In memory of John David Gwyn

Photo of John David GwynJohn David Gwyn was educated at Cowbridge Primary School and won a scholarship to attend Cowbridge Grammar School from 1932 to 1939. He had one sister, Joyce. His mother was Elsie Isabel Gwyn. His father, Arthur William Gwyn, was injured at the Somme in the First World War, later becoming a solicitor and Cowbridge’s town clerk (see this page for more about him).

John won a scholarship to study law at St John’s College, Cambridge. He volunteered for the army and received his call-up while still an undergraduate. His father successfully applied for the call-up to be deferred until he had graduated. He gained a first class degree in 1942. In the same year he was awarded a postgraduate McMahon Law Scholarship, which he didn’t live to take up.

He joined the Welsh Regiment (then still known as the Welch Regiment). By 1943 he was fighting in Italy as a lieutenant, attached to the 2/5th Leicestershire Regiment.

The Allies made quick progress northwards after landing on the Italian mainland in September 1943, helped by the recent Italian armistice. However, as winter set in they faced concerted opposition at the Germans’ Gustav Line, which stretched across Italy south-east of Rome. It took the Allies until 18 May to capture the key town of Cassino. John was killed in action at San Clemente on 2 December 1943, aged 21. He is buried at Cassino War Cemetery.

Two months before his death, he penned a poem titled North Africa, which you can read here (courtesy of the University of Bristol Library). In November 1943, while at Sessa Aurunca (about 30km south of Cassino) he wrote a longer poem titled Cambridge, recording his nostalgia for the city where he had studied. Both poems were printed in a leaflet, a copy of which is now kept in the University of Bristol Library (Ref DM2516).

In 1983 the John David Gwyn and Reid Memorial Prize was established. Each year until the fund ran out in 2004, the prize was awarded at Cowbridge School for academic achievement in English Literature.

In November 2013 Joyce recalled that John liked sports although he wasn’t a brilliant sportsman. “He always read. He had a big library of books,” she said. “I was starting my nurse training in Oxford [in December 1943] and my father rang the matron and asked her to tell me about John. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I took myself off for a long, long walk. Nobody knew where I was and there was a bit of a panic.”

North Africa, October, 1943
Nothing can matter now; the ageing year,
Nor the eternal desert of the sea,
Nor things to come, unknown, nor enmity;
I can still live on dead things I hold dear.

We who have spun our dreams from ecstasy
Have nothing more to fear, not even dying.
A thousand things are with me; I’m not trying
To hope for better till eternity.

Back to original listing page soldier at graveside icon