"The Big Gun"

In 1815 the Life Saving Apparatus came into use in Wales for the first time, it was invented by Capt George Manby and resembled a large pop – gun, comprising of a mortar and special canon ball with a short chain attachment and a coil of rope. It was used to fire a lifeline to sailors on board vessels that had gone on the rocks or aground in the hope of bringing them safely ashore.

We don’t know precisely when it first came into use in Rhiw, but from what we can gather we reckon from about 1880 onwards. In the early days ‘Drills’ used to take place down at Rhuol, William Rowlands refers to this in his book ‘Y llong lo’ and then they moved up to Penboncyn field. About 1915 ‘Cwt rocet’ was built on Tyn Fron land, John Williams Talafon refers to it in his diary, he also mentions the men of Rhiw chosen to keep a watch on the coast, an important role, it being war time and fears about that the enemy might try and land on our shores.

"Cwt Rocet"

Many have recalled the ‘Drill’ that occurred in Rhiw it was an exciting day for the school children that flocked to watch the men practising with ‘Big Gun’ as Gwilym Hughes recalls. Griffith Thomas often mentions the ‘Drill’ in his diaries and the money they received for taking part as volunteers, he received a long service medal for his services. Daniel Rowlands, Rhiwlas was ‘The Volunteer’ in charge and he would receive the orders from the D.O. ( Director of Operations) as to their duties. There were look out posts down in Bytilith and on Mynydd Graig where the men of Rhiw kept a look out for the ships that passed along the coast. There has been no mention of the ‘Drill’ being used in an actual situation only in practise. Evan J Davies gives a detailed description of the ‘Drill which was held on Penarfynydd and Ty Croes Mawr fields in the shadow of the mountain. Both farms are close to the ‘Cwt Gwn’ the building that housed the LSA equipment.

"Firing the big gun"

All the equipment was kept in a large shed on land at Tyn Fron, the shed was sturdily built of stone from the mountain. There was a large wagon with four wheels, it was painted and always shone brightly even down to the iron trims on the wheels. In the wagon were ropes laid neatly and a box with a thick coil of rope and various other items to enable the task to be carried out freely.

In order to take the equipment down to the practice area on the farm two big strong horses from Penarfynydd were used to pull the wagon, for the use of the horses and two men to look after them Robert Evans of Penarfynydd would be paid well. The volunteers were also paid 5/- to begin with as Griffith Thomas mentions in one of his diaries. In the field there would a big pole about 10’ high with a shackle ( ?) on top and  footholds to help with climbing the pole.. Three other poles would be formed into a tripod for the ‘gun’ to rest on, attached to it was a long rope. This would be aimed at a specific target, an imaginary shipwreck, that was the other side of the mountain. Then when everyone was ready the fuse would be lit and eventually the rocket would fired over the mountain with the rope attached to it. Two or three of the men would go then to the long pole at the other end of the field and attach a kind of chair and fix this on to the shackle on the top of the pole and attach another rope to create a pulley and one of the men (usually Daniel) was hoisted up in the chair. When all this was done they would shout ‘Man in the boat’.  The remains of the rocket along with the ropes would be retrieved from the other side of the mountain and placed neatly back in the box. It was important that the rope was neatly coiled each time it was replaced as it was essential that it could be used swiftly should an emergency arise. The two horses then took the equipment on the wagon back to ‘Cwt Gwn’ to keep until the next drill, or should it arise a call out, however as mentioned before it was never used for real. The wagon ended it’s days at Tyn Lon farm Uwchmynydd and the building itself became a work shed for Griffith Jones Tyn Fron, a joiner, before being converted into a holiday home in the eighties.

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Fortunately Griffith Thomas Ael y Bryn kept notes in his little pocket book when he was on watch for the coastguards, mostly the telephone calls and telegram messages that came either from the D.O. or the Abersoch, Porthdinllaen or Pwllheli LSA and Lifeboat stations. Although there are no specific dates we know that they were written during the early thirties and they do give us an insight into the work of the Rhiw coastguards, which like a lot of other things in Rhiw has faded into the mists of time and only actually remembered by a few of our older residents.


Coastguard notes


We would like to thank Mr E Morris for all his help.


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