By Margaret Smith
The first Chaplain of any faith or denomination in all the allied services to die in the First World War was the Very Reverend Robert Basil, Canon Gwydir. Although the Rector of St. David’s Church in Swansea, he had been born in Longford where his family had settled two centuries earlier.
Ordained in 1891, he had taught at Douai, been a mission priest at St. Augustine’s in Liverpool before arriving in Wales where he soon became “highly esteemed, not only by his own flock but by the townspeople in general.” In addition, and somewhat rather unusual for a Catholic priest, he had also been admitted into the Circle of Welsh Bards.
When war was declared in 1914, he volunteered as a Royal Naval Chaplain, though he told only a few of his closest friends of this decision. He worked at Rosyth and Queensferry and on Thursday, 29th October 1914, he was on board the Rohilla when it set sail for Dunkirk to take on wounded servicemen from the first battle of Ypres.
A former trooper, the Rohilla had been fitted our as a hospital ship with X-Ray equipment and operating theatres. Of the 229 on board, there were nurses, surgeons, Canon Gwydir and fifteen volunteers from the town of Barnoldswick, Lancashire, who were to serve as sick berth attendants.