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The Tragic Story of Owen Josua Smith

Photo of Owen Joshua Smith and Fred Edwards on tricycle

Owen Josua Smith (Jos) (L) Fredrick William Edwards (Fred) (R). Possibly this photo was taken just before the tragedy.

The year 2009 is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Chester & North Wales District Association of the CTC (Cyclists Touring Club). As the clouds of war gathered over Europe in 1939, this new DA was formed by amalgamating the Chester Section of the Liverpool DA, and the North Wales DA, which had declined since 1938. Although the North Wales DA had previously sustained active sections throughout the thirties, primarily based on Bangor and Colwyn Bay, it had always had difficulty arranging meets able to attract members from all over its territory. But it is not possible with the passage of so many years to identify any pivotal event leading to its demise. However an incident took place in 1937 that may have played some part.

Fred Edwards was North Wales DA's Treasurer. His pal and fellow CTC member was Owen Josua Smith. Both were aged 25 and lived close to each other in the Snowdonia quarry town of Bethesda. 'Jos', as he was known, worked on the Fitzroy gallery at the local Penrhyn Quarry. He was a chorister at Glanogwen Church, and his high spirits, good singing voice and repertoire of jolly songs made him popular during club away weekends.

At Whitsun 1937 Jos and Fred toured Brittany for a fortnight by tandem, staying in youth hostels. On the journey home they spent their last night at Dolgellau. The following day they lunched for three quarters of an hour at Harlech, and later rested for a while at Porthmadog. They then decided to go for swim at Borth-y-Gest.

Unfortunately danger warning signs on the beach were badly maintained; their enquiries of sun seekers nearby proving inconclusive, they decided to have a dip in the sea.

Both were only modest swimmers, and both soon found themselves in difficulty. Fred was closer to shore but Jos went further out and soon disappeared from sight. At no small risk to themselves, valiant efforts were made by Evan Lewis and Owen Davies of Terrace Road and Lombard Street, Porthmadog, to save Jos. But these were unsuccessful and Josh's lifeless body was finally recovered from a ledge 15 feet below the surface. Both Lewis and Davies were commended for their valour by the coroner.

Barely a week later Josh was buried in Llanllechid churchyard - on his 26th birthday.


This account of the demise of Owen Josua Smith emerged from a brief reference in a 1937 CTC Gazette. I decided as part of a deeper investigation into the history of the North Wales DA that it might be helpful to find out more about Jos. His address was 29, Pen y Bryn, Bethesda. His pal Fred lived a quarter of a mile away in Tyn-y-coed. My enquiries led me to retirees Phil and Beryl Williams, who lived for many years in number 29, but had moved next door.

Yes, they did recall the tragedy although they were only children at the time. As soon as Beryl knew the purpose of my visit she left the room to return with the photo of Jos and Fred on their tandem.  The remarkable coincidence is that though Phil and Beryl are not related to Jos, relatives of theirs from Birmingham visited a month ago bringing with them a collection of family photographs. Amongst these was the photo we see above. It is not known where and when it was taken, but clearly it must have been at around the time of the tragedy.

Who could have imagined that these two young men, with everything to look forward to. could have been parted so soon? It raises all sorts of questions to which we will never find answers: not least how Jos's family coped with their sad loss. But what of Fred? Did he continue to cycle? And did this tragedy play any part in the decline of the North Wales DA. Some information could well lie in a family archive somewhere. Can you help?

Roy Spilsbury, August 2009

Photo from Llanllechid churchyard

Late summer evening sunshine over Bethesda seen from Jos's final resting place in Llanllechid churchyard


Jos's gravestone


Llanllechid churchyard a winter study