One hundred years ago exactly.......... there was a man who hid in a cave.
Simon Hughes was a member of a large family living at Fachongle Ganol in the early years of the twentieth century. The family members all belonged to the congregation of nearby Caersalem Chapel. In the old photo of the Hughes family in front of "Vachongle" (taken about 1895?) Simon is the boy on the extreme right. He was conscripted into the Army during the First World War. We are not sure of the date, but there are clues. On 28 December 1915, the Cabinet agreed to introduce conscription for unmarried men aged 18–40. So we can assume that early in 1916 Simon was called up and undertook military training, probably in Bedfordshire. There he fell in love and later that year he married Beatrice Williams. It doesn't appear that he ever saw active service, but at some stage he became a conscientious objector and “escaped” from his barracks.
(Prior to 1916 conscientious objectors were simply treated as criminals or army deserters. However, in 1916, with the Military Service Act, Britain became the first country to give legal recognition to individual conscience, which is now enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Quakers were heavily involved in the struggle for pacifism to be recognized, but we do not know whether Simon had joined the Quakers. At the end of WW1, there were 16,000 men registered as conscientious objectors. Over 4,000 "absolutists" were either in prison or in penal colonies because of their refusal to participate in acts involving the killing of others; most of the others had to go through a tough tribunal process and were allocated to non-combat duties. There were between 700 – 900 Conscientious Objectors in Wales and in 1917 it was no soft option. For many it meant hard labour and poor rations. Often 'Conchies', as they were known, were abused by their peers, and were humiliated and sneered at and sometimes called cowards and shirkers by their own neighbours whose menfolk were dying on the front line. Whilst in prison they were often subjected to brutal assaults, and they had little sympathy either from the guards or from the authorities. In Wales for example five objectors died in Caernarfon and other prisons as a result of the treatment they received.)
At any rate, when Simon "went missing" he left his new wife behind in Bedfordshire and made his way back to Cilgwyn, where he went into hiding. Army officers and the police hunted for him, but he moved from house to house and the community closed ranks in order to protect him. On one occasion he was having dinner in his old home when an Army sergeant with a troop of soldiers tracked him down and hammered on the front door. Mr and Mrs Hughes kept the soldiers talking while Simon escaped through the back door. For much of the time he was reputed to have lived in the “Druid’s Cave” in Tycanol Wood. The local police made a great show of hunting for him, but always contrived to fail in their endeavours. While he was in hiding (in December 1917?) his father-in-law Daniel Williams died, and he penned a moving and poetic tribute to him in Welsh which included the words: "Under strict law and oppression Made by greedy men......... I am unable to bear you to your grave."
At the end of the war he came out of hiding, was reunited with his wife Beatrice, and left the district. He became a shop-keeper, ending his days as manager of the Co-operative Store in Tonypandy.