A Very British Civil War in Pembrokeshire 1938: The Warfare That Dares Not Speak Its Name

Hello.  This is Huw Puw reporting from Christ Knows Where for The Fish Guardian.

As reported in my last dispatch, I find myself posted to the ramshackle hullabaloo that is the Army of the Republic of Cantref Cemaes, as they prepare for a fresh offensive.

However, things have taken an alarming turn for the surreal with the arrival of the regiment’s ‘Special Company’ – ‘Merched Beca’ or ‘Rebecca’s Daughters’.  The Colonel tells me that ‘Special’ in this instance means Special Duties such as reconnaissance, raiding, patrolling, assaulting, etc.  However, having seen them, I have to say that the expression “My Mam says I’m ‘Special'” springs immediately to mind.

As reported previously, the ‘Twm Carnabwth’ Regiment and the Republic of Cantref Cemaes generally, places great store in the history of the local people and these chapel-proud, salt-of-the-earth folk do like to carry forward the traditions and arbitrary grudges of their ancestors.  However, much as I like history, some things can be taken a little too far and in the case of Rebecca’s Daughters, I think they might be using ‘tradition’ as an excuse to express some personal issues…

To recap; it is now almost 100 years to the day when in 1839, the men of Cemaes took up Bibles, axes, cudgels and the contents of their Mam’s knicker-drawer and led by the semi-mythical ‘Rebecca’, marched to smash the toll-gates (and in some cases, the skulls) of the rich.

Insurrection is all very well, but why the transvestism?!  Once again, the excuse for all this cross-dressing lies in tradition.

The original ‘Rebecca’, Twm Carnabwth, was known to be a keen advocate of the tradition of ‘Y Ceffyl Pren’ or ‘The Wooden Horse’.  This was an ancient ritual of vigilante punishment and humiliation, exacted upon adulterers, wife-beaters, nagging wives, petty criminals, Cardis* who failed to buy their round and those who ‘looked at my sheep in a funny way’.  This tradition also has parallels across Britain, such as the ‘Rough Music’ of Western England.

Those carrying out Y Ceffyl Pren would always dress in women’s clothing and would blacken their faces as a means of concealing their identity. However, there are always those who carry things too far and Twm Carnabwth probably had a whole wardrobe of outfits for all occasions. It is rumoured that Twm Carnabwth was almost late for the first riot at Efailwen due to being unable to choose which handbag and shoes to wear.

Nevertheless, the ‘Rebecca Riots’ spread like wildfire across Wales and were only eventually stopped by the combined forces of the Yeomanry, regular Army and the newly-raised Fashion Police.

So here were are 99 years later, with the modern-day equivalent of Rebecca and her Daughters. Some of them have gone for the traditional look – Welsh ladies’ stovepipe-hats and bonnets with shawls, while others have simply raided their Mam’s wardrobe.  I don’t know what they do to the enemy, but by God they frighten me…  In fact, I CAN imagine what they do to the enemy and that frightens me even more!

Here are a few photos of them taken during training. I was told to photograph their good sides, or they’d scratch my eyes out…

Here are Rebecca and her Daughters in full battle-array.  The flag of the company is based on the famous London Illustrated News woodcut of the first Rebecca Riot:
(Right) The modern-day ‘Rebecca’ is well-known raconteur and descendant of Twm Carnabwth from Mynachlog-Ddu, otherwise known as Eurfryn Plasymeibion.  ‘Rebecca’ wears a very smart mink coat, as befitting of an officer:





(Left) The ‘Daughters’ all prefer to be known by noms de guerre. The unit standard-bearer goes by the name of ‘Blodwen’:



(Right) ‘Dilys’ Mam was kind enough to give ‘her’ a very fashionable (for the 1920s) lilac ‘flapper’ dress, cloche hat and string of pearls:





(Left) ‘Cicely’ has kept things traditional, with a grey flannel skirt and stovepipe hat:




(Right) ‘Eilir’, the company machine-gunner, has gone even more traditional with the full Welsh ladies’ outfit of stovepipe hat, bonnet, skirt and red flannel shawl:




(Left) ‘Elsie’ presents a terrifying spectacle in ‘her’ baby-blue Victorian bonnet:





(Right) ‘Megan’ again favours the stovepipe hat, topped off with ‘her’ Mam’s pink housecoat (just in case the camp needs dusting):



(Left) ‘Bronwen’ has opted for a simple ensemble of skirt and headscarf:





(Right) ‘Lilian’ has gone for a bonnet and headscarf:



(Left) Finally, ‘Gwenda’ has opted for the shawl-with-apron look:

Be Afraid.  Be Very Afraid.

This is Huw Puw signing off.

*  Readers from benighted lands might not be aware, but Cardis are gentlemen from Cardiganshire, who are renowned the length and breadth of Wales for being ‘careful’ with their money.  The expressions “Careful as a duck’s arse” and “Like Scotsmen with the generous streak removed” are commonly used in the same sentence as Cardi.

[Models are all Musketeer/Footsore Miniatures, designed by Paul Hicks, converted by the lunatic Martin Small and painted by me]

This entry was posted in 28mm Figures, Painted Units, VBCW - A Very British Civil War, VBCW Welsh Nationalist. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Very British Civil War in Pembrokeshire 1938: The Warfare That Dares Not Speak Its Name

  1. Pete S says:

    Great concept an execution.



    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Pete!

      Martin Small deserves the bulk of the praise. I just suggested what I was looking for and gave him a random selection of figures and he did the rest. He also did all the conversions for the Fishguard 1797 game (including the Welsh ‘lady’ in my blog header). These days he has a very successful one-man business producing master models for various companies.

  2. IanKH says:

    Funny, I was talking with Nic Robson of Eureka Miniatures only yesterday about doing a game based on the Rebecca Riots. He asked me to sculpt the figures.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Good Lord, really?! That would be interesting and rioter figures would also be most useful for the Battle of Fishguard in 1797, as well as the riots of 1839. The traditional ‘Welsh Lady’ dress (as per my avatar) was long out of fashion by then, but was still worn by old ladies and probably therefore, by the rioters.

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