Cruel twist of fate as hero world wars to be killed in

A Welsh Guard who fought on the front line and helped evac­u­ate Dunkirk died in a min­ing ac­ci­dent when he re­turned home. LAURA CLEMENTS shares Jack Duffy’s story

South Wales Evening Post - - LETTERS -

ASWANSEA man sur­vived both world wars but was killed in a min­ing ac­ci­dent when he came home. Jack Duffy fought on the front line for the Welsh Guards in the First Word War and re­turned in the Sec­ond World War to help evac­u­ate Dunkirk.

He won a medal for his brav­ery, but in a cruel twist of fate, he died only months af­ter start­ing a job in the mines.

“Fate is a ter­ri­ble thing,” said his son, 74-year-old Keith Duffy, on the cen­te­nary of the end of the First World War.

“He wasn’t even sup­posed to be a miner.”

Jack Duffy was one of the first men to en­ter the Welsh Guards, which was founded in 1915. He was a bit of a “loose can­non”, be­ing caught sev­eral times in the nurses’ quar­ters and go­ing awol in Lon­don, Keith said.

But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a brave man.

While un­der Ger­man at­tack in 1918, Jack Duffy stayed be­hind to carry his lieu­tenant, who had bro­ken his pelvis, back to safety and then im­me­di­ately vol­un­teered to search No Man’s Land for miss­ing com­rades. He headed straight back out and helped bring four men home alive.

The Welsh Guards had been or­dered to re­treat by Lieu­tenant Paul Llewellyn, af­ter com­ing un­der Ger­man grenade at­tack on March 10, 1918. They were on a mis­sion, mas­ter­minded by Cap­tain Claude In­sole, to raid Ger­man trenches to gather in­tel­li­gence.

They launched their at­tack, un­der the cover of dark­ness, at 5am. Led by Llewellyn, 30 men piled out of their trenches and reached the Ger­man trenches with­out any ca­su­al­ties.

But they were caught out by Ger­man sol­diers hid­ing in nearby shell holes, who at­tacked the Welsh Guards with grenades.

The Welsh men launched a counter-at­tack, throw­ing grenades back to­wards the Ger­mans, be­fore re­treat­ing.

Jack was awarded the Dis­tin­guished Con­duct Medal for his brav­ery and self­less ac­tions.

“His sergeant didn’t think he was up to the job, but ev­ery time he lost his stripes, they kept giv­ing them back to him,” Keith said. “They would have given him the Vic­to­ria Cross if he was more obe­di­ent.”

Jack Duffy was from Green­field Street, in Swansea. He was one of three broth­ers, all of whom fought in the First World War. His older brother, James, was sent home af­ter los­ing both his legs. When he en­listed, Jack was hap­pily mar­ried, with three chil­dren. Trag­i­cally, his ninemonth-old daugh­ter died dur­ing his first months as a serv­ing sol­dier.

“I have old cine­film of the Welsh Guards train­ing, be­fore they went out to the front line,” said Keith, who lives in Pen­lan.

“They re­ally tough­ened them up, they must have told them they were meet­ing the Ger­mans – they were re­ally lay­ing into each other.”

Keith started re­search­ing his fa­ther’s life af­ter he came across the four medals, which he loaned to Swansea Mu­seum for its cen­te­nary dis­play.

“Rather than have them locked away, I thought I would put them on dis­play,” he said.

“Dad was out there and with ev­ery­thing he faced, it must be fate. There must be 50 of us who wouldn’t be here to­day if he had got hit by just one bul­let or ma­chine gun.

“He lived for 57 years but he had a far more in­ter­est­ing life than I ever will.”

As well as the DCM medal, Jack Duffy was awarded three cam­paign medals for his ser­vice dur­ing the First World War. When he re­turned to civil­ian life in Swansea, he dis­cov­ered his wife had been un­faith­ful and the cou­ple di­vorced.

He re­mar­ried the heiress of the Empire The­atre, and be­came a suc­cess­ful and welloff busi­ness man. But af­ter re­ces­sion hit, Jack found him­self pen­ni­less.

His sec­ond wife died but Jack soon re­mar­ried. He set up home with his third wife, So­phie, in a coun­cil es­tate in May­hill, where Keith was born.

“It was a bit of a come­down for dad, but he said al­though he was at his poor­est, he was also at his hap­pi­est with So­phie,” his son said.

By this time, Jack was work­ing for the Mer­chant Navy.

“My older sis­ter Jeanne used to tell us he was a true gen­tle­man – she only heard him swear once, when he took her to the foot­ball,” Keith said.

“Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, we would go into the air raid shel­ter when the Ger­man fight­ers ar­rived, but he would go to bed in­stead – he had no fear. I guess when you have been through what he must have heard and saw, then it prob­a­bly seemed like noth­ing to him.”

Keith can’t re­mem­ber much about his fa­ther, apart from a “smart man in a suit”.

“Some­how he com­man­deered some Royal Navy uni­forms and took him­self off to Dunkirk to help in the evac­u­a­tion of sol­diers in the Sec­ond World War,” said Keith. “He just couldn’t stay

His sergeant didn’t think he was up to the job, but ev­ery time he lost his stripes, they kept giv­ing them back to him

- Jack’s son, Keith Duffy

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