On Wednesday 03 October 2018, Gwent Archives will be marking the end of the ‘Sharing Private O’Brien’ project at the Congress Theatre, Cwmbran.
William Bernard O’Brien was born in 1895 in Newport, to John and Johanna O’Brien. He was baptised on the 02 June 1895 at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Newport (D/RC4/4). He spent the first years of his life living at 47 St Mary Street, Newport, and later at 22 Caerleon Road, Newport, and worked at the Lysaght Steelworks as a Scrap Cutter. In May 1914, he joined the Monmouthshire Constabulary (D3297/3) and was sent to Abergavenny and then Abersychan. It was while he worked at Abersychan that he met, and began courting, Rose Gwenllian Malalah Curtis, of the Little Crown Inn.
After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in 1915 and began to write regular letters to Rose. First they came from Caterham in Surrey, then Chelsea Barracks in London, and finally from France.
In his letters, he not only details his experiences on the Front, but also of Zeppelin attacks in London, guard duty at Buckingham Palace, the death of Kitchener and his hopes for the future. Sadly he was killed in action by a shell while working as a stretch bearer on the 03 August 1917.
Rose kept Will’s letters, and in 2014, her daughter-in-law Mrs Joan Nash deposited the letters with Gwent Archives. We have been very fortunate to receive such a special collection and in 2017, we were awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund to deliver the ‘Sharing Private O’Brien’ project.
Through the project, Gwent Archives worked with Victoria Village School, Ysgol Bryn Onnen and St Mary’s School, Newport, to create three short animated films inspired by Will’s letter. The films are be viewed through this link. An accompanying education resource was also created. Another outcome of the project was a World War One Roll of Honour for Abersychan, researched and created by students from Coleg Gwent. The education pack, Roll of Honour and the Will O’Brien catalogue (D5963) can all be found on Gwent Archives website www.gwentarchives.gov.uk.
The event at the Congress Theatre, Cwmbran, on the 03 October, will be open to the public and all are welcome to attend. Gwent Archives will be posting more information in the coming weeks on their social media pages on Facebook and Twitter.
Rhiannon Phillips, Gwent Archives.