these houses with either a poster in the window or a poppy attached to the front of the house, so the interested individuals would be able to see how Neath was affected by the Great War in regards to the loss of lives of young men. To support this, I planned to make a map and mark on or detail the streets and houses where those killed in the war once lived. The idea lay dormant for some time, and was one I revisited on and off with different friends and contacts and discussed carrying out in different ways.
With the end of centenary fast approaching I made a decision that I would somehow go about creating the poppy Trail. I have started to liaise with my friend, WWI reinactor Roderick Hughes, about how we could do this. At about the same time Deputy Mayor of Neath, Cllr. Bob Price, approached me to ask what I was doing in regards to the end of the centenary celebrations. I informed Bob with my proposal and he was very excited by it and invited me to put the idea to the events committee of the town council. The idea was well received and the Mayor, Councillor Mark Protheroe, and the other members of the Events Committee thought it was an excellent idea and something the Town Council would like to support. Colin who is part of the Neath British Legion was at the meeting and pledged to provide 50 car poppies for me to make a start on marking the houses of the men of Neath who were killed in the war.
As time went on it was proposed that we have an event where we could distribute the maps which we developed into a living history day and commemoration of those who lost their lives in the war.