Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart's statue in Gorsedd Gardens, opposite Cardiff City Hall, is passed by hundreds of people but most are not aware of who he was or of his service in the First World War.
Ninian Crichton-Stuart was the second son of John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, and his wife Gwendolen. After school at Harrow he was interested in pursuing a career in the Diplomatic Service and travelled to Kiev to learn Russian. His father was already unwell, suffering from Bright's Disease and having had several strokes, died while his son was abroad. Bute's heart was buried on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem as was his wish. Ninian was left the Falkland estate in Fife, Scotland.
Ninian went on to study at Christ Church, Oxford, describing the city as "dull as ditchwater". Whilst at Oxford he joined the reserve army and served in the Cameron Highlanders. After graduation he passed the Army Exam and became a Second Lieutenant in the Scots Guards in May 1905.
At his brother's wedding in the summer of 1905 Ninian met his future wife, Ismay Preston; he was the best man and she was one of the bridesmaids. They married a year later and were to have four children of whom their eldest, was named Ninian Patrick but known in the family as Ringan. Ninian served two years in the 1st Battalion, Scots Guards before resigning his commission in 1907 to pursue a career in politics.
In the late summer of 1907 Ninian was adopted as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservatives in the Cardiff District of Boroughs seat. He was to nurse the parliamentary seat for three years and his efforts were often portrayed in the local paper, the Western Mail, by the cartoonist JM Staniforth. Ninian’s first appearance was as the white knight coming to save a distressed damsel (Cardiff) bound by radicalism. In the January 1910 General Election he fought the Cardiff seat against the Liberal, David Alfred Thomas (later 1st Viscount Rhondda). Thomas had previously been the Member for Merthyr Tydfil, one of two MPs returned, alongside Keir Hardie for Labour. The previous Cardiff Liberal MP had stood down and there had even been talk of bringing in David Lloyd George to fight the seat before DA Thomas was selected.
In a heated campaign, Ninian toured Cardiff meeting workers and residents and delivering numerous speeches and attending rallies. His wife Ismay often accompanied him and even made speeches on his behalf when he lost his voice! The artist JM Staniforth again depicted the mood of the campaign, describing it as 'The Battle of Khar-dif' as Ninian went head to head with all those who challenged him. There was an 87% turnout for the election and despite being the newcomer Ninian only lost by 1,555 votes out of nearly 25,000 cast. His mother described the result for Ninian: "He had lost the seat but won Cardiff". Just weeks after the election Ninian's son, Ringan died aged 2 years 10 months.
Following a hung Parliament a second General Election was called in December 1910. Ninian had continued building up his support locally, including acting as one of the guarantors for Cardiff City Football Club's new ground. The club chose to name the ground Ninian Park in his honour. Their first match was a 2–1 defeat to Aston Villa, but Ninian was to experience greater success in his election campaign. D.A. Thomas had declined to be re-selected and was at odds with his local party about the Lords' veto of the Liberal government's budget. Meanwhile Ninian was portrayed as the man who knew the local issues and the local area. His election manifesto focused on 'more employment for our workers', 'workshops not workhouses' and 'reform of the poor law'. His Liberal opponent was a former MP and London barrister, Sir Clarendon Hyde.
On 7 December 1910 Ninian was elected Conservative MP for the Cardiff District of Boroughs, winning by a mere 299 votes. One newspaper reported: "not withstanding the rain and wind, the roars and cheering that hailed the return of Lord Ninian were heard as far away as Llanishen". The Liberals were to conduct a post-election analysis of the defeat and came to the conclusion that the Conservatives had a popular man in touch with everybody, whilst the Liberals brought forward a stranger.
Contributions in Parliament
Having served in the Armed Forces, Ninian very much brought this experience and understanding to the Commons Chamber, asking the Secretary of State of War in March 1911 about the high costs incurred by officers in army manoeuvres when billeted on farmers' land. In April 1913 he was also petitioning for improved weapons for the British Cavalry and "whether a new three-edged sword has been issued" and "whether the steel is of British manufacture?"
However, he was prominent in stressing the terrible working conditions and lack of employment rights experienced by many men, women and children. He highlighted the fact that "there are fifty-nine children from two to thirteen years of age in the workhouse under the Kilmallock Board of Guardians" and asked if legislation could be introduced "owing to the long hours and sweating prevalent in the baking trade". In the second reading of the Coal Mines Bill, Ninian, himself the owner of a coal mine in Durham, requested more time to debate the bill as "our responsibility is as great as that of those who represent the working population. For that reason, particularly, I wish to say that from three o'clock to five o'clock is absolutely inadequate".
He also tapped into British patriotism and protectionism of the docks, calling for the "employment of British men on British ships". The arrival of a large number of men and sailors from China was seen as a threat to employment for locals and synonymous with the infamous opium dens.
In 1912 Ninian was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 6th Welsh Regiment, a Glamorgan territorial battalion, whose motto was "Better death, than shame". At the outbreak of war the battalion was called up. Initially its task was protecting the South Wales docks and Ninian used the opportunity to recruit more soldiers into the ranks. The majority of the men in the battalion signed up to serve overseas and by late October were preparing for "destination unknown".
On 28 October 1914 the battalion of 30 officers and 812 men, plus 500 horses, sailed to France. It was the first Welsh territorial battalion to serve overseas. Based in Boulogne and later St Omer the battalion was on "lines of communication" handling railway traffic, carrying wounded, burying the dead, escorting prisoners and taking ammunition up to the front lines. They were all anxious to get into the trenches and on one occasion Ninian travelled to Belgium with a colleague to watch British guns shelling German positions.
Following training, during the summer of 1915, the battalion was located in trenches near Ypres. In late September it was on the move to be part of the Reserves for the Battle of Loos. The battle which started on 25 September was to see the first British use of poison gas in the First World War and the introduction of air support from the Royal Flying Corps who attempted to bomb German troops and rail lines.
On 1 October, after many days of marching towards the battlefield, the battalion went into the trenches near Vermelles and was part of an attack on the German held fortification, the Hohenzollern Redoubt. During the fighting men of the 1st and 6th, the Welsh Regiment were cut off in part of a captured trench and supplies of food, water and ammunition could not be got over to them. Ninian instructed that a "sap" trench be dug out towards them. The following day, their ammunition was exhausted, they were under attack from the Germans on three sides and the sap trench was incomplete. The decision was made to evacuate the Welsh from the German trench. Whilst supervising this, Ninian stood on the fire step and looked over the parapet in order to direct the machine-gun fire and to rally his men. He was shot through the head and died instantly. He was 32. Tin hats had not yet been introduced and only became standard issue by the time of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
Numerous tributes were to flow in for Ninian and condolences came from as wide a sphere as Mrs Lloyd George to an organ grinder in Cardiff. Church services and masses were held for him across South Wales and a statue to commemorate him was unveiled in 1919, paid for by public subscription. Fifty years later veterans of the Old Comrades Associationof the 6th Welsh still made an annual pilgrimage to lay wreaths below his statue in Gorsedd Gardens, Cardiff.
Ninian was survived by his wife Ismay and three children, the youngest of whom was just six months old. Lieutenant Colonel Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart MP is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery in France.
Image copyright: The Crichton-Stuart Family